Olives are woven tightly into the tapestry of human history. With usefulness that extends beyond their delectable taste – archaeologists have uncovered evidence of olive oil used as lamp fuel as long ago as 6000 years – olives are a gift of nature kept evergreen through the ages, a gift continually enjoyed from Major Anthony Nelson's acquisition of a magical genie, down to our 21st-century culinary explorations.
The olives section in today's modern grocery stores brims with various gourmet options. Days when the canned black olives and green olives with pimentos dominated the shelves are long gone. For those who have nostalgic memories of playfully placing olives on each fingertip and taking joyful bites, let me introduce you to the world of culinary olives.
Popular Varieties of Olives
A deliciously earthy olive commonly used in salads. The distinctive taste comes from its curing process involving red wine vinegar.
Green Olives with Herbs de Provence
These vibrant olives, flavored with the distinctive blend of Herbs de Provence spices, provide a delightful citrus twist. Perfect for seafood dishes and pairing with sweet spices.
With its rich flavor, this olive variety blends superbly in sauces typically served over pasta, and its concentrated, almost raisin-like sweetness balances perfectly against salty capers and anchovies in a classic puttanesca sauce.
Kalamatas (or Calamatas)
These tangy black olives, cured in red wine vinegar, can hail from Italy or California (the California variety uses the 'C' spelling) – sentinels of flavor most notable in Greek salads. These olives are also excellent scattered over focaccia before baking.
This olive, resembling a robust and winey kalamata, is a favorite addition to antipasto salads and brings an extra layer of complexity when paired with robust cheeses, cured meats, and full-bodied wines.
Echoing the kalamata in flavor, blending this olive with cream cheese and garlic results in a delightful dip, transforming an ordinary bagel or cracker into a flavor sensation reminiscent of Mediterranean culinary traditions.
Despite pits, this meaty, buttery olive is fantastic paired with provolone cheese and bruschetta, and their unique, almost almond-like shape and vibrant green color provide an impressive visual contrast on any charcuterie board or antipasti platter.
Castelvetrano (or Castlevetrano)
Indigenous to Castelvetrano, Sicily, these olives are distinct for their bright green color and meaty texture. Castelvetrano olives are sweet, mild, and less salty than other olive varieties, making them incredibly popular among olive lovers and newbies. With a buttery taste and somewhat crisp texture, they're served as delicious with your cheese board as your favorite martini.
Savoring olives forms a thread of the slow-living movement's fabric. It's a practice of mindfulness, a journey back into history, and a celebration of the senses. Whether you're a long-time olive lover or have just discovered these historical fruits, a new olive experience is always waiting to tantalize your palate.