For the longest time, I was indifferent to olives. Then I figured it out that it’s just because I had only been eating plain, canned black or green olives, which mostly taste like salt to me.
But there’s a whole world of more interesting olives out there – dozens of varieties from just Italy, Spain and Greece alone. At our olive bar, we’ve gathered some of our favorites, so you can mix and match and sample them all until you find your favorites. Here’s what’s what:
Taggiasca: Native to northern Italy, this is a very small reddish-black olive. They are mild, almost a little fruity in flavor, and are often served with fish. (Try sautéing some onions, tomatoes and bell peppers in olive oil, then adding lemon juice, herbs and some taggiasca olives, and serving this with poached or baked fish or over pasta.)
Kalamata: The star of Greek salads, kalamata olives have a deep purplish color and a salty, meaty flavor. They pair perfectly with feta cheese or hummus, or make a very flavorful tapenade.
Cerignola: Another Italian variety; you can get red, black or green ones. What they all have in common is hugeness – they are twice as big as most olive varieties. They are meaty and intense; the red ones, for instance, have almost a slight fish flavor. The green ones are very firm. Great for snacking, served with a wedge of cheese and some flatbread.
Nicoise: Small, blackish olives originally from France, these are most often used in the famous French salad named after this olive. (Salad nicoise has many variations, but traditionally includes tomato wedges, hard-cooked eggs, cold green beans, canned tuna and these olives.)
Gaeta: Small black olives, again native to Italy, that taste somewhat like a kalamata, but a little less intense.
Castlevetrano: Big, bright-green olives from Sicily. Their flavor is mild and almost sweet; they make a big splash in martinis or fit well on an antipasto platter with Italian cured meat, salami and cheese.