Food & Cooking

On Table Olives and Cocktails

Olive Oil Times writer Ylenia Granitto can't enjoy a simple Martini without contemplating its olives.

Photo by Edi Solari
Aug. 30, 2018
By Ylenia Granitto
Photo by Edi Solari

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Await­ing sun­set on a sandy beach was a good time to have an aper­i­tif at the nice bar over­look­ing the sea, so we ordered Mar­ti­nis.

Accord­ing to the Inter­na­tional Bar­tender Asso­ci­a­tion, this time­less before din­ner cock­tail should be made from 6 cl (6 parts) of Gin and 1 cl (1 parts) of Dry Ver­mouth. Pour all ingre­di­ents into mix­ing glass with ice cubes. Stir well. Strain in a chilled mar­tini glass. Squeeze oil from a lemon peel onto the drink, or gar­nish with an olive,” accord­ing to the offi­cial recipe.
See more: The Per­fect Olive Oil Mar­tini

Some pre­fer to savor the green fruits (one or two or three) in the drink, while oth­ers opt for olives on the side.”

We can truly speak of a fifty-fifty divi­sion between those who like the fresh essence of lemon and those who rel­ish the savory taste of the olive,” the pub­lisher of Il Gin, Vanessa Piro­ma­llo affirmed, high­light­ing the dif­fer­ent aro­mas of the two ingre­di­ents and their impact on the per­fumes of the cock­tail.

So every­one has dif­fer­ent tastes, and we wel­come all of them. The thing we are really inter­ested in is the qual­ity of the olives, which has increased con­sid­er­ably dur­ing recent years,” Cristina Fal­cinelli told Olive Oil Times. The expe­ri­enced olive oil and table olives taster was among the judges at the com­pe­ti­tion for the best table olives Monna Oliva. Our panel of experts found that all the sam­ples under assess­ment were not only with­out defects but also of great qual­ity,” she noted, con­sid­er­ing how this extra­or­di­nary out­come demon­strates the grow­ing com­mit­ment to qual­ity pro­duc­tion.

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This tells us that this could be a key prod­uct, also for very small grow­ers, for stay­ing in the mar­ket com­pet­i­tively,” Fal­cinelli sug­gested. At this stage, it would be help­ful to increase aware­ness as has hap­pened with the extra vir­gin olive over the last decade. How­ever, the trend of the mar­ket is toward a demand for a bet­ter, well-crafted prod­uct,” she observed, point­ing out that con­sump­tion is grow­ing sig­nif­i­cantly in non-pro­duc­ing regions such as north­ern Euro­pean ones.

The Ital­ian ter­ri­tory can count on a huge bio­di­ver­sity, with so many cul­ti­vars which are often well man­u­fac­tured also abroad. For exam­ple, we tasted excel­lent Bella di Cerig­nola in Turkey, and this is proof that the com­pe­ti­tion is increas­ing, and pro­duc­ers should start to pay atten­tion to com­peti­tors,” she noted, draw­ing atten­tion to the wide range of prepa­ra­tions includ­ing par­tic­u­lar styles like the Scabec­ciu from Sar­dinia, and cracked olives from Cal­abria.

One of the win­ners of Monna Oliva is Cosmo Di Russo. We have always pro­duced table olives,” said the farmer from Gaeta. My grand­par­ents also dealt with other pro­duc­tions. Then ten years ago, we started to make high-qual­ity extra vir­gin olive oil and decided to focus only on olive grow­ing,” he said, claim­ing that he remem­bered the scent of the black olives since child­hood.

We man­age 7,500 olive trees, spread over a rough ter­ri­tory laid out in ter­races, for the pro­duc­tion of white olives, black olives and high-qual­ity extra vir­gin olive oil,” he explained. Sixty to sev­enty per­cent of his pro­duc­tion is devoted to table olives. When we use Itrana har­vested in Novem­ber we call it a white olive, and when it is picked in March it is des­ig­nated as a black olive. The lat­ter, in 2016, obtained the denom­i­na­tion Oliva di Gaeta DOP,” Di Russo noted.

The trans­for­ma­tion of both types is sim­i­lar, and it requires daily work, since absolute clean­li­ness is fun­da­men­tal,” he said. The olives are first selected by calipers and then by hand to elim­i­nate the flawed ones. In the after­noon, fruits col­lected dur­ing the day are put in water. Both de-bit­ter­ing and pack­ag­ing are nat­ural, using only salt.

