Ah, the amazing Greek olive! Its history is indeed a long and rich one, dating back to Biblical times. A branch from an olive tree was the symbol to Noah chosen by God to signal the end of the great flood. According to Greek mythology, the olive tree was a gift from the goddess Athena to the people of Athens. We know for a fact that olive trees were cultivated in Crete and Assyria over 5,000 years ago. And the flavorful olive has been a food enjoyed by all the peoples of the world for millennia. Throughout the ages, the amazing olive has been treasured; olive oil was used as a food; as a fuel; as a food preservative; as an analgesic for pain; as a cleansing and softening ingredient in soap; and as a fragrance for perfume. Nothing is wasted in the world of the amazing olive. Even the olive wood was used for construction, decoration, and utility.
Our Little Angel Premium Kalamata Olives are grown in the valley of Messinia on the western end of the Peloponnesean Peninsula, near the town of Kalamata. the capital and central port of Messinia. Following independence from the Turks and thanks to the exploitation of the fertile Messinian lands which produce olives, olive oil, raisins, and figs, it developed into a wealthy urban center and a significant port of call for both cargo and tourist cruise ships alike. Kalamata is approximately 238 km SW of Athens and is a must see on any trip to Greece. While many kinds of olives are grown in this area of Greece, it is famous for its Kalamata olives, often called “the Greek olive“, a beautiful fruit with a distinctive and easily recognizable almond shape and a beautiful deep aubergine purplish-black color.
The process of harvesting our Kalamata olives is an essential element in ensuring the taste and quality of our olives reaches your table. Many low cost producers use sticks or machines to literally shake the ripe olive fruit from their branches. Others simply leave the olives on the trees until they are so ripe that they fall to the ground by themselves. In both cases, the end result is a damaged and inferior olive. Not all olives reach their peak ripeness at the same time. As such, using machine or stick harvesting methods means that many of the olives collected may be either under or overripe. They will also have an inconsistent texture with soft spots found on the damaged fruit. Mechanical picking also results in an olive with a poor quality flavor because the damage caused by bruising the fruit changes the chemistry of the olive.
For Little Angel Premium Kalamata Olives, our producer uses a hand picking approach which is a traditional and necessarily more time-consuming method. By carefully selecting and picking the olive fruit by hand, we ensure that each olive is plucked at the exact moment of freshness and no damage or bruising is imposed on the olive fruit. Generally, one to three people work on a tree with one working the upper branches and the others working the middle and lower parts of the tree. The workers slide the olives gently down the branch, as if sliding pearls from a necklace, and just allow them to drop where they may fall into a net below. The Greek olive trees cooperate with this approach by offering no resistance or thorns thus bringing a childlike easiness to the process.The care and attention put into getting our fresh olives to your table is evident in the firm, even texture of the olive fruit, and in its wonderfully rich and zesty flavor.
Our Curing and Processing
While the olive is, in fact, the fruit of the olive tree, unlike most other fruits, olives are never eaten raw from the tree. You won’t find too many stores or markets that offer fresh raw olives for sale. What makes raw olives bitter is a chemical substance in the flesh of the olive called a “glucoside.” All glucosides are bitter for the most part, no matter what plant they are in, but the olive’s glucoside, called “oleuropein”, is noteworthy for its bitterness. This bitterness is a virtue when tasting fresh olive oil as it is transferred to the oil during the crushing process. For olives, however, the bitterness must be drawn from the olive through one of several curing methods for it to become palatable and edible. How this process is accomplished can have a material effect on the taste of the olive.
The lye curing method (the same lye used in drain cleaner) is used by nearly every large commercial olive producer around the globe. Raw olives are submerged in vats filled with a lye solution where the alkaline quickly removes the glucosides from the olive.The process, invented in Spain, is the most time and cost efficient method of curing and it does remove the most bitterness from the olive fruit. The problem with lye curing is that is also removes most of the wonderful flavor of the olive.
Another common processing method, dry curing, is one in which the raw olives are rubbed with salt and left to cure naturally over a period of weeks or even months. The salt removes the moisture from the olives, taking with it the glucosides which cause the offending bitterness. The salt is them removed from the outside of the olive and they get coated with olive oil to keep them from continuing to dry. Dry cured olives have a very concentrated and rich flavor and look wrinkled similar to texture of prunes. This method is favored by many who enjoy a highly robust flavored olive but it is not suitable for Kalamata olives as it radically changes the flavor of the fruit.
For Little Angel Premium Kalamata Olives, we use the traditional method known as brine curing. This method produces a far more superior olive than the faster and cheaper lye curing method. This older and necessarily slower method of curing involves submerging the olives in vats of fresh water and red wine vinegar made into a seasoned salted brine. Much like the dry curing method, the brine naturally soaks the bitterness from the olives over a period of weeks or months. During that time, however, the seasoned brine is changed several times by our producer to capture the true nature of the delicious, almost wine-like flavor of the Kalamata olives.
Our Olives Are the Pits
There’s really no getting around it – olives have pits just like cherries, avocados, mangos, and peaches. Little Angel Premium Kalamata Olives come to your table as a whole olive – with the pits. The mechanical process of removing the olive pits reduces the robust flavor of the olive that is so enjoyed. So, we leave the pit and the olive fruit intact. We want you to enjoy the beauty of the olive fruit in all its glory and, above all, the truly unique flavor of the world-famous Kalamata olive!
If you need to remove the pits to use Little Angel olives in your cooking, gently squeeze the olive between your thumb and index finger and the pit will slide right out. You can also use a sharp paring knife to split the olive and remove the pit. Or, you can use a special kitchen tool to remove the pits. No matter how you do it – trust us. – the process is really not that hard and it’s worth every bit of the extra effort. We promise you will end up with Kalamata olives that really taste like olives!