Whether you grow your own olives or buy some from one of the local farms, they will be hard and bitter. A curing process is necessary to soften them and remove the oleuropein that cause the unpleasant taste.
There are a few common ways to cure your olives – including dry curing with salt, water curing and brining – and each produces a distinct flavour and texture profile, while being suited for different types of olives. There is a fourth common and very effective method – lye curing – but we do not recommend this due to its potential to harm the environment and your health.
This method is best suited for green, or ‘immature’, olives as they are normally mild and lack large a quantity of bitter oleuropein.
Once these olives have been rinsed and prepared, they are ‘cracked’ or ‘smashed’ with a stone or mallet so that the internal meat of the fruit can be exposed to water. It is important at this point that the olives are kept as intact as possible, and that the pit is not bruised.
These olives are then submerged in water within a covered food-safe or glass container for about a week, with the water being changed out daily. The water acts to ‘leech’ the bitterness from the olives as well as acting to soften them.
Once the flavour profile of these olives has been tested, they are often stored in a light brine and refrigerated. These keep for about a year in this condition, and can be further flavoured by adding herbs and spices like pepper, fennel or rosemary to the brine.
This method works for both green and black olives, and it tends to give olives a salty taste. It takes longer than water curing, but is better suited to curing olives that are harvested ripe – like Kalamata or Mission olives.
Again, these olives must be rinsed, prepared and sorted into batches of even sized fruit. The olives are then cut without damaging the pit, instead of cracked, to allow the brine to reach the meat .
Once prepared, the olives are placed in a sealable glass container and weighted so that they remain submerged once the brine is added. They are then covered in a medium brine, making sure each individual olive is completely covered.
This brine is changed out weekly to remove the bitter oleuropein, and these olives should be ready after about 2-3 months storage in a cool, dark place depending on your flavour preference.
Dry Curing with Salt
This method works best with fully ripe black olives. Once these olives are cleaned, they must be left to dry entirely before this process begins. The olives must be accurately weighed, as 1 part salt is required for every 2 parts olive for the curing process to work.
The olives are then placed in a wooden box lined with burlap or old cloth or sheets, as long as the fabric can contain the salt and absorb liquids. The olives are then mixed (as in the ratio above) with pickling or Kosher salt so that every olive is well covered. This salt serves to cure the olives, without affecting flavour, while preventing mold or other growths from forming.
Once packed into the crate and covered with more salt and cloth, the crate can be stored on a raised platform in a covered outdoor area to allow for air circulation. Plastic can be placed underneath to catch any juices that drain.
Each week – for approximately a month – the olives should be mixed and transferred between alternate crates to promote even curing. When cured, the olives will be shriveled and soft.
After a taste test, these olives can be stored as is or mixed with olive oil and spices to ‘re-plump’ them and add additional flavour.
Bonus: Oil Curing
Store the olives in a jar, submerged in good quality olive oil. Leave for several months, testing regularly for taste. Simple!