All About the Best Olives
An Introduction to Olives
The olive has such a long and beloved history in the Mediterranean that, to an Italian, olive trees almost seem holy. From the olive’s place in early mythology to its current position in food culture, there is much to say about this noble fruit. The best olives come in a wide range of classes, colors, flavors, and curing methods, making them an ideal and versatile addition to the antipasto board. If you’re craving olives and want to learn about the basic history, harvesting and curing methods, and pairings for this popular fruit, our olives encyclopedia is a great place to begin.
History of the Olive Tree
There is something surprisingly modest about olive trees, given their noble history and legendary reputation. Quite often, there is nothing particularly breathtaking or impressive about the tree’s height, girth, leaves, or fragrance. But for an Italian, as for most Mediterranean people, the olive tree has been seen throughout history as a symbol of peace, victory, and the endurance of life itself—evoking feelings of harmony, vitality, and health. Known as “the tree of eternity,” the olive tree is one of the oldest cultivated trees, grown even before written language was invented. These ancient trees originated in the region that is today called Turkey, and they have had a huge impact on all the important Mediterranean civilizations. The olive tree’s longevity is due to its strength and ability to survive adverse conditions. Olive trees can survive drought, adapt to almost any sunny or temperate environment, thrive in most types of soil, and even endure periods of low temperatures. One of the oldest known olive trees is over 3,000 years old and it still bears fruit in Crete. Today there are 800 million olive trees growing on Earth, and no less than 500 different cultivars, or varieties of olives.
The Basics of Olives
From the buttery, green Italian Castelvetrano to the tart and tangy Greek Calamata, the best olives come in a number of varieties from all over the world. Depending on a number of factors, including the climate and time of harvest, olives boast a vast range of colors, textures and flavors. (And, of course, how they are cured!) These beloved, bite-sized and craveable fruits are as complex as they are plentiful, so be sure to explore the world of flavor that olives have to offer.
There are hundreds of varieties of olives from all over the world. Each has their own unique and distinct characteristics to include shape, size, color and ultimately flavor.
The exact moment an olive is harvested makes all the difference—on a scale from green (young) to black (ripened). An olive’s maturity affects its texture and flavor profile.
Ultimately, it is the curing style that gives an olive its distinct flavor profile. You can cure the same olive two different ways and create two very distinct tastes.
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The Olive Harvest
Olives come in a wide range of colors, from straw-green to purples and black …even pink! The precise moment an olive is harvested can determine its flavor and texture. Just as you might imagine, the greener an olive, the younger it is. These youthful fruits are typically picked from the tree in September and October—early in the harvest season. Green olives are often tart in flavor with a crisp, firm flesh. Dark-hued olives (the deep purple, brown and black) are allowed to ripen longer on the tree before they are plucked—typically in January—creating a more tender and more complex olive with deeper, richer notes.
Younger olives are green and tend to be firmer and crisper in texture with a more bright, tart flavor.
Dark olives are more mature, boasting richer and more intense flavors with a tender bite. Ripe olives can vary in color: from purple to brown to black.
How to Cure An Olive
Natural Brine Cure
A natural process where ripened olives are fermented in salt water. While this method takes longer (months and months and months), the results are a superbly flavorful olive. Our preferred cure for most olives, it is a natural way to emphasize an olives full, bold flavor.
Dry cured, or salt cured, olives are super intense. Olives are packed in salt, removing bitterness and moisture, leaving behind a wrinkled raisin-looking olive with a deep, concentrated flavor. These olives are often packed in oil, giving them a plump, juicy bite.
Lye, also known as caustic soda, is a curing agent used to expedite the curing process that might take months otherwise, can be cured in days or weeks. This process is followed by a thorough rinsing. While olives often keep their texture, the downside of a
lye cure is loss of flavor.
5 Fast Facts About Olives
Olives are actually a stone fruit (like peaches or cherries).
Unlike most tree fruits, olives are inedible straight from the branch. Olives are cured in a variety of ways to remove bitter flavor compounds.
All olives start out green. As they mature, olives can range from a purple to deep brown or black. Olives range in color depending on when they are harvested. As a rule, the greener they are, the less mature they are.
The taste of each olive differs from olive variety to olive variety. Those big, bold flavors vary for a few reasons: olive variety, olive ripeness or color (how soon or late they were harvested) and how they are cured
Olive trees are an ancient Mediterranean crop, grown and harvested for thousands of years. Most olive trees are hundreds of years old and still bear delicious fruit!