To say that olives are ubiquitous in Spain is almost an understatement, but out of the two hundred and sixty or so varieties, only a handful are produced for the commercial market and the bulk are used for olive oil production. In the UK, you are likely to come across manzanilla, the archetypal Spanish green olive, gordal, the “fat one” or queen olive, arbequina, the small round dark green one, and aragón, the small black one.
Table olives are best eaten whole, i.e. without the stone being removed, as this preserves the flavour and texture, although there are also a large selection of stuffed olives – anchovies. sun-dried tomatoes, red pepper, cheese and more. As well as being enjoyed on their own or in a salad, there are a vast number of recipes which feature olives, one way or another.
Olives cannot be eaten straight from the tree (the bitter taste is unpalatable), but have to be cured in a solution of brine or lye. Lemon, garlic, chilli, or herbs may be added at this stage for extra flavouring. When the olives are ready, they can be eaten as they are or marinated in olive oil or vinegar with a selection of fruits, nuts, garlic, herbs and spices. Many variations are available and, of course, it is possible to make your own at home.