By Chefs Gerald Gass and Mark Rohrmeir
Most Americans have grown up with the canned ripe black olives that are the mainstay of the California olive industry. These olives are cured quickly in an aerated lye solution that both removes the bitter glucosides and turns the fruits a uniform black. The color is set further by the addition of a small amount of ferrous gluconate. The resulting olives are even in color and texture, but insipid in flavor. This is in contrast to the very flavorful olives that are made in the Mediterranean by a variety of slower methods, most of which involve gradual leaching of the glucosides from the olives in water or salt brine. The process can be as simple as packing the olives in a mesh bag and submerging the bag in the ocean or a stream until the flavor is acceptable. More commonly, olives are put into a salt brine that is changed periodically until the glucosides have been leached. Another method calls for burying large, ripe olives in coarse salt and letting the salt draw the glucosides and much of the moisture from the fruit. These are known as dry-cured olives, and they are wonderfully meaty and chewy with a salty tang.
We have developed the following method for curing olives grown at the ranch. This method can be used for all varieties of olives and various degrees of ripeness, as long as the fruit is sound and unblemished. Pick through your harvested fruit looking for damage or indications of fly damage which will appear as a small sting or black puncture wound. Discard these fruit. Raw olives are sturdy-looking things, but they are actually fragile, with thin skins that are easily punctured. The flesh, although firm, bruises readily and begins to ferment rapidly from microorganisms introduced through punctures and soft spots. We cure fruit at all stages of ripeness and find merit in all the varieties and degrees of ripeness that we have tried. Some of our particular favorites are ripe Kalamata, half-ripe Pendolino and Frantoio, and ripe Sevillano.
Once you have the olives, you will need only water, Mason jars with lids (use the lids with red sealant as the gray sealant used on some lids will not stand up to the oil used later in the process), sea salt, and red wine vinegar. First, rinse the olives well in water and place them in sterilized Mason jars. Fill the jars to the brim with water and screw on the lids. Place the jars on a tray to catch any overflow and put them in a cool, dark place. Leave them undisturbed for 1 week. They may appear to be carbonated, with small bubbles visible on the surface of the olives. This is a natural fermentation that will
drain off the water. For sanitary reasons, it is important not to touch the olives or to touch anything, such as the bowl of a spoon, with which they might come into contact. Refill the jars with clean water, replace their lids, and leave in a cool, dark place for another week.
Drain off the water from the jars as before and refill them with brine made by dissolving 1 cup sea salt in 4 quarts water. You need not be concerned about making an exact quantity of brine because you will be changing it weekly for the next few months and any excess brine can be stored in a glass jar. Drain the jars and refill them with fresh brine each week. After about 6 weeks, use a clean spoon to remove a representative olive before changing the brine. Taste a small piece to assess how the curing is progressing. If the olive is still too bitter, change the brine, wait another week, and try again. It is difficult to predict how long this process will take. The variety of olives, their ripeness, and ambient temperature all affect the process, which can last from 6 weeks to 15 weeks-or even more. Remember, the model is not the California ripe olive, but one of the more flavorful imported olives.
When a taste of a few representative olives from a batch indicates that enough of the bitterness has leached away, drain off the curing brine one final time and refill with a storage brine made by dissolving 2/3 cup sea salt in 4 quarts water and 3 cups red wine vinegar. Pour enough olive oil onto the surface of the liquid in each jar to form a layer 1/8 inch deep, and replace the lids. It is best to store the unopened jars in the refrigerator, although a cool, dark place is acceptable. When you open a jar, remember to use a clean utensil, never your fingers, to remove the olives. Once a jar is open, store it in the refrigerator and use within 1 month.
MCEVOY RANCH CERTIFIED ORGANIC EXTRA VIRGIN OLIVE OIL
Available at fine food stores nationwide.
Please visit our store in San Francisco’s historic Ferry Building Plaza Marketplace.
To order direct, contact customer service toll free at 1-866-617-6779.
To order online, visit www.mcevoyranchstore.com.
For more information about McEvoy Ranch, please visit www.mcevoyranchstore.com.
P.O. Box 341, Petaluma, CA 94953
tel: 707-778-2307 • fax: 707-778-0128