Riporto in versione integrale un articolo pubblicato sul prestigioso quotidiano americano San Francisco Chronicle.
If the passage of time were represented by popular specialty foods, we could call this the Year of the Castelvetrano Olive. They’ve become the nibble of choice at any cocktail party worth its salt.
Whole Foods can barely keep them in stock in the olive bar. The prep cooks at San Francisco’s Perbacco have become so adept at pitting that they now can work through a gallon in less than 30 minutes. Whether it’s the vivid, almost unnaturally green color or mild, buttery flavor, consumers and chefs across the Bay Area can’t get enough of these addictive orbs.
“They’re wildly popular,” says Najla Turczyn, a specialist at Whole Foods, “definitely more than anything else you’d find on the olive bar.”
Turczyn says that Whole Foods began carrying Castelvetranos about eight months ago, after one of its vendors – Italian Foods importer Fresca Italia – introduced them. Grown primarily in a small town of the same name in the Sicilian provence of Trapani, the olives are known as the varietal nocellara del belice.
Castelvetranos are harvested young and cured in lightly salted brine, which accounts for their bright green hue (it’s not food coloring) and meaty texture. With a mild, nuanced flavor that’s both salty and sweet, the fruit appeals not only to olive aficionados, but also to those who shy away from stronger, brinier varieties. Some refer to them as the rich man’s version of the mild black olives we were drawn to as kids.
Fresca Italia manager Andy Lax says that the company actually began carrying the Castelvetranos about 4 years ago, but it wasn’t until recent months that they exploded onto the scene – likely due to the fact that more markets and restaurants started ordering them.
“It used to be that we were selling a pallet every couple of months or so,” he says, referring to a flat that holds 100 ten-pound buckets. “Now we do one or two a week. We can’t get them in fast enough.”
The importing company is the largest supplier of the olives in the Bay Area, selling to markets like Bi-Rite, Rainbow and Whole Foods. But according to Lax, Bay Area restaurants are clamoring for them as well.
At Perbacco, the olives show up in nearly every course. Chef Staffan Terje serves them as a simple bar snack drizzled with Castelvetrano oil, throws them into a braised lamb dish, cracks them into vinaigrettes and pasta sauces, and pairs them with mozzarella.
“They’re mild, and they don’t have a lot of contradicting flavors,” says Terje, “so you can put them in sauces or braises and they don’t overpower the dish.”
But Terje says they get the most recognition at the bar, where they’re pitted and dropped into martinis.
“I’ve gotten a lot of people saying, ‘My god, these olives are really great.’ ” In fact, he recalls, two ladies specifically called him over to the bar where they were sitting last month. “They said, ‘We just wanted to thank you for having quality olives in the martinis.’ ”
And it makes sense. “You have all of these expensive vodkas and gins. Why would you want to go and ruin them by putting bad olives in?” says Terje.
Most chefs agree that the olives are best served without too much alteration. Estate in Sonoma adds them to an antipasti platter, serves them over burrata and uses them at the bar. At Aziza in San Francisco, the olives are paired with a slow-cooked farm egg.
Lax says that the markets and restaurants are ordering the olives as quickly as he can get them, so he doesn’t worry too much about spoilage. Still, he warns, they oxidize quickly, especially if removed from the brine, so it’s best to keep them submerged in the liquid when you’re storing them at home.
Plus, seconds Terje, it’s a good idea to keep fingers out of the brine as well, which can promote spoilage and oxidation.
That’s no easy task – anyone who has a pint sitting at home in the fridge will tell you that it’s nearly impossible to keep your paws out of the container. It’s the Year of the Castelvetrano Olive, after all.