Olives: An International Culinary Experience

Olives date back 8,000-years, with olive orchards and trees originating throughout the Eastern Mediterranean. Olives are now harvested globally, and different regions produce very different fruit with diverse and distinct culinary characteristics. Take a trip around the world and visit a specialty grocer or delicatessen for some of the best that each region has to offer:

Italy. For a great Italian olive, look for imported Cerignola olives. These olives are big, meaty, and plump, which makes them perfect for snacking or serving on a charcuterie board or antipasti platter.

France. The French are responsible for some of the best olives in the world, including the Picholine olive, which is perfect for martinis and snacks. These are smaller, meaty, and served dressed with oil. If you plan on making tapenade, look for dry-cured Nyon olives, which typically come from the South of France, or purple Nicoise olives since both that are great in tapenade preparations.

Morocco. Moroccan olives are usually cured in salt and then preserved in oil. The result is a wrinkly and dark olive that resembles a large raisin. These are often found in specialty shops and sites, imported from the region following the harvest season. 

Greece. In terms of Greek olives, Kalamata is probably the most recognized and popular. These olives are dark in color, and large. Kalamata olives are salty and strong-flavored. For a sweet olive, look for Amfissa olives, also from Greece, and typically used in cooking.

Peru.  Alfonso olives are brined and then soaked in red wine, which accounts for their purple color. These Peruvian olives are big, juicy, and sour.

Spain. Spanish Gordal olives are big, bold, and meaty, often served with tapas, including with salty ham and full-bodied wine. Mission olives are also reputed to come from Spain, although they are also a product of the US. These are fresh, bright-tasting olives, which are perfect for a dry martini. Manzanilla olives also hail from Spain and are the green olives that are widely found stuffed with pimento, blue cheese, or other filling.

A general rule of thumb is the darker the olive, the riper it was when it was harvested and picked. Depending on your personal tastes and what you plan to use your olives for, it may help to visit a specialty grocer for some olive samplings and expert suggestions. Try finding olives from across the globe, and keep an eye out for these particularly delicious recommendations.