Kalamata olives on tree prior to harvestDecember memories have many meanings to different people.For many of us who deal with food on a daily basis, other than eating it, keeping up with the crops and the seasonal harvests going on around the world is key.The one foremost on my mind right now is the Kalamata olive harvest. Some view this as the best olive in the world. Certainly, it is the most well known. Touring Greece during the olive harvest was an amazing experience. I was transported back to earlier times when life was simpler. In Sparta, little has changed through the centuries. The trees are getting older and they have out lived the ones who so diligently took care of them many years ago and have passed this task on to newer generations of farmers.
Young farmers from the village of KefalasKalamata is the port that the olives were named for but as is the case oftentimes, the olives were shipped from this port but harvested in Sparta. On the southern most tip of the Greek peninsula are the mountains, coastal towns and home to the orchards that produce the Kalamata olive. I can taste the olives now, but it’s not wise not to taste at harvest. The olives are very sour fruits and leave an intensely bitter flavor in your mouth, like chewing aspirin. Best to taste following the fermentation in a brine solution which may take up to 5 months, depending on the weather and the fruit.
Hand harvesting of the Kalamata olives into nets laid at the groundThe true Kalamata have a point at one end similar to an almond. They range in size and color but the purple shade is what many of us have come to know and love. Brown or off colors are considered defects as are holes (indicative of fly larvae) and bruises. All of us pay according to the size, texture and the quality of the olive. This is judged at harvest, similar sizes are separated and fermented together. Olives are an agricultural product and the annual harvest contributes heavily to the economic viability of the small villages in the area.
Olives freshly harvestedAs I have said in the past, certain foods remind me of individuals and olives are no different. My olive mentors are Phil Meldrum and Kostas Marianos. Kostas is a true gentleman based in Greece. His family was originally from Greece; they moved during the revolution, in which he lost his beloved grandfather. His U.S. partner is Phil Meldrum, one of the true foodies I have the privilege of knowing. Phil is based in New York and has a rich history of partnering with Mediterranean producers to source the best olives and antipasti products. His company is frequently honored with awards for the best olives in the world.
Kostas Marianos (left) and Phil Meldrum in Gythion, GreeceKalamata have a distinct flavor: aromatic and full-bodied, with a smoky, wine-infused snap.Olives are a healthy snack, rich in monosaturated oils, antioxidants, polyphenols and flavonoids. Kalamatas are rich in a pigment called anthocyanin, which has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.Heading into the holiday season with so many critical economic issues impacting all of our lives, it is good to have a positive Kalamata olive report. Following the fire risks last year and draughts of the most recent few years, overall the olivecrop looks good. In general, the quality is better than last year’s harvest and there is a solid percentage of larger size olives. The color, which is a critical point of evaluation for the Kalamata crop, is great this year.We look forward to having these olives in our store in April.Best of the holidays!