You’ve certainly heard of a wine pairing: the marriage of certain wines with certain foods in order to enhance the flavours of both. Classic examples of harmonious pairings are full-bodied Cabernet Sauvignon and rump steak, crisp MCC Brut and fresh oysters, and velvety Pinot Noir and a bad day in the office. In each case, the food brings out the deeper structure and more nuanced flavours of the wine and the wine returns the favour in equal measure. It’s a wonderful thing.
But have you ever heard of an extra virgin olive oil pairing? Have you ever considered that the oils of certain olive cultivars pairs better with certain foods? Did you even know there were different cultivars of olives? I’d wager that few people, other than “foodies”, have ever considered such things. And yet, once one has dipped a big toe in the world of olive oil pairings, the education you carry forth will imbue you with a sense of olive oil discernment (read: snobbery) that will haunt you at every meal and down every condiments aisle.
This is precisely how I felt after our olive oil pairing experience at Tokara Delicatessen, featuring none other than Tokara’s brand new vintages of extra virgin olive oils.
The Tokara Deli: port of call in an apocalypse
Located on the picture-perfect Tokara Olive & Wine Estate at the top of Helshoogte Pass in Stellenbosch, Tokara Delicatessen is the kind of establishment you’d be happy to get accidentally locked in overnight. In fact, should an apocalypse of some description ever befall Cape Town, I shall head immediately to Tokara Deli and seek refuge there within its vast pantry of charcuterie, cheeses, breads, pies, fresh olives, spreads, chocolates, and cakes, and floor to ceiling displays of Tokara wines, olive oils, and other treats by local artisans. With panoramic views of the Stellenbosch winelands and peacocks for company, I would live out the remainder of my days like a far more corpulent version of the Queen of Sheba.
Drinking Sauvignon Blanc and surroundings
As if the triumphant green surroundings and blue vault over our heads weren’t reminder enough that it is spring, we were welcomed at the entrance of the truly spectacular Tokara Estate by the loud trumpet of a gorgeous male peacock, resplendent in royal blue tunic and long emerald tail feathers. With a glass of Tokara’s Elgin Sauvignon Blanc 2018 in hand (which just recently landed a gold medal at the 2019 Six Nations Wine Challenge), we drank in the views and paid a brief visit to the newest addition to Tokara: a hydroponics greenhouse.
Growing fresh produce for the restaurant and delicatessen has always been the aim at Tokara, which already has a well-established vegetable garden. The new greenhouse supplies the Tokara chefs with a daily crop of seasonal herbs and salad leaves, as well as tomatoes, cucumbers, and strawberries. The Greenhouse is also open to visitors, especially children who can experiences first-hand where the vegetables and greens on their plates are grown.
Thoroughly beguiled by just how beautiful Tokara is – and I know I’m harping on about it – we took our seats at a long harvest table to embark upon our olive oil tasting and pairing, followed by lunch.
Olive oil pairing experience
“A good oil is made on the tree, and at Tokara I’m lucky enough to be hands on from the olive groves right through to the final pressing stage.” – Gert van Dyk, Tokara’s olive oil master and operations manager.
Tokara Wine & Olive Farm produces four different extra virgin olive oils (henceforth EVOO), of which we sampled three. More than merely tasting them, however, they were served with pairings of different leaves, herbs, and nuts, chosen according to the different flavour notes and aromas present in each olive oil.
The first olive oil was the single varietal Frantoio EVOO, paired with butter lettuce, rocket, and almonds. Frantoio is one of the most highly acclaimed olive oil varieties in the world, especially in the Tuscan regions of Italy.
The second was the Multi-Varietal EVOO, which won a gold medal at the SA Olive Awards. Crafted from the blending of Frantoio, Leccino, and Mission varieties, this oil was paired with tomato vine leaves, kale, Italian parsley, and pine nuts.
The third was the intense, fresh, and rounded Premium EVOO, a blend of Coratina, Leccino, Frantoio, and Mission olive varietals. It was paired with leaves of wild rocket, Italian parsley, and baby spinach, and walnuts.
Under the guidance of Tokara’s olive oil master and operations manager, Gert van Dyk, we warmed each blue rounded glass of olive oil in our palms, inhaled its fragrance, and then sipped it, rolling it gently around our mouths to experience its thick, lush texture and grassy green flavours. At first, we delicately munched on the leaves and nuts, alternating between that and tiny sips of EVOO. But with fresh ciabatta and slices of aged cheese on the table, it didn’t take long for all pretences of civilization to break down.
We thus reached an agreement: there is no meal on Earth more satisfying than fresh bread, quality olive oil, good cheese, and wine. But that was before we ploughed our way through a three-course lunch created and curated by the deli’s executive chef, Stephanie de Wet.
The tapas arrived on the table, three by three
Just like a polyamorous version of Noah’s Ark, the tapas plates arrived on the table, three by three, with each course featuring three tapas dishes. Moreover, each course had been specifically crafted with, and to complement the three different olive oils we had tasted:
First course (Tokara Frantoio EVOO): fresh asparagus salad with Parmesan shavings and toasted almond flakes; fresh tomato and buffalo milk mozzarella carpaccio with sweet rocket pesto; and toasted sourdough with homemade fresh ricotta, tomato, and mint sauce vierge.
Second course (Tokara Multi-Varietal EVOO): Homemade fettuccini with grilled artichokes, pine nuts, and shaved pecorino; grilled endive leaf with walnut and tahini purée; and toasted bruschetta with semi-dried tomato pâté, and rosemary oil.
Third course (Tokara Premium EVOO): Kabeljou ceviche with apple purée and green olives; marinated grilled prawns with charred cauliflower; and potato croquette with baba ghanoush and parsley salsa verde.
With this absolutely exquisite spring lunch, we were treated to a choice between the Tokara Director’s Reserve White 2016, a wooded blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Sémillon, and the Tokara Syrah 2015. My philosophy when faced with such an impossible decision is to refuse to choose, so I had the Director’s Reserve White with the first course and the Syrah with the second and third courses. Delicious.
Tumble down the rabbit hole
A brief foray into the world of olive oil making, tasting, and pairing revealed to us the complexity of this world. Similar to wine and wine making, the more you learn, the more you hunger for learning. Now, when I purchase olive oil, I’m going to be hunting for details I never considered before, such as varietal, origin, and year of manufacture. And I’m going to start taking a sniff and a little swig before I pour it on my food, looking out for those creamy, nutty notes and rich, fresh, green flavours.
If you too wish to tumble down the rabbit hole of olive oil, Tokara Delicatessen offers complimentary tastings to one and all. You can also visit the deli to yield yourself to the heavenly and indulgent experience of a wine-paired lunch similar to what I have described above. For a more structured, guided tasting experience, you can visit the Tokara Tasting Lounge (bookings are advisable: +27 (0) 21 808 5900).
Tokara Deli Shop is open daily until 17:00 but the kitchen closes at 15:30. For bookings and enquiries, please call +27 (0) 21 808 5950.
Tokara Wine Estate, off R310 Helshoogte Road, Banhoek Valley, Stellenbosch