Olive Oil at Tokara estate. Picture: Orielle Berry
Not all olive oils are equal, and the tip is to buy local - not only because local is lekker but because South African producers remind us constantly that it’s good to support our burgeoning industry, which often puts out better quality than the mass-produced “cheaper” oils you may get from some overseas suppliers.

Recently at the beautiful Tokara estate perched on the Helshoogte near Stellenbosch, olive oil maker Gert van Dyk led a small group through a tasting in which we sampled three olive oils from the range.

Van Dyk explained how extra virgin olive oils are made only from the first cold pressing and it takes dozens and dozens of olives (between 3-15kg) to make one litre of olive oil.

Extra virgin olive oil acts as a strong anti-inflammatory agent, protects our bones, slows down the decline in memory and cognitive functions and is of benefit to non-insulin dependent diabetics. It also reduces circulating cholesterol.

Not to mention its supreme culinary qualities. I couldn’t imagine life without dipping bread in it, drizzling it on ripe red tomatoes, splashing it on roasted vegetables and cooking with it. Or how about on freshly grilled fish with a squirt of lemon juice?

There are more than 100 olive producers around the country, most in the Western Cape, some in the Karoo and some further afield.

Tokara is a medium-sized producer with just over 19 000 olive trees producing about 80 000 litres of extra virgin olive oil, compared to veteran producer Vesuvio which, with its 100 000-plus trees, produces between 200 000 and 250 000 litres of olive oil annually.

VARIETALS: Tokara produces a range of olives, from Mission to Frantoio, destined for the press.

Tokara grows a range of cultivars ranging from Frantoio, Leccino, Coratina and Mission to Nocellara de Belica. Judicious blending by Van Dyk and his team results in the delicious oils it bottles.

The multi-varietal includes Frantoia, Leccino and Mission and has a full fruit, rounded character with delicate herbaceous and spicy flavours, while the premium made with Coratina, Leccino, Frantoio and Mission variants is a moreish intensely flavoured oil with strong characters ending on a nutty note.

Our tasting finished, we got to taste the oils in a sumptuous lunch made by resident super-chef Richard Carstens - from a mushroom stack with spinach and root vegetable purée topped with peppered salami to tender, succulent roasted chicken breast served with gratinated endive.

Best of all, to my mind, was a lemon olive oil cake with olive oil ice cream which really brought out the oil’s flavour - think creamy and fragrant seasoned with black pepper and oregano.

A mushroom stack with spinach and root vegetable purée topped with peppered salami and drizzled with olive oil. Picture: Supplied

The food was teamed with some of Tokara’s superb wines.

It all goes to show how versatile olive oil is and how quality oils are both a necessity and a culinary pleasure in the kitchen.