I do get spoilt with interesting invitations. The invite by Rio Largo co-owner Brenda Wilkinson to share in their olive feast day on Saturday intrigued, even though I had not taken a look at the directions, which took us to an unknown bountiful Scherpenheuvel Valley in the Robertson region. 

I met Brenda at Buitenverwachting last year, at the launch of Premier Helen Zille’s autobiography. Brenda and Helen had been to school at St Mary’s in Johannesburg. Brenda and her husband Nick got to the farm from Johannesburg, and she told me that she had told Nick that she was not a farmer’s wife when he first mooted the move. Brenda is a sharp marketer, travels internationally with her brand, and is well connected. It is the third year that Brenda and Nick have hosted the olive feast on their farm. This year the feast was hosted over two days, both sold out, and the Mother’s Day feast had been booked for 100 adults and 40 children.

Helen Zille launches autobiography ‘Not without a fight’ at Buitenverwachting!

I invited Llewellyn Lambert to join me for the outing, and we were a little intimidated by the strict-sounding instruction to arrive by 11h00. As luck would have it, there were two road closures on that day, the first being the closure of the N1 highway to allow for the demolition of the Old Oak bridge, and a second road closure near Rawsonvillw meant a drive through Worcester to get to Rio Largo. We turned off a country road lined with beautiful Bougainvilla, obviously thriving on the little rain. Parking was ample, and we saw the portable loo close by. I was impressed with the cleanliness of the loo, and was blown away by the vase of roses inside it,  clearly Brenda’s touch. 

A Moroccan marquee had been set up to keep the 100 or so invited guests in the shade, a good thing as it turned out to be a superb day. A set of tables had been set up, allowing a number of other suppliers from the area as well as Olive product producers to display and sell their products. Each of them had an interesting story to tell:

#   Six Dogs Distillery Karoo Gin offered an interesting gin to taste, and Charles Bryant told me that they are based at the edge of the Karoo, outside Worcester. The name honors the faithful six dogs on their farm. The gin contains twelve handpicked Botanicals, made in their custom-designed copper potstill, the major ones being wild lavender, lemon Buchu, and acacia thorn flowers, making the gin unique. Additional ingredients are lime, clemengold, Juniper, cassia, chamomile, Angelica, and coriander. The website declares the passionate crafting of their gin, one batch at a time. I tried a small tasting, being the designated driver, drinking it neat. 

#   Gay’s Guernsey Dairy presented its Royal collection of cheeses, including a delicious Royal Cumin cheese, Black Pepper Royal, Mozzarella, plain feta, Black pepper feta, yoghurt, mild Prince Albert Royal (a Gouda-type cheese), Prince Albert Royal (a mild cheddar-type cheese), Prince Albert Regal (a strong cheddar cheese), Queen Vic (Gruyere-type), and Parma Prince (Parmesan-style).  Owner Gay van Hasselt is based in Prince Albert, hence the Royal brand name. She started the dairy in 1990, and has built up a reputation for award-winning cheeses locally and internationally.  I joked with her, asking her what her connection is to olives, and that she should feed her cows olive branches in future! 

#   O’live oil soaps and other olive oil based beauty products were presented by the charming Zhikhona Tefu.  She told me that she needed to find a solution to her daughter’s eczema problem, the remedies available being unaffordable. From this has developed a beauty range, using Rio Largo olive oil in its production. The O’live soaps and other beauty products look beautiful 
and make great gifts.

#   Oryx olives were presented by Sarah and James, who are neighbors of the Wilkinsons, and they specialize in kalamata olives, selling them in different size containers, and also dried. They allowed one to taste their olives, beautifully presented on a platter with feta. 

#   Aan de Doorns is the Winery closest to the Wilkinsons, and their grapes are delivered there. We drank their wines with our lunch. 

#.  Last but by no means least was a display of art by Mieke Droomer, an architect and artist based in Windhoek but originally from Worcester. I was interested in meeting her, the Droomer family being prominent in car dealerships and petrol stations in my home town Wellington and in neighboring Paarl. I loved the drawing of a table laden with food, which she had entitled ‘Through the olive branches’, and I bought it spontaneously. At an auction later during the lunch a work of hers went for more than double the price I paid. Mieke calls herself the Doodling Dreamer, the name of her Blog too. She writes that her art expresses what happens to her, expressing life in a ‘dreamlike’ and personal way. She finds inspiration from everyday experiences and emotions. Mieke and an architect colleague were one of three finalists in the 2014 Young Architects in Africa competition, exhibited at the 2014 Venice Biennale. 

