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 July-August 2005

July-August 2005


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Ode to Olives

Anticipation is defined as a plump green olive soaking at the bottom of a cold martini. As crisp and clean as that gin and vermouth mixture may be, when drinking a martini, you can’t help but keep your eye on the prize.
    A true gift from the gods, it was the olive that cinched the earliest known bidding war for naming rights. According to Greek mythology, Zeus promised the city of Attica to the god or goddess who could create the most useful invention. Poseidon offered up his horses of war, but Athena’s gift of the olive tree—whose fruit could provide light, heat, food and medicine—was chosen for its more peaceful applications. Attica became Athens, and the olive trees that grow around the modern day metropolis are said to have sprung from that first tree.
    More recently, Athena’s gift has been appearing throughout the Bay Area in the form of grocery store olive bars. Brimming with Greek kalamatas, French niçoise and Andalusian sevillana caspes, olive bars enable customers to sample from a range of olives, pickled peppers and other stuffed and cured delicacies. 
Specialty food buyer Miranda Voinar says that while some bar olives are California-grown, many are imported from Greece, France, Italy, Morocco and Spain. “Two years ago it used to be Greek olives; now customers want French olives and Moroccan olives,’’ Voinar says. “The olive craze is just growing.”
    Voinar, whose company provides olives to Alameda’s Encinal Market, says that travel has acted as the main push behind the exotic array of olives now found in Bay Area grocery stores.
    Aside from Encinal Market, shoppers can find a variety of gourmet olives at Farmstead Cheeses and Wines, Trader Joe’s and Albertson’s.
    If travel to the Mediterranean is not on your calendar this year, bring the varied tastes of olives home by updating pizza and pasta sauces with tangy kalamatas. Add some kick to that tuna sandwich by spreading a green olive tapenade onto the bread. And better yet, give yourself something to look forward to by tossing a garlic-stuffed jewel into your next
martini—it will be worth the wait.
—Laurie Isola