The Breede River Winelands area, only 90 minutes out of Cape Town, is renowned not only for its rich tapestry of top class vineyards and fine eateries, but also a growing number of quality olive producers. Among these, and set against a backdrop of sweeping, dark mountains in the Scherpenheuwel valley between Worcester and Robertson on the southern side of the river, is multi-award winning Rio Largo, where a group from Slow Food Mother City escaped for a day to learn about the benefits of sourcing local, fresh oils over the (less than fresh) imports that flood supermarket shelves in South Africa.
The approach to the farm is along a pretty avenue of bougainvillea in hues of magenta and fuscia.
Our tour starts in the processing plant. It’s not only state-of-the-art, but so spotless you could eat off the floors if you wanted to. A freshly-picked harvest is destalked and goes in the Italian processing system something like this …..
and emerges a while later as liquid gold …..
Rio Largo is home to Nick and Brenda Wilkinson and their passion and warm hospitality compliments the beauty of the surrounding farmlands. The couple have 20 years experience overseeing farming enterprises in central Africa, including Zambia and Malawi. Brenda’s personal touch is evident all over the farm.
A short walk up a dusty track leads to the olive groves, now 18 000 strong, made up of three Italian cultivars – Frantoio, Leccino and Coratina, known to compliment each other in making up a well balanced product.
The farm’s Pieter Mollie beamed as he demonstrated how the fruit is hand picked before the oil is extracted mechanically to produce 100% pure extra virgin cold pressed oil.
The weather was uncharacteristically glorious for this time of year and capturing a sunburst in the groves was as irresistible as the crunchy biscuits Brenda served with coffee on our arrival.
Back on the farm it’s easy to see how the surrounding hills and vineyards can pull city folk in.
The layers of colour were striking – from the autumn russets and golds in the vineyards to the blue hills beyond.
One of my favourite spots though was the irrigation canal which is fed from the Brandvlei Dam nearby. The quaint bridge reminded me of my childhood in rural England and crossing rickity bridges over bubbling brooks.
Like many of the towns in the Cape Winelands, flowers grow in abundance adding to the charm of these hamlets.
Meet Brenda, our hostess. She’s that passionate about Rio Largo oil she swears you can taste the love that has gone into making it! 🙂
Proper storage of olive oil is key to keeping it fresh and protected from destroying heat, oxygen and light and for maintaining the health benefits. In addition to standard tinted glass bottles, Rio Largo’s latest innovation is ‘oil in a box’ – a portable, almost indestructible tube outer that provides convenience and versatility with a foil inner and tap dispenser. The quirky and unique product label is designed by Frans Groenewald, whose witty artwork is legendary in the Western Cape.
So next time you feel a bit inclined to wince at the price of a good bottle of local olive oil, spare a thought for the labour and love that goes into producing a top quality product containing all the antioxidants and polyphenols you need. Besides “Local is Lekker”. Make sure you are getting the real deal when you’re overpowered by variety on the supermarket shelves by looking for the SA Olive Association sticker of compliance and the SA Olive Association sticker of quality.
In Part 2 I’ll share a glimpse into Nick and Brenda’s other Olive venture as well as one of the Cape’s best kept eatery secrets – a bucolic establishment called De Kaap on the fringes of McGregor.
For more on the Cape’s Olive Route visit http://www.capeoliveroute.com.