If you have ever eaten a fresh olive, you haven’t forgotten the experience.
In fact you may still be prying your puckered lips apart. Things are bitter like you wouldn’t believe. Make aspirin taste like aspartame. Which is why every other olive you’ll ever eat will have been cured: curing eliminates the bitter compounds.
It’s done in three general ways. Green, unripe olives, often called simply French or Spanish, usually get brined in saltwater. Purplish, half-ripe olives, Kalamatas being the best known, are soaked in wine or wine vinegar. And fully ripened black olives, often marketed as Moroccan or oil-cured, are packed in barrels of salt.
Throubes olives go a very different route. They’re allowed to ripen on the trees — and then they’re left there to dry and shrivel like raisins. Instead of by some sort of chemical mojo, they’re cured by the sun and the wind. Then they’re given a light salting and sent to market. Nothing’s added to muddy their flavor, and so their flavor is like no other olive: rich, earthy, fat in the mouth. If you can somehow imagine great virgin olive oil with a background Champagne dryness, you’re there. But it’s probably easier to just find and eat some. Because production is seasonal, and because they’re only produced in a few areas of Greece, they’re not always available. But they’ve been showing up at my local Greek market for a few weeks, and I’d guess gourmet shops are carrying them this month, too. Worth seeking out.
And worth trying in a martini this weekend while the steaks are grilling. It’s heresy, I know, but I can’t stand green olives in a martini. To me, you might as well be drinking seawater. A Throubes olive, though, imparts only the better angels of its nature.
It also looks pretty damn cool.
Ancient Greeks cured olives by “dry curing” with salt, and over the centuries, other methods were developed. Please see below:
Dry (Salt) Curing
(recommended for large black olives)
Outdoors, in a basket, burlap bag, or wooden box lined with burlap (that allows air to circulate), layer olives with coarse sea salt (you’ll need about 1 pound of salt for every 2 pounds of olives). Leave the olives outside (with plastic underneath to catch the juices that drain) for 3-4 weeks, shaking daily and adding a little more salt every 2-3 days. Taste for bitterness (rinsing the olive first). When no longer bitter, you can either shake off excess salt and keep them that way, or shake off the excess salt and dip them quickly in boiling water to get rid of the salt. They can be marinated for a few days in olive oil to regain plumpness (this type of curing will shrivel them), or just coated well with olive oil (using your hands) before eating.
Dry (Salt) Curing
(recommended for small black olives)
In glass jars, alternate layers of olives with coarse salt. Every day for 3 weeks, shake well and add more salt to absorb the juices. Test for bitterness (rinsing the olive first). Continue to cure if bitterness remains, otherwise, add warm water to cover and 4 tablespoons of good quality red wine vinegar, and top with a layer of olive oil. They will be ready to eat after 4-5 days.