Thursday, 10 May 2012

The Standard of Oliving

Bodega Olives event, London
Martha Jay

A wine- and olive-tasting! Could anything be more delightful after a hard day at the office? Except this one had a difference – the olives would take centre stage. Bodega’s olive expert Vaz Frigerio would explain to us the different kinds of olives and the lovely sommelier at the Opera Tavern, Covent Garden, would pair each one with a suitable beverage.
            Bodega intend to bring the gourmet olive to the supermarket chiller cabinet, taking it out of its natural home at the farmer’s market or food hall. It’s time to enter the big leagues. No more jars of plain ‘black olives’ of the kind you might find on a disappointing pizza; no more tubs of ‘mixed olives’ from the deli counter; when you next go to the supermarket, you’ll need to know your onions (er, olives). But Bodega make it easy with their branded packets – mild, lively, vibrant, robust, spicy – that include tasting notes and wine-pairing advice.
            One of my favourites was the ‘mild’ – a Sicilian nocellara olive rolled in lemon oil, paired with a Sicilian white wine. You can imagine yourself eating these on a terrace on a warm summer’s evening, with the scent of lemon blossom drifting around you. The next day I roasted chicken thighs in a dish with olive oil, slices of lemon and these meaty but mild olives. It was a wholly successful experiment. Perversely, my other favourite were the ‘spicy’ ones – halkidiki olives stuffed with both jalapeños and pimentos, paired with a crisp Spanish beer. Happily they come with extra, eye-wateringly hot chillies in the packet, and therefore win hands down in my view. The Bodega people tell us these are good for cooking on their own – that you can take them out of the olives, even, and use them to flavour a dish. But why would you when you can just crunch them?
            Bodega imagine that there is a world of olive ‘beginners’ out there who have tried olives once – the wrong kind – and have been put off. They believe that their branding, with its helpful tasting notes, will help these poor souls to a Damascene moment of sorts. Whether that is the case or no, these carefully selected and cured olives will prove popular among cooks who want a specific flavour and texture of olive to add to a particular dish, or those who want to pair their aperitifs with complementary flavours.

For the history of the olive and its oil, a guide to olive varieties and some delicious recipes, try Fabrizia Lanza’s Olive: A Global History.

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