Friday, June 13, 2014

Olive Tasting

Early last month Foodie Friend hosted a small Friday night gathering to stoop sit in downtown Albany amid lovely snicker snacks and a few drinks. In addition, Zena, Goddess of Fire, brought a selection of olives to taste and compare and talk about.

The olives came mostly from Cappiello's in Schenectady and from Pellegrino's on Central Ave. in Albany

Q: Is an olive a fruit or a vegetable???
bzzzzzzt TIMES UP
A: A fruit (of the Olea europea tree)

A serving of fruit that can be just terrific with gin!!!?? That's about as perfect as it gets. What more can we learn??????

By day I am a librarian, so let's approach this in alpha order.....

The only olive that we had that came out of a jar, purchased at The Berry Farm in Chatham, NY, were tiny Arbequina olives from Spain. These were very mild, kind of buttery, meaty, very firm, and being so little they made for wonderful nibbles between sips. These olives have one of the highest concentrations of oil and most of those grown in California are used for olive oil production. We had them first at Carmen's Cafe back in February, where they were offered gratis to the table. If you see them buy some and share them with friends. They, too, will be impressed. 

POP QUIZ!!!! (Again? - It's just like seeing another cop car as you zip to work in the morning, isn't it???)
Q: The oldest living olive trees are in Lebanon and are estimated to be 7,000 to 8,000 years old - true or false?
bzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzt TIMES UP
A: False! They are only 6,000 to 6,800 years old. But that's still pretty impressive. Called The Sisters these are, in fact, Plantae Superheros, helping to save the world from ourselves with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory nutrients. Ted Nugent, I hope you are paying attention.

Alfonso Olives

We loved the Alfonso olives from Chile. These are cured in wine, or wine vinegar, so they are nice and tart with that dark purpley color. These were actually sort of sour, and soft, and a bit winey for sure. The flavor really lingered and it was one of our favorites, although one taster wished they were a bit firmer. 

Next it was the Calabrese olives from Italy, which, according to a recent expert self-analysis I did yesterday, is the country that best matches my personality (apparently I am "complex" [as opposed to just generally confused]) - but I digress. These are small, firm olives that have been seasoned with hot peppers, garlic, and fennel. We found them tart and vinegary, very salty, spicy and strongly flavored. I found black Calabreses (as opposed to these small green ones) at Cappiello's. They were good, but we all complained about a bitter aftertaste. Save these for tapenade (which I did - recipe follows!!!).

I had three containers of Cerignola olives - also an Italian cultivar - natural green, cured black and red. These things are very large and very mild. The green ones tasted a lot like those Manzanilla's that are always getting lost in the back of the fridge just when you NEED a martini, but these were SOOOOO much better. Rich, lip-greasifying, and "satisfying like a savory plum" (to quote Foodie Friend), these had no bitterness and a perfect texture. We decided these were the best bet to serve to someone who says they don't like olives. The black ones were plain, soft, okay and forgetful.The Red Bella Cerignola tasted very very salty and were slightly bitter, and maybe even a touch musty at first, but a couple of folks really liked the aftertaste. I later discovered that the intense red color is from being dyed with Erythrosine, also known as Red Dye #3. Um, that's not something I wanted to know. Anyway, they are very pretty and may be a nice addition to a holiday platter if forces of evil are attending your party and you are looking for an easy way to take them out. 

Red Dye #3

POP QUIZ!!! (this is when you get pulled over, right?)
Q: The U.S. has strict import standards on olive oils and is considering adding "Extra Rancid" as one label suggestion - true or false?
bzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzt  TIMES UP
A: False, and False. It's NY Republicans that are fighting any kind of legislation because it would cost olive oil importers millions. Phooey on you, California. Again.

My favorite olives were the small brine-cured Gaeta (or Gyeta) olives imported from Italy. These were delicate, not overly salty, kind of nutty. Like me............

We also tasted Kalamata olives from Greece, something we had all had before - large, black olives that are always salty and tasty and meaty and very flavorful. The pits come out easy, too, which makes them great for spitting whilst sitting on the stoop. We also tried Mixed Greek olives from Pellegrino's - large, soft black olives laced with garlic, herbs and spices - really lovely, as well as their Oil Cured Greek olives.  These are all wrinkly and deeply flavorful, kind of concentrated, and not for the faint of heart - soft and very salty and pungent, but delicious for sure.

Kalamata Olives

Q: Are oil cured olives cured in oil?
bzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzt  TIMES UP
A: Nope, that would be too easy. They are cured in salt, which pulls out the moisture from the olive, taking away some of the bitterness. They are then coated with olive oil to keep them from becoming too dry.

Wrapping up, we tried the Real Green Sicilian olives from Cappiello's. These tasted nice and fresh, like olives, with a nice bite and not too much vinegar. These olives aren't fermented - they are washed in lye then water then marinated with herbs. So the color is bright, bright green and the flavor is almost sweet. The Sicilian Green Olives from Pellegrino's were meaty, with a big pit and a bitter finish, but we liked these for what they were. These aren't treated with lye, but rather are placed directly into a salt brine, which is changed out a few times to help remove the phenolic compounds, which is what makes olives bitter, and these were still a bit bitter, or was it just me, knowing it was time to go home soon and drink lots and lots and lots of water.

Tapenade: I had some olives left over that were taking over valuable real estate in my refrigerator, so I spent some time pitting them all except the Gaeta's and Arbequinas. I had about 4 cups of chopped olives, and held back one. Three went into the food processor, along with 6 anchovies, about a half-cup of capers (rinsed), a good squirt of lemon juice (1.5 tablespoons would be a good guess), and another 1/2 cup of EVOO. Puree. Then I added the last cup of olives and just went chop chop so there were still bits in the mix. Serve with plain crackers or warm pita, or atop some buttered pasta. Give extras away to your buddies. Make them smile.  

Zena, Goddess of Fire

I loved buying the olives as much as I did sharing them with others. The little lady at Cappiello's that helped me was a genuine sweetheart, as was the cool dude at Pellegrino's. Thank you!!!!

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