So onwards and outwards, but still playing safe, I'm starting with olive-grower/sculptor Andries Maritz, who lives down the road from me at Rarangi, close to the sea at Cloudy Bay, near Blenheim.
I wanted to find out a little bit about him, what he grows and makes, what he hunts down and buys and, of course, a few pictures to help add to his story.
The first thing I noticed when I met Andries, while we were playing golf, was the way he walks with a strange sort of gait, which he later explains was because he had polio when he was six.
The next striking thing about Andries is that he looks you in the eye when he's talking, which I like.
Andries invited me into his house for a cup of tea and we started to talk about this month’s “Meet and Greet “and what Andries is producing from his land at Rarangi.
Andries lives on 2 hectares of the infamous Rarangi “pea gravel” and has an olive grove of 777 olive trees (nine different varieties mainly for oil, but also for table olives). He started with the bare land in August 2001 when he arrived from South-Africa. Three months later the trees were planted and he moved into his newly built house in the grove.
He mainly produces olive oil, which is cold pressed in Blenheim for E.V.O.O. (Extra Virgin Olive Oil). A taste of his olive oil brings a list of adjectives to mind: green/grass-fresh, fruity, peppery, bitter, nutty… nothing like the "extra virgin" bulk supermarket varieties, which to me simply tastes “oily” , The "test method" we used to try out the oils, is simple, ,just pour a small amount of olive oil onto a teaspoon and taste one after the other. "The difference is clear to your taste buds" says Andries .
Andries also mixes some of his olive oil with NZ butter to a soft consistency and adds herbs & spices for a wicked olive/butter mix on toast, bread or steak. If you’re keen, mix olive oil with grapefruit juice, orange juice or lemon juice to add something special and different to marinades, spreads and for salads.
After the olive harvest in June and July, he also preserves in brine smaller quantities of a few (about a 100 kg) of mainly black table olives using his Barnea and Manzanilla varieties. These are hand picked and selected, and processed according to an old traditional recipe. The ingredients are simple: fresh clean water, combined with good quality sea salt and vinegar. It takes a year before the olives have reached the quality Andries is looking for. “They taste simply divine,” he says, and the final result comes through trial and error and a simple method that requires patience, effort and time.
We sit around the table with samples of his products and already after the olive oil taste test I’m converted. However he insists on comparing his pickled olives with bulk commercial types. I try one and then the other but the difference is hard to explain It seems that Andries’ olives taste of olive and salt and are more "natural", while the commercial olives, taste of olive, maybe a little too soft, brine and a bit of acidity
The discussion leads to grapes, which tends to be a Marlborough thing, and we discuss what has he done in his “own back yard”? He has planted grapes in between two rows of the olive trees, for fresh grape juice and for making wine.” If the wine is not good enough” says Andries I make it into good quality vinegar, which is used for controlling the pH of the water when processing the table olives.
We progress from the kitchen table to the workshop, and I am shown how olive oil soap is made from the older olive oil. The result is a Castile-type soap which is lovely and slippery to the touch when wet and smells earthy. Andries says it seems to be good for people with sensitive skins.
We return to the kitchen after the tour around the grove, back to another warm cup of tea at the table and talk about the need to search and obtain a taste from ones past and that food, highlights those times spent usually with friends and family, simply bringing back memories.
This discussion of “past foods” brings out Andries’ South-African “Kook & Geniet”, the equivalent of the Edmonds Cookbook and Andries points out a “Boerewors”- sausage recipe, which one particular butcher in Blenheim is now making much to his liking.
I’m not a writer, so that’s about it for now. If you’d like to take part in “Meet and Greet” please send a brief outline of what you’re doing to me by email. firstname.lastname@example.org
And Andries can be contacted by email at email@example.com
Regards and good eating.