When we heard that the inaugural National Olive Day was scheduled for June 1, we had to extend our International Mediterranean Diet Month celebrations for just one more day. After all, these little fruits are big components of a traditional Mediterranean diet — from hanging on a tree waiting to be harvested, all the way to a fresh-pressed oil perfect for salad, cooking, and more. In fact, we compiled these 12 Great Ways to Use Olives to help people learn all the diﬀerent ways to enjoy these wonderful fruits.
The people behind National Olive Day, Phil Meldrum and Brandon Gross of FOODMatch, are a combined wealth of knowledge when it comes to olives and the rich traditions behind growing, harvesting, and curing them. According to Brandon Gross, FOODMatch’s vice president of marketing, “The Mediterranean lifestyle is one of balance and moderation and olives are an iconic part of the heritage and culture of the region.” We couldn’t agree more.
Olives are an excellent source of heart-healthy monounsaturated fats, important fatty acids, natural antioxidants, and iron. And while there are more varietals, ﬂavors, and colors of olives than we can even count — even FOODMatch hasn’t been able to put a deﬁnitive number on all the diﬀerent olive varietals, though estimates are in the 100s — they all stem from the same olive tree species, Olea Eurpoaea.
To help olive aﬁcionados navigate the innumerable olive varietals, FOODMatch developed Tasting Placemats (see below) to lead people through the ﬁve major ways that olives are cured. “Like wine or coﬀee, there are so many nuanced ﬂavors and colors that can develop during production,” Gross explained. “Olive curing is a true art and often times the most important factor in determining what an olive will taste like, feel like, look like, etc.” FOODMatch also designed a poster that showcases the diverse family of Mediterranean table olives (poster at bottom of the page).
In addition to being the cherry (or olive) on top of International Mediterranean Diet celebrations, National Olive Day on June 1 marks Kalamata olive season when last winter’s crops are cured and begin arriving from Greece. According to Gross, FOODMatch timed the festivities with the harvest in mind to emphasize the fact that olives are produce, they are eﬀected by weather, and while we preserve and cure them to enjoy year-round, these wonderful fruits are often best when fresh.
For Gross and for FOODMatch founder Phil Meldrum, this deep connection to the land, the traditional old ways, and the people behind the crops is the true cause for honoring olives on June 1.
“We’ve spent 20 years developing relationships with farmers who take pride in their craft, often times coming from generations of olive growers,” said Gross. “I remember my ﬁrst visit to our ﬁelds in Greece where I met a man who had just returned to his village after spending 20+ years in Chicago. After all the time in America, all he wanted to do in the twilight of his life was return to Greece and reconnect with the olive groves.”
Try these Recipes from FOODMatch for National Olive Day.
Find more recipes on FOODMatch’s website here.
In honor of National Olive Day, we asked FOODMatch to share with us some favorite recipes, and to answer some of our questions about these Mediterranean diet staples.
Oldways: What is it about olives that makes these little fruits so intriguing?
Brandon Gross: For me, olives are a living and breathing food — and no two taste exactly the same. They’re also extremely versatile — holding up to stuﬃng (cheese, peppers, etc.), marinating (herbs, citrus, etc.), roasting, grilling, frying, etc. Like cheese, wine or chocolate, the foundation is similar throughout but the nuances and subtleties across varietals makes this fruit exciting to explore, taste and cook with.
There’s this wonderful quote that is one of Phil’s favorites: “The whole Mediterranean, the sculpture, the palm, the gold beads, the bearded heroes, the wine, the ideas, the ships, the moonlight, the winged gorgons, the bronze men, the philosophers — all of it seems to rise in the sour, pungent taste of these black olives between the teeth. A taste older than meat, older than wine. A taste as old as cold water.” — Lawrence Durrell on Mediterranean black olives
OW: What is your favorite type of olive and why?
BG: A tough question for sure! My all-time favorite is Lucque, from the Languedoc region of France. Unfermented and unpasteurized, the Lucque embodies the French tradition of fresh harvest olives that have a remarkably fresh, crisp, clean ﬂavor … like the timeless “little black dress” in every woman’s closet — classic, elegant and ﬂawless.
OW: What is a little-known fact about olives that needs to be spotlit?
BG: It helps to look at the full timeline of how the olive is harvested, cured, and packaged. The olives are ﬁrst harvested in November and December … The olives then gently cure for several months to fully develop their ﬂavor. During this time, the olives are also regularly tested and tasted to ensure the curing process stops at the precise time the olives are ready … Finally, the olives are packages and shipped. The “new crop” olives that arrive in Summer are actually harvested the previous winter.