Cosmo di Russo at his farm in Gaeta

When the olives are in the water, a spon­ta­neous fer­men­ta­tion starts, as we do not use starters,” Di Russo spec­i­fied. After 7 or 8 days we begin to mon­i­tor the pH level which nat­u­rally decreases, and as soon as it is below 5 we start salt­ing pro­gres­sively up to the amount of 7 per­cent by weight of the olives, accord­ing to a step­wise method called all’Itrana.

After a period of at least 12 – 14 months for the white olives and after a shorter inter­val for the black ones, they are packed with the orig­i­nal brine. This time is nec­es­sary because the process, from man­u­fac­tur­ing to preser­va­tion, is com­pletely nat­ural.

The black olive is a dif­fi­cult pro­duc­tion because it is har­vested at the end of win­ter and you have to deal with adver­si­ties like wind, hail and so on,” said the pro­ducer. More­over, you have only a few months to pre­pare the plant for the fol­low­ing sea­son.”

This means that, due to the com­pletely nat­ural trans­for­ma­tion, the cost of black olives is slightly higher, but it is still the most requested prod­uct.

A chem­i­cal man­u­fac­tur­ing would take a shorter time and a lower cost, but the olive would have com­pletely dif­fer­ent char­ac­ter­is­tics,” Di Russo said, adding that their white olive has a very high polyphe­nol con­tent because it is not sub­jected to any acid­i­fi­ca­tion, and even the orig­i­nal brine they use in the whole process is rich in pro­bi­otics.

The white is per­fect as an aper­i­tif in com­bi­na­tion with pros­ecco or beer, while the black is great for cook­ing, as Francesco Zamuner, chef and owner of La Tavola dei Cav­a­lieri in Formia, rec­om­mended.

I use it in my Tonnarello with cod,” he revealed. I first I pre­pare toma­toes con­fit at low tem­per­a­ture in the oven at 50°C (122°F) for 5 hours, I add sugar, salt, orange and lemon peel, and thyme. I pan-sear gar­lic, salted capers of Pan­tel­le­ria and 3 – 4 pieces per serv­ing of Oliva di Gaeta DOP. As soon as the gar­lic starts to brown, I add cod and toma­toes, skip with the freshly boiled pasta and it’s ready.”

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Castelvetrano olives

Nicolò Asta, among the NYIOOC win­ners with the Val­more Nocel­lara Mono­va­ri­etal devotes a share of its olive groves located in the area of Castel­ve­trano to the pro­duc­tion of table olives. At Val­more, in the south-west coast of Sicily in the heart of the Valle del Belice, between 20 and 50 per­cent of the sec­u­lar plants of Nocel­lara grown in the fam­ily farm are man­u­fac­tured accord­ing to dif­fer­ent styles.

Har­vest gen­er­ally takes place in Sep­tem­ber, but it may vary by a cou­ple weeks ear­lier or later,” explained the Sicil­ian farmer. The plants whose olives will end up on the con­sumers’ tables are con­stantly irri­gated as they always must be flour­ish­ing in order to keep the fruit’s growth reg­u­lar, while olives intended for the pro­duc­tion of extra vir­gin olive oil need some water stress which stim­u­lates their chem­i­cal fea­tures,” observed Asta.

Through­out this area, har­vest requires at least siz weeks, but farm­ers try to move fast to avoid adverse weather con­di­tions. If there is a bad weather fore­cast, they hire even more work­ers to fin­ish faster.

We work by hand, with bas­kets or spe­cial crates. Fruits are put in boxes and, on the same day, they are deliv­ered to the facil­ity,” he explained. They are weighed, mea­sured by calipers, and put into bar­rels accord­ingly.”

He uses a solu­tion of water and 6 to 8 per­cent salt which can reach 10 per­cent at most based on fac­tors like pH and water hard­ness. It takes a few months dur­ing which we stir the olives in the solu­tion and mon­i­tor them by smelling,” Asta explained. Then, the olives are left to fer­ment in ven­ti­lated sheds con­di­tioned to not more than 18°C (64.4°F). In Jan­u­ary the olives are ready.

The Castel­ve­trano method pro­vides for a solu­tion of water and lye,” the pro­ducer con­tin­ued. After one or two hours salt is added to neu­tral­ize the action of lye and, within a month, the bit­ter­ness is gone and the olives are sweet, crisp and ready to be con­sumed.” Then, the liq­uid is thrown into the appro­pri­ate col­lec­tors, the olives are washed, placed in clean bar­rels and a new solu­tion of water and lye is cre­ated.

Finally, the fruits end up in water and salt, and they are ready to be con­sumed. We man­u­fac­ture also other types of olives, like those cracked and baked,” he said.

Upon request, Castel­ve­trano olives can be pit­ted — per­fect to plunge into your Mar­tini.”

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