Alicedale’s homegrown olive oil cut above the rest

WE may think of the Mediterranean as home to the world’s finest olive oils, but many of our own locally produced olive products can rival them any day.

And what could be more local than Springvale, near Alicedale in the Eastern Cape? Here, olive farmer Craig Rippon has defied sceptics and succeeded not only in growing viable crops, but producing award-winning products.

Rippon won a Marco Zichella Award last month for best olive oil in the delicate category out of products from 26 South African estates. The competition was held in Stellenbosch and each estate could enter only one oil.

“The oils were divided into three categories: Delicate, medium intensity and intense,” said Rippon, who sells in towns like Bedford, Adelaide and Grahamstown, and on private order in Port Elizabeth.

“My extra virgin olive oil, which won first prize in the delicate category, is cold-extracted on the farm using an Oliomio machine imported from Italy. This was the first time I’d competed and so it was a major boost.”

Rippon said some consumers were sceptical that Eastern Cape oils could seriously compete with those from the Western Cape. “Another negative perception is that South African oils are inferior to those imported from countries like Spain, Italy and Greece. But ours are far superior to those oils, which are brought in mostly in 24000-litre containers, repackaged in South Africa and then sold at dirt-cheap prices.

“Often you have no idea of the age or quality of the oil, where it was extracted and what other oils might be blended in.”

Rippon said these and other practices were exposed in Tom Mueller’s book, Extra Virginity: The Sublime and Scandalous world of Olive Oil. Mueller is in South Africa this week to promote the book and speak at a conference in Stellenbosch.

Local producers often struggled to find markets because their products cost more, yet few people knew that European producers receive a hefty subsidy from the EU. “Some form of policing imports is needed and hopefully at some point the government will also intervene to level the playing field,” Rippon added.

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