At Tokara, a farm located just outside Cape Town, workers diligently harvest olives, using rakes to make the ripe fruit fall from the branches. This picturesque wine region at the southern tip of Africa, with its Tuscany-like landscape, is now witnessing the growth of an olive oil industry.
Gert van Dyk, the operations manager at Tokara, proudly showcases their award-winning extra virgin olive oil. Holding a glass of freshly-pressed oil, he describes its aroma and flavors, highlighting the pleasant bitterness and pepperiness that make it comparable to a fine wine.
Originally a winery, Tokara has expanded its offerings to include olive oil, which has become one of its flagship products. The farm now even offers tastings of its exceptional oil. French restaurateur Christophe Dehosse, who owns multiple restaurants in the region, praises the local olive oil, emphasizing its artisanal quality and the absence of any adulteration.
The cultivation of olives in South Africa dates back to the early 20th century, with Italian immigrant Fernando Costa playing a significant role. In 1998, Giulio Bertrand, a retired Italian living in South Africa, imported 17 varieties of olive trees and planted them on his Stellenbosch farm. Today, millions of olive trees across the country trace their origins back to Bertrand’s pioneering efforts.
The Mediterranean climate and picturesque hills of the Cape region have proven ideal for olive cultivation, with South African olives gaining international recognition for their exceptional quality. In fact, a South African olive oil was recently awarded the prestigious title of “Absolute Best Olive Oil” at the EVOOLEUM awards in Spain.
While olive oil remains a luxury product for many South Africans, there has been a noticeable increase in demand from the local market as consumers seek healthier dietary options. However, it may take time for South Africa to compete with established global brands, given its current annual production of two million liters compared to the global output of over three million tons.
Nonetheless, South Africa has the potential to make its mark in the luxury olive oil industry, much like its renowned wines. As traditional olive oil producers in Europe face challenges from droughts and recurrent heatwaves, South Africa may position itself for the export market. Climatic disasters have led to low olive oil output, resulting in a significant increase in global olive oil prices in recent months.
South African olive oil producers are determined to prove that their country has the capacity to deliver exceptional olive oils, and as global consumers seek new and high-quality options, South Africa’s olive oil industry may find its moment to shine.