The olive fruit is a green drupe, becoming generally blackish-purple when fully ripe. A few varieties are green when ripe and some turn a shade of copper brown. The cultivars vary considerably in size, shape, oil-content and flavor. The shapes range from almost round to oval or elongated with pointed ends. The olive tree produces an abundant quantity of fleshy fruit, whose size, flesh and color vary depending on variety, climate and method of cultivation.
Olive fruits that are to be processed as green olives are picked while they are still green but have reached full size. They can also be picked for processing at any later stage up through full ripeness. Ripe olives bruise easily and should be handled with care.
Raw olives are inedible in their natural state. They contain a very bitter chemical compound that irritates the digestive system. To become edible, olives have to be marinated and undergo various treatments, which vary according to the region and the variety. There are several classical ways of curing olives. A common method is the lye-cure process in which green or near-ripe olives are soaked in a series of lye solutions for a period of time to remove the bitter principle and then transferred to water and finally a mild saline solution. Other processing methods include water curing and Greek-style curing, which only applies to black olives.
Olives can also be preserved in salt. This method results in wrinkled olives but the skin remains intact; their taste is fruity and slightly bitter.
Once they are ready to be consumed, olives are left in the barrel or packed into containers. Some are pitted and stuffed, especially with bell pepper, onion, almond or anchovy and even seasoned with spices. They can also be cut into halves, quarters or slices, chopped or turned into a paste.
Some particularly important cultivars of olive include:
- Hojiblanca originated in the province of Córdoba, Spain; its oil is widely appreciated for its slightly bitter flavour.
- Kalamata, a large, black olive with a smooth and meatlike taste, is named after the city of Kalamata, Greece, and is used as a table olive. These olives are usually preserved in wine, vinegar or olive oil.
- Manzanillo or Manzanilla, a large, rounded-oval fruit, with purple-green skin, originated in Dos Hermanas, Seville, in southern Spain. Known for a rich taste and thick pulp, it is a prolific bearer, grown around the world.
- Beldi: The Beldi is grown predominately in the Marrakech and Fes provinces of Morocco. It is this variety that we use on our delicious Les Olives du Marché.
- Picholine: French green olive, salt-brine cured, with subtle, lightly salty flavor, sometimes packed with citric acid as a preservative in the U.S. It is green, medium size, and elongated. The flavour is mild and nutty.
- Niçoise: French black olive, harvested fully ripe, small in size, rich, nutty, mellow flavor, high pit-to-meat ratio, often packed with herbs and stems intact.
- Bosana is the most common olive grown on Sardinia. It is used mostly for oils.