Front runners in producing local, artisanal fare, Perry and Karen Chaloner have created a brand that is synonymous with exceptional quality and outstanding flavour
Meet the family behind Chaloner’s hand-crafted olive products, preserves and sauces
Uncompromising in quality and singular in flavour, it’s no surprise that Chaloner products have captured a growing local and international market. “If you are not willing to risk the usual, you will have to settle for the ordinary,” – the words of American entrepreneur Jim Rohn – is a quote that speaks volumes about Perry and Karen, and the journey they have taken to establish the Chaloner brand, their signature range of hand-crafted olive products, preserves and sauces.
In 1992, the Chaloners moved from Cape Town to a 14-hectare farm hugging the base of the Stellenbosch Mountains in the Blaauwklippen Valley. “There was nothing here apart from an expanse of land overgrown with alien vegetation,” Karen recalls, telling me about how they worked with a bricklayer to build a tiny cottage and barn while they rented a house nearby. “It was daunting, but we were young and reckless. It was also a labour of love: marking out orchards, installing irrigation and telephone lines, planting trees, and dealing with issues like storm water run-off; but it took just one spectacular sunset to confirm we had made the right decision.”
After seven years of patience, the farm – which they had by then named Falcon’s Nest – started to flourish with fruit trees bearing olives, plums, lemons and Seville oranges. “The reality, however, was that we were losing most of our profits to the middleman, and this forced us to look at alternative ways of using our harvests to add value,” Perry recalls. As an entrepreneur with a passion for food – Perry owned one of Cape Town’s first sushi restaurants in Sea Point, Kamakura – he combined his skills and started to make traditional jams from the fruit, and progressed to making other products like tapenades.
A great deal of time was spent in the kitchen experimenting with unusual flavour combinations and using herbs
like lavender and rosemary, which grew on the farm. “I was inspired to create locally manufactured, premiumquality products I hoped consumers would come to appreciate as pantry staples,” Perry shares, adding that he was fuelled by his disappointment with the flavourless, mass-produced items lining the supermarket aisles. “The feedback from family and friends was invaluable. I fine-tuned the recipes and the response was overwhelmingly positive and very encouraging.”
Since the official launch of the Chaloner range in 2006, Perry’s approach to flavour pairing has remained maverick and contemporary. Take, for instance, his Olive and Chilli Marmalade: crafted from an unusual mix of ingredients, this preserve is an impeccable fusion of the five flavour profiles – sweet, bitter, salty, sour and umami – that form the foundation of every recipe.
One reviewer describes it as an “out-of-body experience” when paired with cheese. It is indeed, scrumptious, and a cheeseboard would be bereft without it.
Other bestsellers include their Plum and Onion Preserve and the Smoked Garlic and Chilli Pickle, which is a recipe developed by celebrated chef Bertus Basson of Overture restaurant at Hidden Valley Wines. “When these products have sold out online or in supermarkets, we’ve actually had customers call us anxiously to ask whether they can stop by the farm to buy them directly from us,” Perry says with a proud chuckle.
From the start, the Chaloners made the unwavering decision to develop their products for taste, regardless of price point. As the quality of produce relies heavily on maintaining healthy soil, the farm follows a biodynamic approach which includes minimal intervention and the use of organic fertilisers. Additionally, harvesting takes place when the fruit is at optimum maturity to ensure the highest natural sugar content.
“When we have to source beyond our own production, we seek out the freshest, seasonal ingredients,” Karen says, explaining that they are required to supply certificates of analysis when buying raw products. “We support local organic farmers within the confines of the rigorous food safety legislation.”
With olives as one of their staple crops, the Chaloners also produce an
excellent variety of award-winning extra-virgin olive oils (EVOO). Over the past two decades, the initial half hectare of olive trees has grown to 7 000 and includes nine different varietals ranging from an intense Favolosa to a delicate barnea.
As well as enjoying a Mediterranean climate perfectly suited to cultivating olives, the farm falls within a temperate micro-climate region that’s unique to Stellenbosch. While this means lower yields, the spin-off benefit is enhanced taste. Another distinguishing feature of the farm’s site is its decomposed granite soils, which lend the olive oils their diverse and unusual flavours.
