Klein Karoo estate beats world’s biggest producers to win best single varietal olive oil
When you’re up against the best in the world, you have to truly dazzle to stand out as the best of the best. And in a blind tasting, uninfluenced by country of origin, colour suggestions, or other biases, only the nose (and palate) truly knows.
A blind tasting of a thousand olive oils has unmasked the world’s finest olive oil and it’s produced right here, on a “farm in Africa”.
The De Rustica Estate Collection Coratina has been recognised “best in class” at the international Evooleum Awards in Spain for 2023, which includes best monovarietal/single cultivar; best Coratina; best “mixture green and ripe fruity”; and best from South Africa.
It then went on to win the “absolute best olive oil” at the competition over all categories, winning 97 points out of 100.
The Evooleum Awards are deemed to be one of the world’s most rigorous olive oil contests, promoted by Mercacei magazine and the Asociación Española de Municipios del Olivo (the Spanish Association of Olive Tree Municipalities) which assess the quality of extra virgin olive oils (Evoo) from all over the world.
A 26-strong international jury evaluates almost 1,000 blind samples (coded by a notary) from around the world, finally weedling it down to the 100 best Evoos.
This year, there are 13 countries with representation in the top 100 — South Africa, Spain, Italy, Portugal, Turkey, Croatia, China, Brazil, Greece, Israel, Morocco, Slovenia and Tunisia, which reveals that the production of quality Evoo is no longer limited to the Mediterranean basin and “continues its unstoppable process of international expansion”, noted the organisers.
Only two Southern Hemisphere countries, South Africa and Brazil, also made it to the top 10. That the best Evoo in the world comes not from Spain or Italy is a first in the history of this award.
As the producer of nearly half of the world’s olive oil, Spain takes its Evoos seriously, as does the Spanish press, which was buzzing this week with news that a farm from Africa had managed to produce something so remarkable.
- De Rustica Estate Collection Coratina (South Africa)
- Campos de Biatia La Dama Íbera Edición Limitada (Jaén, Spain)
- Al Alma del Olivo Hojiblanca Ecológico (Toledo, Spain)
- Don Gioacchino (Italy)
- Mas Montseny Premium Coratina (Tarragona, Spain)
- Supremo Royal (Jaén)
- Monini Monocultivar Coratina Bio (Italy)
- Azeite Sabiá Blend Especial (Brazil)
- Cassetta DOP Terra di Bari Castel del Monte (Italy)
- Pagos de Toral Picual Selección Gourmet (Jaén)
Five of the 10 best Evooss are made with the Italian Coratina variety, which is intensely fruity and “capable of offering a true explosion of aromas and flavours”, explained the organisers in a statement.
De Rustica Olive Estate is situated along Route 62 in the Little Karoo.
Named after the town of De Rust and De Re Rustica (“On Agriculture”, written by the ancient Roman author Columella) — which is described as the most comprehensive, systematic and detailed of Roman agricultural works — De Rustica boasts a cool climate, deep in the heart of the Swartberg Mountains.
The estate farms sheep, cattle and olives, which are planted over some 140 hectares at altitudes ranging from 400-650m.
It enjoys cold winters, pure mountain water and abundant sunshine. Established in 2006, the estate is a consistent winner of local and international awards, recognising the quality of its Evoos.
Owner Rob Still explained the stringent judging: “To give you an idea of the rigour of this particular competition: there are 26 judges, all of whom are professional tasters, from 10 different countries. All the entries are coded by KPMG.”
Oils are chemically tested before and afterwards to ensure that they don’t vary, and then coded, so the judges have no idea of what they are testing. Otherwise, to be cynical, “an obscure little nobody estate from South Africa would probably never have won”.
This is the biggest of all the professional competitions in the world.
Does altitude make a difference? Probably: Still said while most olives around the world are grown near the sea, those in the top 40 are consistently grown in the mountains of Spain and other cooler climates.
De Rustica is a professional farm, and a medium-sized business, deeming manual harvesting to be central to quality. Still said he does not agree with mechanical harvesting, from a quality point of view, or that one should use it in the context of South Africa’s frightening unemployment rate. The difference in price is marginal: “Believe me, I have an educated economic brain and have done the maths. Also, to use mechanical harvesters, you need very flat conditions and we’re in a valley going up a mountain.”
So, they employ 200 people every day of the week for about three and a half months, to bring in the olive harvest.
“We like to take off our olives at the opportune time, which is slightly green to perfect but not overripe, which would also never work for a tree shaker [which is attached to a tractor]. Our workers use combs to remove the olives, which are collected into buckets and then emptied. It works well, we employ a lot of people and the maths works.”
It’s an extraordinary accomplishment, from a country that is deemed to produce volumes that are “smaller than a flea on a flea’s bottom”, compared to giants Spain and Italy.
South Africa produces less than 2 million litres of the liquid gold. De Rustica’s factory produces only about 200,000 litres a year, compared to a “small” Spanish cooperative that will pump out 1.2 million litres annually, in association with dozens of farmers.
“We might as well send flowers to ourselves, for South African olive oil and South African agriculture. It’s quite surreal for us to beat the world in something like this.” DM/TGIFood