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Formaggio Kitchen House Olive Mista

Our house olive mista (with a few piparras peppers mixed in)

So many posts on our blog about olive oil – where’s the love for the olive itself?

They’re not just a green-and-red ball resting on the side of your mind’s image of a martini. Olives – that is, the 10 percent of the world’s production that we eat as whole fruits – are absolutely delicious, and can bring your tapas or dinner to a whole new level.

Olives are fruits that come from the hardy Olea europaea tree, one that can live and bear fruit for a thousand years! Native to the eastern Mediterranean, olives were likely first used (and of course, are still used) for their oil; as much as 30% of an olive’s pulpy outer layer is oil. As mentioned above, only ten percent of olives grown end up as edibles – the rest goes into our pantry staple, olive oil, according to my go-to food historian, Harold McGee. As I write this during Boston’s third snowstorm in two weeks, the word ‘harvest’ does not seem like a relevant concept – but across the pond, this year’s harvest of olives (which happens in late fall and winter) is being pressed into the freshest, unfiltered oil. Yum.

Anyway. Have you ever tasted a fresh olive, right from the tree? Probably not. Olives taste extremely unpalatable this way, containing an abundance of the bitter substance oleuropein. Like other fruits, olives are first green, and eventually change to a dark purplish color, losing some of their bitterness as they ripen. The olives we eat can be anywhere on the spectrum from green to purple to black, and all of them, no matter the ripeness, go through some sort of soaking process to leach out the bitter compounds and make them tasty. Historically, several changes of water was a slow but successful method; however, commercially today, olives can take a bath in a simple brine, get packed in salt and then olive oil, or get dunked in an alkaline lye solution before brining. A wrinkly olive indicates that it was salt-cured, and therefore definitely delicious. (Thanks to Serious Eats for this crash course in olive curing.)

Italian Olive Tree

Olives growing on a tree in the Chianti region of Italy

To pit, or not to pit?

Occasionally we stock pitted olives (olives without their large pits or central seeds), but for the most part we carry unpitted olives. Pitted olives can be more convenient, but there is some controversy over the preparation of olives for the pitting process itself. Most gourmands consider the unpitted olive to offer a purer, more nuanced olive flavor. If you don’t have a special olive pitter, you can use a large chef’s knife to press down on an olive and push out the pit, or just remove them as you eat them.

At the Cambridge shop we always have several varieties of olives on hand for your next appetizer spread or recipe, ranging in flavor and texture. We also make a fresh batch of our house ‘olive mista’ containing several of these varieties and more, plus piparras (Basque pickled peppers) and other aromatics for a convenient and aesthetic snack. Here’s a rundown of the types of olives you’ll find at the cheese counter:

 Alfonso. These purple giants have a medium-firm texture and a lot of meat. Cured in red wine and red wine vinegar, Alfonsos will have a touch of sourness. We usually have these on hand for our house olive mista.

Cassee de Baux. An origin-controlled olive from Provence in the south of France, these muted green beauties are cured with fennel seeds, stalks, and flowers for a prominent flavor.

Castelvetrano. Easily the cheesemongers’ favorite olive. This eye-catching bright green Italian olive is crunchy and not too tart. A great starter olive!

Kalamata. The famous deep-purple Greek olive packs an outstanding, wine-y flavor in a small package. We get these superior kalamatas from My Olive Tree, a small company that also makes award-winning olive oil in southern Greece.

Ligurian. Also known as Taggiasca olives, these are delicate purplish-brown snacks are cultivated in the northwest of Italy. Known for a fruity but mild flavor, they can add complexity to your next bread, pasta sauce, or vegetable dish. A staple of our olive mista, but ask your cheesemonger if you’d like to take some on their own.

Lucques.  These are lovely lime-green olives with a slight crescent shape. Like castelvetranos, they have a bright and crunchy flavor, but with a touch more butteriness.

Nicoise. These olives must come from Nice, France as specified by their AOC, or origin-controlled, designation. Small, brownish-black olives have a delicate texture and flavor, perfect for appetizers. Find these both in our cheese case and in our house olive mista.

Picholines. Rich and buttery, oblong pale green olives originating in the south of France. Try these as a snack for their smoother texture and nutty flavor.

Oil-cured Provencal. In Provence in the south of France, olives and olive oil are a serious subject. These classic wrinkly olives give way to juicy, flavorful flesh that pairs well with chicken and fish.

Red Bella di Cerignola. At the supermarket olive bar, cerignola olives are the BIG ones. These giant red beauties are superbly meaty with a firm texture. Not too salty or winey, you’ll find these in our olive mista.

Lou Pistou. This mix gives you French green and purple olives, cornichons, and pearl onions all in one. Even if you don’t see it in the case, ask if we have any on hand.


Before you reach for a bag of potato chips, try a juicy, fruity, briney olive to satisfy your snacking craving! If you have never featured them on a cheese or charcuterie plate, you may realize how their flavors and textures pleasantly cut through the decadent savory and fatty hors d’oeuvres. Or simply chop them up and add them to anything you’re cooking for a new layer of flavor. (Same goes for capers!) We will always love and cherish our olive oils, but the original source of those bright, rich flavors come from olives, our new favorite snack.

