A Guide to Olives

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Summer entertaining can be super easy if you have a couple of stand-by items that can be put out quickly so you can spend more time with guests. A crowd pleaser is the charcuterie board- a platter of meats, cheeses and accompaniments, that is certain to be a hit. Here’s a quick guide to putting together your own board. If you’re adding olives, here’s a list of some popular choices for hors d’oeuvres or alongside drinks

Kalamata

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Castelvetrano

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Castelvetrano olives are Italy’s most ubiquitous snack olive. Bright green, they’re often referred to as dolce (sweet), and come from Castelvetrano, Sicily, from the olive variety nocerella del belice. They have a Kermit-green hue, meaty, buttery flesh, and a mild flavor. Consider serving them with sheep’s milk cheese and a crisp white wine.

Cerignola

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These gigantic green olives are harvested in Cerignola, in Italy’s Puglia region, the heel of the boot. They are crisp and fantastically buttery. Their hefty size renders them easily stuffable—they play especially well with garlic, cheese, capers, and anchovies.

Nyon

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These petite, jet-black olives from the south of France are heart-stopping. First dry cured, then aged in brine, the plump, wrinkly olives are meaty, just-a-bit bitter, and packed with aromatic flavor. They’re especially delicious dressed with Provençal olive oil and fragrant herbs like rosemary and thyme.

Niçoise

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Liguria

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Also called Taggiasca olives, this petite variety packs a big flavor punch for their small size. They’re grown in Liguria, in Italy’s northwestern-most region, a few miles away from France’s Niçoise olive region, and the olives are indeed similar. They’re usually cured with an aromatic mixture of bay laves, rosemary, and thyme.

Gaeta

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These small, purplish-brown, wrinkled olives from Puglia have soft, tender flesh and a tart, citrusy taste. Gaetas can be either dry-cured (shrivelly, chewy) or brine-cured (plump, juicy). I like them served over spaghetti with capers and pine nuts, or simple served out of bowl for snacking.

Picholine

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These torpedo-shaped French green olives are wonderfully crisp and crunchy, with a tart, nutty, anise-y flavor. They’re pretty and elegant enough to serve as hors d’oeuvres, and give a welcome punch to risotto or a hearty stew.

Gordal

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Gordal means “fat one” in Spanish. The name is justified; these are some big, proudly fat olives, with plenty of firm, meaty richness to match their imposing size. Grown in Andalucía, Spain, where tough Gordal trees thrive in the dry climate, these are beloved tapas olives. Serve them beside some jamon and a glass of Sherry.

Alfonso

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While Alfonso olives are traditionally considered Chilean, the province of Tacna, in the foothills of the La Yarada mountains, where they originated, has been under Peruvian rule since 1929. These are huge, deep purple olives that are brine-cured, then macerated in red wine. They are supple, juicy and fleshy, with a hint of sour bitterness. It’s a variety typically enjoyed with charcuterie and a full-bodied red wine.

Mission

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The USA’s very own olive baby. Although its origin was believed to be Spanish, scientists at the University of Spain at Cordoba were unable to link it to Spain’s 700 olive varieties. Mission olive trees have flourished in California since the 1700’s; most of the yield goes to make olive oil, but black oil-cured and green brine-cured table olives are both mild, grassy, and bright in flavor.

Manzanilla

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This familiar, friendly, oval-shaped olive from Spain is brine-cured, with a crisp texture and a slightly smoky, almond-y flavor. They’re often stuffed with pimientos, or cracked and dressed with olive oil and fresh garlic. A spot-on hors d’oeuvre, especially when served with cold Fino Sherry and crusty bread.

Beldi

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Morocco produces hundreds of varieties of olives, but exports only a few. If you can get your hands on these, you’re truly lucky. They are dry-cured and wildly, intensely flavorful. Serve them like the Moroccans do: in salads, tagines, or sprinkled with good olive oil and hot peppers.

Amfissa

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