In 2013, Chaloner’s flagship Mountain Oil Extra Virgin Olive Oil – which is produced from the farm’s first harvest – won gold at the SA Olive Awards; in 2016, it won gold again and in
2017, silver. In 2015, it was given a special mention at the Sol d’Oro Southern Hemisphere competition.
In 2018, their single cultivar Nocellara Medium EVOO stood out and won gold at the SA Olive Awards – it was one of only 21 gold awards received out of 81 entries, which were all judged by an internationally led panel of professionals. “We are very proud,” Perry beams. “The drought made 2018 a challenging year. Many of the early oils were very astringent, but the nocellara benefitted from being a late harvest, so it was less affected.”
Despite the growing success of their brand – the business is on a strong growth curve with a 30% increase year on year – Perry and Karen believe the average South African consumer still has a way to go in understanding and appreciating the value of local, artisanal products. They use EVOO as an example, citing that locally produced oils make up only 40% of the country’s total sales, even though South African EVOO is up there with the best in the world. This might be because the international EVOO industry lacks regulatory panels and quality control and, along with favourable subsidies, it has been easy to flood the South African market with cheap, sub-standard imported brands that undercut local producers. “It is so important to encourage and educate consumers to buy local,” Karen says.
The truth is that many of these products masquerading as EVOO are made in industrial plants where lowgrade, very tired oils, have been chemically “polished” to scrape through into the extra-virgin category with little of the flavour or health benefits of the real thing.
Chaloner EVOO is made from olives that are hand-picked to avoid bruising and pressed within 24 hours to retain the best flavour. “As an artisanal producer, we pay more attention to the detail with each individual batch and we are able to control the entire process from tree to bottle, to table. This is essential to ensuring the quality of a product,” Karen states.
Regardless of the challenge presented by the lack of consumer education, Perry has no misgivings about room for their business to flourish. “We’re seeing an increase in the number of perceptive customers who are actively seeking out finequality, locally produced, small-batch products. It’s an international trend and it is growing,” he says. Major retailers in the country are climbing on board as well, like Checkers, which was one of the first to stock Chaloner products after a prominent figure at the Shoprite Group caught wind of the brand and paid the Chaloners an impromptu visit on their farm a few years ago.
Apart from that, their products are also available at the premium stores of other major retailers, as well as at select delis across the county. What’s more, most flagship SUPER SPARs are showcasing the entire range of more than 30 products! But that’s not all: Woolworths stores stock the Olive and Chilli, as well as the Seville Orange, marmalades alongside the Blueberry and Raspberry, Raspberry and Vanilla, and Rhubarb and Ginger preserves. Chaloner jams can also be found on the tables at Woolworths Cafés. Online, the brand has a solid presence on Yuppiechef and Faithful-to-Nature, and it’s soon to launch on Amazon.
On an international level, finding the right distribution partners remains a challenge; yet, Chaloner products have successfully made their way to the USA, Canada, Holland, Sweden and the Czech Republic; and consistent export markets include the United Kingdom, South Korea and New Zealand, where the Olive and Chilli, and Seville Orange marmalades, as well as the Plum and Onion Chutney, are the most popular products; in fact, they were so well received by some South Koreans visiting the country in 2016 that the group tracked Perry and Karen down at their farm and, in the end, the encounter resulted in regular distribution to the East Asian country.
It’s been 13 years since the business’s start and there has, of course, been change. For one thing, the Chaloners no longer live in a tiny cottage; their French, countrystyle home is picture perfectly nestled in a thicket on the farm.
And they no longer work from their kitchen: the manufacturing of all the products, including that of the EVOO, takes place in a smart, scrupulously clean production plant that borders the orchards and olive groves. “When we built the factory, it seemed we had made a quantum leap, but it was just another step along the path,” Perry smiles. “This business is a generational one and our hope is that our daughter,
Megan, will continue the heritage.”
PERRY AND KAREN CHALONER
PERRY AND KAREN CHALONER WITH THEIR DAUGHTER, MEGAN, AND DOG SASSY