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Follow the olive at Willow Creek

“If you don’t have passion, the adversities will get you down,” says Andries Rabie of Willow Creek Olive Estate. Judging by their success – on an international scale – their passion is enormous.

We’re not even talking South African competitions: Willow Creek has consistently won international awards at competitions for extra virgin olive oil since 2005. That’s every year, without exception. And the list is getting longer with each passing year.

* Quick note: Click here to see why extra virgin should be your only choice (and refined really means “processed”).

If you’ve ever been on one of Willow Creek’s Follow the Olive tours, you’ll know why they’re the best. They know their stuff. They know how to let the facts do the talking. They know how to do detail well. And the man in charge of marketing, AC Goodger, never even uttered a word.

willow creek olive tour
Andries and Louise Rabie share their vast knowledge with visitors.

 

The scale of the estate and the humility of its people is equally impressive. About 260 hectares covered by 220 000 olive trees (one of the largest estate olive oil producers in the Southern Hemisphere) cannot be easy to establish. Andries is frank about inexperience, financial constraints and adversity adding pressure in the early days.

But the amazing result of caring about quality, is quality.

The operation went from producing 14 000 litres of oil in the first year to harvesting 5 tonnes per day (mechanically and by up to 300 seasonal workers) from about Easter through July.

Olives harvested willow creek
Harvested olives arrive in the oil extraction plant.

 

The product range has grown from a simple oil (but still good enough to win two South African awards) to different styles of extra virgin olive oil, flavoured oils, table olives, tapenades and pesto, squeeze bottles, sachets and vinegar.

Even the extraction facility is laboratory-clean and very efficient. Olives are first de-leafed and de-stemmed, washed and milled into a paste. The paste is churned to allow oil droplets to aggregate, before being separated through a decanter centrifuge and collected as a green “milky” liquid. After sitting for about three to six weeks, the oil will be clear.

Olive oil milky state
The green, milky liquid that will clear within the next six weeks.

On to the tasting

There are good olive oils, excellent olive oils and really bad ones. Louise Rabie knows the characteristics of each, inside out, and conducted a short masterclass in how taste tests around the world are done. Click here to read an article on what she said.

Yes, the difference in quality between the good, the bad and the excellent is detectable. Good thing Louise ended the tasting off with a prize winner from Willow Creek.

Things we didn’t know about the olive

• All olives go black when ripe. Green table olives (simply harvested before they colour) cure much longer than their ripe counterparts.

• Different varieties of olive are better suited to making table olives than others. Chances are that if you find firm and soggy olives in the same packet, they are from a variety that sees uneven ripening of the fruit.

• One planted hectare yields about 2 000 litres of olive oil.

• You should keep olive oil away from air (during production and even in your home) to prevent oxidation.

• If you handle and store olive oil correctly, it will go bad in the bottle after about two years. It’s essentially just fruit juice, so yes, it will go bad.

If you haven’t clicked on the hyperlinks above, click here for an article on the difference between extra virgin and refined olive oil.

Click here for an article on olive oil use.

Click here to visit Willow Creek’s website.

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