July 17, 2018
Before olives were found nearly everywhere from fancy restaurants to tapenades, to martinis, they were a staple in many cultural diets. From Asia to Greece, olive trees date back thousands of years. While we may not see them as sacred now, they are known to represent peace for many people from the Mediterranean.
Get to Know the Olive Pit
It’s only been about ten or fifteen years since a wider variety of olives became readily available in Canadian grocery stores. Prior to the introduction of Co-op’s Olive Pit, as it’s known, there were really only basic green and black olives available in jars or cans. With the arrival of the Olive Pit, a wider variety of olives—a staple of a healthy Mediterranean diet—was now readily available. And unlike their tinned counterparts, you can see what you’re getting; fresh, plump, ripe olives.
Olives come in many different colours. Most often the colour is a mark of their ripeness over their variety. Green olives are picked right at the beginning of the ripening process and darker olives have been left on the tree, then are picked later on.
Single-source Olives at Co-op
At Co-op’s Olive Pit, the olives are sourced from a single farm and not a co-operative. This way, Co-op can ensure true consistency in each fresh batch of olives.
You’re no doubt familiar with a few of the kinds of olives Co-op carries, but here are some things you may know about each.
Get to Know Our Olive Varieties
Kalamata olives are a staple in Greek and Mediterranean cooking. You can distinguish them by their shiny, dark purple, almond shape. They are harvested at full ripeness, and the red-wine, or olive oil brine they’re usually put in contributes to their lightly fruity flavour.
Pimento stuffed green olives are unripe olives with a small pepper stuffed inside. Green olives are picked in the earlier stages of the ripening process, which contributes to their slightly tart flavour. The peppers that make this olive unique are cherry peppers which are a very sweet and mild pepper. You’ll often find these olives garnishing drinks.
Castelvetrano olives are Italy’s olive of choice. Distinguishable because of their bright green, almost lime-coloured hue, they really add a splash of colour to any dish. With a firm texture and a delicate flavour reminiscent of butter and fresh green grass, these are a must-try.
Cerignola olives are from Italy as well and they come in an array of colours like green, red, and black. Their buttery consistency and large size make them popular with olive lovers.
Black olives are olives that are harvested at the last possible moment, when they have that sun-drenched dark purple/black colour. Some varieties of black olives are Nyon, Mission, and Moroccan Beldi.
Fruits of the Countryside
Like many other fruits, (yes, olives are indeed a fruit, since they contain seeds) olives start out green and gradually ripen while darkening in colour.
Once harvested, olives are put in different solutions that aim to soften them and make them edible, since olives off the tree are often hard and tart. These solutions give olives their specific unique flavours and distinct differences, and this is known as the curing process, which helps to preserve and improve the taste and texture of the olives. There are several ways olives are cured.
How Olives are Cured
Out of all the curing methods this is the least common and most time consuming method. This process requires olives to be soaked in water for a long period of time. Usually this process is followed by a salt brine.
Lye curing uses an alkaline mixture derived from ash or potash to soften up olives. Olives are often rinsed in this solution many times, then this is followed by a natural brine such as salt.
This process is used for the majority of olives today and can take up to a year to achieve. Brine is essentially a salt water mixture.
The wrinkly, shrunken-looking olives you might find in the Olive Pit are dry cured. These olives have been placed in salt for 4-6 weeks and can be eaten once the salt has been removed. These olives tend to be very salty, so often they are put in an oil mixture to hydrate and plump them up once again.
At Co-op’s Olive Pit you’ll find more than just olives. An array of traditional Italian Antipasto, or appetizer bites is also available. Pickled peppers are on hand, like lantern-shaped sweet-hot Peppadew peppers, or the small tear-drop shaped Sweety Drop Peruvian peppers which are known for their tangy sweet-sour flavour. They are unique to Peru and grow in the highlands. Marinated mushrooms are often on hand; tangy and herby they harmonize well with the salty meats, olives, and cheeses you can often find on a charcuterie or antipasto board.
Next time you visit Co-op, swing by the olive bar and add a few new flavours to your cup, or use this vast variety of olives and antipastos for cooking, snacking or to fill out a charcuterie or cheese board.
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