From humble beginnings in the small sugar village of Darnall to becoming a multiaward-winning oil producer and the owner of Fraaigelegen Farm in the Cape Winelands, Venishree Mayer is proud to be the first Indian South African woman to
produce extra virgin olive oil.
Having recently won a gold medal and two silvers at the SA Olive Association awards, Venishree is celebrating by sharing her love for the liquid gold that is found in almost every kitchen in the world.
Since the launch of her brand, ADHARA EVOO (extra virgin olive oil) in 2018, Venishree and her husband, Juergen, have been the recipients of five awards and, as a small producer, with just under 3000 trees, she is thriving on their ground-breaking success and her active role in the industry. She is also a strong advocate for the health benefits of olive oil. “There is a high rate of heart-related diseases, diabetes and arthritis within in the Indian community. Olive oil is a rich source of antioxidants, reduces the risk of heart disease and is good for both the skin and hair. It should be a staple in every kitchen.”
The youngest of four siblings, Venishree is a third-generation Indian South African who grew up heavily involved in the Indian culture and cooking, with a lots of typical large family gatherings. After completing a law degree at Howard College, UKZN, she went into sales and marketing at Mercedes Benz SA before heading to Cambridge in the United Kingdom where she did volunteer work with Oxfam and married Juergen. In 2011 Venishree took a sabbatical, spending time learning Spanish and giving Business English language lessons to entrepreneurs venturing abroad, before heading back into a corporate role as global head of communications for a US company.
“In 2015 Juergen and I resigned from our corporate roles and ambled off on a spontaneous road trip through nine European countries, after which we planned to move back to SA.”
Venishree says their shared desire to ‘Carpe Diem’ increased after her mother was diagnosed with Parkinson’s and dementia. “It was time to be selfless and do something different, maybe run a guest house, live life, redirect and rejuvenate.”
When they returned to SA, Venishree and Juergen fell in love with Fraaigelegen Farm in Tulbagh. Owning a farm was never on their ‘to do’ list and they still refer to themselves as virgins at farming!. They set about restoring the vineyards, olive groves and guest cottages.
“It was quite a learning curve. Passion, determination and a few failures got us through the first two years. The farm needed much attention and there were multiple unforeseen challenges.”
Much of the couple’s hard-earned savings went into restoring the farm. But it was worth it. Today it is a successful agri-tourism destination. After the accommodation business was up and running, focus turned to agricultural methods. “The ultimate aim is to attain a balanced relationship between the terroir and farming philosophy – we farm with the land not against it.” This is, she says, is to improve the organic carbon content to sustain the soil’s life and fertility.
“Though harmony and balance we strive to regenerate the soil biology so that we don’t need chemical fertilizers, pesticides, insecticides or fungicides. We have already started seeing the benefit of this farming method. It has been a long, but very rewarding journey.”
The couple’s motto and driving force became ‘quality over quantity’ and by 2017, an exclusive deal was signed with Paserene Wines (Franschhoek) as the exclusive grape producer.
“Our focus turned to extra virgin olive oil and we launched ADHARA EVOO in 2018.”
Venishree broke the glass ceiling in the industry as the first female person of colour to win an award, as owner and producer! In 2019 she joined the SA Olive Association as a board member and director. Recently Cape Goods online shop was launched in Germany, aimed at bringing premium quality extra virgin olive oils of SA to Europe and, next on the list is the launch of their own wine label.
Venishree is incredibly proud of the quality of the extra virgin olive oil they produce and says that SA ranks with the best in the world in terms of superior quality and taste. She strongly recommends customers be very selective in their choice of extra virgin olive oil. Always look out for the green CTC (Certificate of Compliance) seal on the bottle. This guarantees it is 100% extra virgin and 100% locally produced. This seal is issued only after intensive tasting and testing by the SA OLIVE ASSOCIATION.
“There are so many benefits associated with the consumption of extra virgin olive oil. It really is so worth including it in your daily food intake. In spite of Parkinson’s, diabetes, dementia and arthritis, my 83-year-old mum is still strong, and I’m convinced it’s because she gets olive oil in some form in her diet, every single day.”
When Venishree is not receiving guests, hand-harvesting olives or grapes, helping build a shelter for the farm animals or volunteering with local NGOs, she is very much at home in the kitchen.
“At home we use extra virgin olive oil in many ways – in all dishes including curries, to fry all our delicious Indian sweet and savoury treats and even to make roti! I bake cakes with extra virgin olive oil – it really is so versatile. Olive oil is very stable when heated. It is a carrier of flavour and does not disturb the authentic Indian flavour and spices but heightens them.”
Although she loves her farm, Venishree admits to still missing Durban and the view from her university residence that overlooked the harbour.
“What an unforgettable view! What I miss more though is the never-ending opportunity to get fresh Indian veggies and authentic Durban spices, and most of all… a really good bunny chow!”
ADHARA EVOO is available for nationwide deliveries. Email: [email protected] or via WhatsApp on 071 404 2766. www.adharaevoo.com
Vinaigrette for Green Salad
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon minced fresh garlic
3 tablespoons champagne vinegar
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup Adhara Evoo (can be substituted with a good quality extra virgin olive oil of your choice)
Salad greens for 6 to 8 people
In a small bowl, whisk together the mustard, garlic, vinegar, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. While whisking, slowly add the olive oil until the vinaigrette is emulsified. Place the salad greens in a medium bowl and add enough dressing to moisten. Sprinkle with a little extra salt and pepper, if desired, and serve immediately.
Simple Lemon Olive Oil Cake
8 large eggs
2 cups sugar
1 cup Adhara Evoo (can be substituted with a good quality extra virgin olive oil of your choice)
5 tbsp. lemon juice
2 cups flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp fine salt
2 tsp lemon zest
Preheat oven to 170°C (fan). Grease or line, with greaseproof paper, a 26cm round cake tin. Using your mixer, beat eggs and sugar on high until the mixture is fluffy and has doubled in volume (between 5 and 7 minutes total mixing time). While the eggs and sugar are mixing, in a separate bowl whisk together flour, baking powder, salt and lemon zest. Using a rubber spatula, gently fold in olive oil and lemon juice into the egg mixture. Using the same spatula, fold in flour mixture into the wet mixture until the flour disappears. Do not overmix. Pour the cake batter into your prepared pan and gently tap on a solid surface to remove some of the larger egg bubbles. Bake for 40 to 45 minutes until the top is a light brown and a toothpick entered in the centre comes out clean. Remove from the oven and let cool for 10 minutes. Gently run a butter knife along the edges of the cake to release it from the pan and continue cooling on a wired rack.
Simple: Dust with powdered icing sugar prior to serving
Elegant and decadent: Blueberry filling for which you’ll need 250g mascarpone, 250ml fresh cream, 200g smooth cream cheese (ideally Lancewood), a handful of fresh blueberries and a ¼ cup sifted icing sugar.
Mix mascarpone, icing sugar and cream cheese well. Beat fresh cream separately, and then fold into the above mixture. Add some blueberries to the mix. Cut the cake in half. Take a tablespoon and put heaps of the mix all over the cake so that you can smooth it out gently. Use only half of the mix. Put top half of cake back on to sandwich them. Use the rest of the mix to decorate top of the cake and decorate with the blueberries. Allow to stand in the fridge until ready to serve.