We were taken on a walk to the olive plantation, and Rio Largo farmer Stefanus Theron told us more about olive farming. He told us that the average age of their trees is 15 years, and that olive trees can grow to be up to 100 years old. Alternate cultivars are planted in lanes, to allow cross-pollination. Nitrogen and potassium are added to the trees. He told us that they farm with Franlio black and Coratina green olives. They pick 7 kg of olives to produce 1 liter of olive oil. Rio Largo only makes olive oil and balsamic vinegar, not selling other olive products. No preservatives or colourants are added to their products. We saw the production facility too, a destemmer removing leaves and stems, the process ending off with pure olive oil pouring into a large container, from which their bottles are filled. In the foyer of the facility the awards won by Rio Largo are proudly displayed. 

Rio Largo co-owner Nick Wilkinson reminded us that olive oil has medicinal benefits for one’s system. He told us that the olive oils in our country compare to the best in the world, despite’s our country’s production of Extra Virgin olive oil being a minimal percentage. About ten of the world’s top producers are from our country, he shared. He warned however that 65% of the olive oils on South African shelves do not make the quality grade, and have minimal health benefits, especially those which are a mix of olive oil and other oils. A quality olive oil has a fresh fruity and cut grass aroma. He made a passionate plea for South Africans to buy quality local olive oils, as the olive oil producers employ 60 – 80 staff and their families. 

The pièce de résistance was the lunch, prepared by Chefs Graham and Philippa Oldfield of The Oldfield Kitchen, who are traveling chefs. Chef Graham worked at Chefs Warehouse & Canteen previously. Each of the dishes was prepared with Rio Largo olive oil.  Llewellyn and I saw the chefs preparing the food, cooking over a Weber. We were seated with name cards, and we were exceptionally lucky to be seated with Sam and Morné Ellis. Sam is a vivacious bubbly person, who used to manage an olive farm outside McGregor for Nick, so she and I connected immediately. We have since spoken on the phone, and we look forward to seeing each other again. Olive farmer Stefanus, his wife, and baby daughter were also at our end of the table. Another couple sitting with us are neighboring fruit and wine grape farmers, whose fruit is exported to the U.K., and can be found at Tesco, Sainsbury, and at Marks & Spencer. 

The first course was a delicious pea soup, served in a tin cup, with olive leaves, sour cream, and pea shoots, accompanied by ciabatta bread. There were ohs and ahs at our end of the table. Secretly we would all have loved to have some more. 

The main course was even more special, with beautifully presented salads (a salad with pomegranate, tomato, mozzarella, baby spinach leaves, and olives; a salad of corn and baby marrow; and a couscous salad); chicken breasts; a shredded lamb dish; roasted baby potatoes; and ciabatta bread wrapped in a hessian cloth. 

Our dessert was Death by Chocolate, with a chocolate tart, strawberries, raspberries, cream, and meringue shards. 

A pop-up coffee company from Worcester, The Well Coffee Company, offered a menu of coffee styles, at R20 a cup. I enjoyed a perfectly made dry cappuccino. 

The special olive feast ended off with an auction, the proceeds of which went to the local school. The auction was conducted by radio broadcaster Malcolm Gooding, and Mieke had offered one of her artworks for the auction. The school principal was visibly moved by the generosity of the auction proceeds. 

Rio Largo Olive Estate, Scherpenheuvel, Breede River Valley. Cell 082 340 6726 www.riolargo.co.za Twitter: @Rio_Largo Instagram: @riolargooliveestate

The Oldfield Kitchen, Cell 071 577 6287 www.theoldfieldkitchen.com Twitter: @OldfieldKitchen Instagram:@grahamoldfield6

Chris von Ulmenstein, WhaleTales Blog: www.chrisvonulmenstein.com/blog Tel 082 55 11 323 Twitter: @Ulmenstein Facebook: click here Instagram: @Chris_Ulmenstein