I thought for years I hated olives. Turns out there is a whole ocean of olives out there other than the salty thin black ones on pizza and overstuffed green ones in martinis.
Six months ago we started frequenting a new old-style Italian restaurant; fresh bread, excellent shallot vinaigrette dressing, high backed dark wooden booths and bolognese to die for are its staples. For as wonderful as the food and atmosphere is, the biggest revelation were the olives, served alongside the bread. Life got in the way and only recently did I remember “hey, I need to figure out where to get more of these babies”.
Ripe and un-pitted, they’re savory and complex. The best are dark, though the green are delicious too. They are never too salty or too tangy; they’re robust without being overpowering.
Where on earth do I get these fine olives? I actually live in the city’s (dwindling, making way for yuppies) Little Italy, but I don’t know what I’m looking for when I wander into the stores.
Do I want an “olive salad” or a mix? Do I buy them from the giant tubs on display - if so, what types am I in search of?
Yeah, you want to buy them from the bulk tubs at a well stocked store (besides yuppie Whole Foods type places, you might try Middle Eastern groceries) - as for varieties, it’ll come down to personal preference, ask if you can taste some (I personally like green Cerignolas, which are very mild).
There’s a Mediterranean food/olive bar in most big grocery stores now near the deli case. It’s like catnip to me and I have a really hard time passing it by. I’ve seen every olive imaginable, including bright red! If you could find an olive bar you could take a sample, a couple of each kind, and have a taste test!
Kalamata olives are your basic “good” olive - dark brown colored and fairly big and plump. I’ll second the recommendation that you find an ethnic Greek/Middle Eastern/maybe Italian place and buy out of the bulk bins. Or you can go to Whole Foods and pay twice as much. Given the choice between Greek and Italian, I’d go for Greek.
At most olive bars, all the olives cost the same amount so you can mix & match. Just get a tub and fill it with 2 - 3 of every kind of olive they have. Taste all of them, note the ones you like and dislike and buy those ones the next time.