An amazing tour of La Valle farm, home of the buffet olives
I found myself deep in wine country in the Western Cape last week visiting an olive farm
I found myself deep in wine country in the Western Cape last week visiting an olive farm.
The Drakenstein Mountains jutted towards the blue sky as we drove past vineyards, which eventually changed to a dirt road that led to a quaint manor house, aptly named Cascade Manor, where we were to stay.
There is a waterfall on the property that is quite literally the life blood of the manor and the surrounding farms. One of those farms is the 50-year-old La Valle farm, the home of Buffet Olives.
The company sent the team an invite to experience the launch of their new range of pestos and tapenades by visiting the farm and factory, and ending the day with a lunch created by singing chef Aubrey Ngcungama.
In 2017, a third of the olive grove was affected by wildfires and this year will be the first year since then that they’ll be able to harvest the surviving trees on that part of the 250-hectare farm. The new plants that are growing there will be eligible for harvest in the next five years.
“Olive trees can get very old, they can get up to 2,000 years old and remain fruit-bearing, if you can rejuvenate the wood, it’s not like a vineyard or a fruit orchard, which has only got a 25 or 30-year lifespan. But it takes seven years from planting the tree to full production,” says farm manager Schalk Smit.
On the property there is a grande dame of a tree near the farm office, she’s 70 years old and doesn’t look it at all! Smith explains that there are five cultivars, or types of olives, on the farm, namely Mission (Californian, a dual purpose olive, which is great as a table olive and for producing oil, easier to grow and is the most common), Manzanilla (it means little apple in Spanish, and has firm flesh), Baroni (North African and has a big pip and is fleshy), Kalamata (Grecian, sought-after because it is flavourful and is referred to as a shy crop as the yield differs year-to-year even in the same conditions), and Nocellara del Belice.
“With olives you get table olives, those are the big fruit and then you get oil olives, which are the size of a peanut, they don’t grow big but have a high oil yield. The table olives have less oil but more flesh, that’s the difference.
"All olives start off green and will eventually turn into a black fruit when ripe. It’s not like the black and green are separate fruits, it’s just the different cultivars over time as they ripen,” adds Smit.
The olive trees on the farm are planted so that they can grow in the shape of a wine glass, this allows the sun to reach into the middle of the tree, for if the tree is too dense the tree will only bear fruit on the outsides. Olives are alternate bearing fruits, meaning the yield changes every year, one year is an up-year, meaning higher yield, and the other a down-year.
“This year we’re lucky it is what we call an up-year,” Smit explains.
He also went on to say that it took 6kg of olives to make one litre of olive oil. Workers on the farm hand-pick about 128kg of olives a day, and work from 7am to 6pm. The trees carry fruits of varying degrees of ripeness and sometimes workers have to return up three times to one tree! There is a school for children of migrant labourers who come to work during harvest season on the property as well.
After the farm tour we were able to go into the factory to see what happened after the fruit was picked. It is a process that requires well-practiced precision. We then went back to Cascade Manor to enjoy their new ready-to- eat products in a 100g sealed cup, which are perfect for pairing, snacking, picnicking and as an add on to your lunchbox.
The tubs come in these flavours: Tapenade with Capers and Anchovies; Olive Pesto with Sundried Tomatoes; Green Thai Olive Pesto with seven Thai Spices; Coconut Mixed Olives in toasted Cumin, Chilli and Orange Oil, which is Moroccan-inspired; Mixed Olives in a Thyme and Basil Oil, a classic Italian recipe; and a Combination of Mixed Olives with Thyme, Oreganum an Rosemary Oils, which is Greek-inspired.
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