Olive oil. When I was young it wasn’t a big thing in South Africa. My father is Spanish and I thought he was weird for pouring it all over his food. But now, olive oil is so prevalent that you couldn’t escape it if you tried. Good quality olive oil, however, is a lot less common than we might think.
I was invited by Willow Creek olive farm to visit and see how they make olive oil as well as table olives. I love learning how things are made so I jumped at the opportunity to visit. It was a most educational visit and I’m glad I did it. One thing that came out of it is that I will never again purchase imported olive oil.
The two most important elements of olive oil are quality and freshness. Most olive oil can’t survive past nine months. So South African olive oil already has an advantage in that it doesn’t have to travel all around the world and be stored for ages too. The other problem with imported olive oil is that it is often blended with old olive oil. Even in the country of origin, the people have to be careful about which olive oil they buy. The farms are motivated to produce olive oil from any olives they can find as they get a subsidy for every litre produced. Due to the volumes, the olives often lie in the sun waiting for processing and so are already turning rancid before they are even processed.
So, while I’m sure there are some good quality imported olive oils, it would be very hard to identify them. And besides, why buy something with high food miles attached when our local product is superior? Some people ask why local olive oil is so expensive and the reason is that we don’t have subsidies and we make it fresh from olives that are good quality. We also have the SA Olive Industry Association which ensures that all South African olive oil conforms to the highest standards.
We had a tour of the olive oil making process from harvest to processing. Willow Creek processes all olives within 24 hours of harvesting to ensure freshness. The olives are tested for the correct ripeness (different for olive oil than for eating) and when they are ready the harvesting begins straight away as the window period is short. Just to confirm, all olives are green and go black as they ripen.
The trees used to be hand harvested but they now have a machine which shakes the trees (vigorously!) and catches the olives as they fall off. See the 10s video clip of this below:
The olives are then transported to the processing plant on the farm. The leaves and twigs are removed, then the olives are crushed and the oil is separated using a centrifuge. I can tell you that tasting freshly made olive oil as it comes out of the machine is quite an experience. So pure and natural.
The table olives are hand picked and then put into a salt solution for several months. This is the natural way of processing table olives and the result is purple or brown olives (not talking about green table olives). If you see olives that are pitch black, it means they have been processed chemically (and probably imported).
After the tour we had lunch at their little restaurant and browsed the deli. It’s a lovely little place and you should consider visiting next time you’re heading towards Robertson. You won’t find fresher olives and olive oil than on the farm! Enjoy the slideshow of photos I took of my visit.
Willow Creek Olive Estate
Tel: 023 342 5793