With summer days around the corner, it’s time to refresh your prepared foods counter. Tuck away hearty soups and stews and look for recipes featuring crunchy greens and bright, citrusy flavors. Few cuisines do “light and refreshing” as well as Greece and its Mediterranean diet: tangy and lemony feta, fruity olives and zesty olive oils are all perfect allies in the creation of simple, flavorful foods.
Our favorite Greek imports are D.O.P. Kalamata olives and olive oils – read on to learn more about them.
What makes a Kalamata olive … a Kalamata olive?
In retail, you will recognize Kalamata Olives by their pointy, almond shape and beautiful purple/black color. Their flesh is soft and meaty, with a distinctive olive & wine flavor. True Kalamata Olives are found exclusively in the Peloponnese region, in the south of Greece. Like many European food specialties, they benefit from a D.O.P. given by the European Union. Only olives from the Kalamata cultivar, grown in a tight region around the town of Kalamata can be called “Kalamata”. Non-DOP versions exist – you will find them commercialized under names such as Kalamon or Calamat.
Unlike many olive varieties which are harvested when green, Kalamata olives are picked once they are perfectly ripe, in December. At this stage, they are more fragile and need to be picked by hand in order not to be bruised. The olives are then brine-cured: this traditional method involves soaking the just-picked olives in vats of salty brine. The liquid is changed on a regular basis, until the olives are tender & no longer bitter. The process can take up to 12 months, during which time the olives undergo a lactic acid fermentation. Spices and flavorings can be added to the brine – for example, the delicious Kalamata olives owe their winey flavor to the addition of red wine vinegar to their brine.
What about D.O.P. Kalamata Extra Virgin Olive Oil?
Here’s where it gets tricky: Kalamata Extra Virgin Olive Oil … is not made with Kalamata olives! The word “Kalamata” here refers to the region, not the olive type. Kalamata EVOO is made with a small green olive called Koroneiki. Our favorite Greek oil is produced by Iliada. Their D.O.P. Kalamata EVOOs are made with 100% fully traceable unripe Koroneiki olives, cold extracted within 24 hours from picking.
How to use these beautiful products?
As simple as it gets: Horiatiki, an authentic Greek Salad.
In a small bowl, whisk 2 Tbsp red wine vinegar and 1/4 tsp greek dried oregano. Salt to taste. Slowly whisk in 1/4 cup Iliada olive oil and set aside.
In a shallow serving bowl, arrange: 1 Lb. tomatoes, cut in wedges, 1 sliced cucumber and 1 sliced bell pepper.
Add on top: 3/4 cup Iliada Kalamata olives, 1 Tbsp. capers and red onions slices (from half an onion). Drizzle about half the dressing evenly over the salad.
Place a 6oz. plank of feta on top of the salad and drizzle with additional dressing to taste. Serve at room temperature.