There’s more to choosing olives than between green, black, or pitted. Olives can be quite diverse in their flavors. Sweet, sour, bitter: each variety has its own taste and culinary utility. Whether it’s to use olives to make oil for salad dressing, crushed for tapenade, or as nibbles with the French “apero”, the choice in the variety is important. The problem is that there are over a 100 varieties of olives in France alone. So let’s orient our choice in olive by how we are going to consume it.
The star : Olive oil
Think of olive oil tasting as sampling a fine wine. Smell the aroma; hold it up into the light, look at the color, its limpidity. When you taste an olive oil, you can taste different aromas: its bitterness or its fruitfulness. You can also judge its color. The colors of olive oils can vary from green to golden yellow. Some flavors are “green” with vegetable or green apple notes. Other oils are more mature, floral, spicy, or nutty.
The method of production also plays a role in its flavor. Extra virgin, virgin, light, pomace, filtered, cold pressed, stone milled, organic…The list goes on and on. The choice depends upon its use. A high quality extra virgin olive oil is perfect as a condiment. As the oil is left unheated, you reap the full benefits of its flavor and aroma, as well as of its health qualities. Olives destined for the press are harvested at full maturity. The first step consists in obtaining a blackish pulp from which it is possible to extract the oil by means of a press. It takes as many as 5 to 6 kilos of olives are required to make one liter of oil. Favored olive varieties for olive oils such as an AOC Nimes (which you can discover on our Provence Tours) are the Picholine, Négrette and Noirette. The Picholine is a little torpedo shaped olive that gives a fruity green flavor to its oil with hints of apple and pear notes. The Negrette olive produces a more mature oil with hints of vanilla or almond flavors.
So many other possibilities !
Another way to consume olives is in a Provencal recipe where olives are mashed and mixed with herbs and olive oil to make a spread known as tapenade. If it’s a Provencal recipe, then I suggest a Provencal olive from the French Riviera, the Nicoise. TheNicoiseis grown on a variety of olive tree called “Le Cailletier”. A bit assertive, but not overpowering, the Niçoise has an enticingly herbal fragrance with faint notes of licorice.
Olives can’t be picked and eaten off the trees. They need to undergo a curing process before they’re ready to eat. It’s a long process to make this rock-hard bitter fruit into a delicious nibble to go with before dinner drinks. They have to be soaked in water that it changed daily, then rest in a brine, and eventually marinated in an aromatized oil mixture before they are ready to eat.
A choice variety for marinated olives is Nyon olives. These little, jet-black olives from the south of France are heart-stopping. First dry cured, then aged in brine, the plump, wrinkly olives are meaty and packed with aromatic flavor. They’re especially delicious dressed with Provençal olive oil and fragrant herbs like rosemary and thyme.
You can impress your guests with some olive saavy during your next “apero”. Let them know that there aren’t black and green olives. That in fact black olives are just ripened green ones!
Discover France has many tours that pass through beautiful “Olive Gardens”. Olives grow in warm, sunny, Mediterranean climates; the same climate that creates wonderful cycling weather. Travel through the olive groves in our Italian Tuscany tours, our Spanish Catalonia Tours, French Provencal or Languedoc Tours, or our Croatian Tours. Plenty of occasions to discover your favorite olive variety.