 

Leah Wang is still a farmer in Maine (in her heart and mind), but loves being a cheesemonger at Formaggio Kitchen Cambridge.

Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Nebbiolo, Tempranillo, Sangiovese. The names of these grapes inspire images of red hues ranging from autumn auburn to vibrant vermilion; tastes of smoke, berries, cherries, and chocolate; textures ranging from tongue gripping to smooth satin. Yet we owe these sensory impressions largely to the skin of these grapes, and the time the juice of each grape spends fermenting in contact with its skin.

We are familiar with the practice of making a white wine from a traditionally red-wine grape when it comes to Champagne, which frequently is made at least in part from Pinot Noir. Outside of this, though, the idea of a white wine with any of the names above seems counter intuitive, or just plain odd.

We have on our shelves, however, two exceptional examples of the white vinification of red wine grapes that may convince you to become color-blind.

Rainoldi’s Zapel is mostly Nebbiolo with a bit of Sauvignon Blanc. Fermented at low temperatures – to enhance the aromatic, fresh characteristics that the grapes naturally lend to the wine – and aged for a few months in stainless steel tanks, this wine is lightly yeasty and lemony on the nose. In your mouth, it feels like biting into a ripe Granny Smith apple – both crisp and full with a good acidity. Just a little basil and sage on the finish make this a wonderful wine to enjoy with meal of simple, delicate flavors.

The 100% Pinot Noir grapes for Hexamer’s Spätburgunder Weißherbst (Spätburgunder is the German name for Pinot Noir) are hand-picked and vinified at very cold temperatures using only natural yeasts. Just a blush of peach in color, with gentle aromas of almonds, this wine is slightly frizzante, bittersweet orange in flavor, and finishes with a tingly bite. While this would be a perfect aperitif, it also would also stunningly compliment some richer desserts – think custards and buttercream-filled pastries.

For a fun experiment – pair one of these head-to-head with its red vinified counterpart and see if you can tease out components of flavor, properties of texture, or other characteristics that are indicative of the juice of the grape and transcend its skin and the winemaking process.

Rainoldi Zapel and Hexamer Spätburgunder Weissherbst 2013 are both available at Formaggio Kitchen South End, or for pick-up at Formaggio Kitchen Camrbidge with one day’s notice.

 

Marianne Staniunas is a cheesemonger and a member of the Wine Department at Formaggio Kitchen South End, Boston.

Chocolat Durand 2015 Packaging

Chocolat Durand’s Coffret Bretagne and Formaggio Kitchen’s Choice 16-piece and 32-piece assortments. Packaging varies between shipments, but Valentine’s Day usually sees red ribbon!

A familiar name to many French chocolate lovers, Durand has been renowned for their delicate truffles since the 1980s, when this little patisserie began infusing their chocolates with herbs and spices for the 1987 Christmas season. A few years later, Formaggio Kitchen owners (and husband and wife) Ihsan and Valerie discovered these chocolates on a trip to Provence, and we’ve been smitten ever since.

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Saint-Amour Cote de Besset

Château des Rontets Saint-Amour Côte de Besset, from Fabio Montrasi and Claire Gazeau.

As the holiday dedicated to love and lovers approaches, Saint-Amour, the northernmost Beaujolais Cru, attracts some attention that it perhaps does not receive at other times of year, for obvious reasons; however, Château des Rontets Saint-Amour Côte de Besset is a bit of a love story in its own right.

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A High Score for Wine Point Scoring

Today, it’s common for people to choose wines the same way they choose movies: by consulting what they consider to be an expert opinion. While it takes the two thumbs of a film critic held way way up to fill seats at the local cineplex, it takes a score of 90 points or better to generate real enthusiasm for a wine.

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New ciders for 2015! Bonny Doon Vineyard's Querry, Flag Hill Farm's Sapsucker, and Eden Ciders' Honeycrisp and Windfall Ice Cider.

New ciders for 2015! Bonny Doon Vineyard’s Querry, Flag Hill Farm’s Sapsucker, and Eden Ciders’ Honeycrisp and Windfall Ice Cider.

If you’ve been paying attention over the past few months you may have noticed our cider selection has expanded exponentially. At the moment we’re carrying more than 30 varieties of cider from whole swath of producers, both domestic and international.

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Pink Peppercorns and Bali Long Pepper

Pink peppercorns and Bali long pepper — two particularly striking alternatives to the standard peppercorn.

Peppercorn berries may have originated in India, but plenty of other places around the word have sought similar spice qualities in local plants that are now also called peppercorns. In Part 1 of our series on this “king of spices” we looked at the wide range of peppercorns available from the piper nigrum plant. In Part 2, we’ll take a closer look at five other well known types of peppercorns that are not to be confused with “true” peppercorn berries.

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