It is only recently that I've become addicted to olives. Yes, I know, it is an odd addiction. But a tasty one. I didn't used to like olives. I would eat them on pizza and in salads, but more often than not, I just pick them out. The first time I ate a whole olive that I liked were the fried olives at Fino.
A few weeks ago, I attended a charcuterie event hosted by Carla Crownover (@gardens123). Among the many tasty bites that were served, there was a plate of herbed olives. I must admit, I polished off that plate pretty quickly. These olives were juicy, flavorful, and unlike most of the other olives I've had before. Most of the olives I remember eating were on Papa John's Pizza (from my undergraduate days) or out of a can. Needless to say, I've been converted. In order to satisfy my olive craving and learn more about the delicious fruits, I made a visit to the olive bar at Whole Foods Downtown (@wholefoodsatx). I met with Michael (@bepkoboy), Billie, and Forrest for an education in all things olives. Before we start on the olive tour, I've got to show you the gigantic chocolate paradise near the back of the store. For the holidays, Whole Foods has some chocolate houses (sorry, gingerbread), chocolate gingerbread men *insert "Do you know the muffin man?" line from Shrek here*, white chocolate snowflakes, chocolate reindeer, chocolate sleds, chocolate guitars, and chocolate trees. Any of these items would make a perfect gift. *hint hint* Chocolate pieces are sold by weight.
Are you drooling over the chocolate yet? Wipe off that drool, and let's get down to business. Olives are a processed fruit that are highly variable. With at least 300 species of olives available, the possibilities are endless. Each specie of olives is also high variable depending on growing conditions. Terroir (soil conditions, climate, topography), altitude, and seasonality all affect the outcome of the olives. One species of olive grown in Italy may look completely different and taste different from the same species grown in France. They are a complicated and complex fruit. In generic cans, they are just called green or black, but they are much more complicated than that.
Raw or cooked? You're not going to ever find an edible raw olive in Whole Foods, unless you like to eat rocks. I think there are some rocks in the decor by the escalators. Raw olives are terribly hard and not at all tasty. There are two basic methods of curing olives for consumption: boiling or drying. Most of the olives in the bar were boiled, with just a handful of dried ones. If boiled, olives are picked then immediately boiled (pitted prior if desired) in salt water. After boiling, the olives are marinated with seasonings, oils, or wine. That's where we get the variety of flavors in the olive bar. Some olive are also stuffed with things like feta cheese, blue cheese, almonds, anchovies, peppers, jalapenos, or sun-dried tomatoes. Most of the olive stuffing is done prior by the distributor (Whole Foods uses a local one), but the marinating in herbs is done at the store.
Dry cured olives are usually dried with salt then marinated with oil. These look like big raisins, but I assure you, they are super tasty. Below are photos of some of the olives available at Whole Foods Austin Downtown. The selection does change daily, and the cheese stuffed olives are usually prepackaged.
After my olive education, I posed a question to Michael, Billy, and Forrest. "What is the most unusual olive pairing you've done?" They had made some of the typical items such as casseroles with olives, olives in salads, and pasta, but Billy had one that was new to me. Olives. Cheese. Chocolate. Billy sliced up some Locatelli Pecorino Romano, dipped it into the chocolate fountain, and scooped up some French dried olives (photo below). It sounds weird, but this combination of salty, sweet, and fat was fantastic. All components were well balanced, and the chocolate covered cheese almost reminded me of a crumbly cookie in texture. I'm serving this combination at my next foodie gathering along with some olive oil flat bread (photos at the very bottom). Another weird thing to do with olives is chocolate olive cake. That recipe will be coming soon.
Before we leave, I must rave about the flat bread. I tried the plain (flavored with anise) and the almond flavor. It is simply delicious. The ingredients are simple and not overly complicated. The crunch combined with just a bit of sweet caramel-y flavor is addictive. These flatbreads are located on the shelves just to the right of the cheese case. Don't say I didn't warn you.
Locatelli Pecorino Romano, chocolate, and French olives (dry cured).
Just one side of the olive bar.
Olives in chilies.
These are amazing olives. Watch out for the pits.
Seasoned with chili flakes.