Some years ago, around 1996, I needed more olives than my 2 trees could supply and had to find a farm (with olive trees) which was prepared to grow an array of olives for me to keep up with my potential growth.
I found such a farm in the Eilandia Valley, between Worcester and Robertson in the Western Cape, where the climate is perfect for olive trees to thrive. With a great deal of special care and good pruning a single tree can bear up to 50kg of olives per year.
Olives ripen from March till June. Oil cultivars like Frontoio, Corotina and Leccino are picked green or half ripe to give special characteristics to their oils. The olives for the oil we produce are pressed within 24 hours of harvesting to ensure a top quality and highly valued extra virgin oil, with no flaws. When olives are harvested and not pressed immediately, they can bruise or start deteriorating, and this will negatively affect the taste and quality of the oil.
Table olives follow next. These are carefully handpicked so as not to bruise them. Green olives as we know them are unripe olives, picked before they ripen. Manzanillas olives are handpicked and are most often used in their green form. Other green varieties we use are the crunchy, nutty Nocellaras and Sevillanos which are large in size and crispy.
The black olive varieties such as Mission and Kalamata are left on the trees to ripen further. Mission olives, which are the most common variety, yield a versatile olive that can be used to make oil as well as for table olives. Kalamata is a name we all know well, but this plump, juicy and superior tasting variety is not a prolific bearer and the fruit can be difficult to source.
Olives are inedible as a raw fruit and need to undergo lactic acid fermentation to lose their bitterness and become the wonderfully tasty olive we enjoy so much. Our olives are handpicked with great care and put into the curing brine within 6 hours of being picked. The curing brine consists of pure, untreated farm water and Karoo salt. After 10 months of regular changes of water and much patience, the olives are now ready for processing into the products on our shelves. This slow curing process results in the firm and tasty olive for which we have become known.
It is only at this point that we can remove the pips, stuff the olives, or turn them into pastes. We smoke them. We roast them. We sun dry them. We marinade them. All of this is essential to create a product that is different from and superior to the olives available in the big commercial stores.
With or without all the added extras - olives remain one of the healthier choices.