SOURCE: Mezzetta

May 16, 2011 05:00 ET

Olives 101 From Mezzetta

More Than Just Martini Garnish and Pizza Toppers

MISSION, KS--(Marketwire - May 16, 2011) - (Family Features) Many Americans have limited familiarity with olives -- either thinking of them as the green pimiento-stuffed garnishes for 007's favorite cocktail or the black slices used to top pizza. In Europe, however, olives are an everyday snack, as popular as chips are in the U.S.

These Mediterranean gems are available in dozens of varieties with diverse flavors, sizes, colors and textures, with something to please everyone -- even those who may not have ever considered themselves an olive fan.

Knowing your way around the wide array of olives and how to choose the right type for each occasion -- from picnics and barbecues to a light snack or for use in a favorite recipe -- might seem tricky, though. Here's a quick overview from Mezzetta, America's number-one producer of specialty olives. These are some of the most popular olives beyond martini and basic black, along with some of the newer varieties to consider:

  • Pitted Kalamata Olives - Known for their distinctive almond shape and deep purple color, pitted kalamatas from Greece are ideally suited as an ingredient in salads, on paninis or in a tapenade.

  • Castelvetrano Olives - Called the "must have olive of the year" by Cheese Connoisseur Magazine, these beauties are naturally bright green and imported from Sicily. The taste is mild, buttery and nutty. These are great for snacking right of the jar and beautiful enough for putting out at a party.

  • Bleu Cheese Stuffed Olives - Superior jumbo green olives are hand filled. The savory, creamy filling has the zing of blue cheese, which perfectly complements the subtle saltiness and meaty texture of the olive. These are fantastic to accompany a Bloody Mary or as a satisfying snack.

  • Jalapeño Stuffed Olives - Colossal-sized olives are hand stuffed with fresh jalapeño strips, adding heat and crunch, which pairs perfectly with the slightly salty flavor of the olive. These olives are a terrific addition to south-of-the-border dishes or as a snack while you watch the big game.

  • Super Colossal Spanish Queen Olives - The classic favorite from Spain is firm and meaty with a hint of saltiness and a touch of bitterness. Best served on the side of a sandwich or on an antipasto platter.

For a fragrant, flavorful treat that showcases your new olive expertise, try this recipe from Mezzetta to liven up your next party platter or picnic. For more information and recipes, visit www.mezzetta.com.

Warm Olives with Fennel and Orange
Serves 6

1tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 1/2teaspoons grated orange rind
1teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary
1/2teaspoon fennel seeds
1small fennel bulb, cut into 1/4-inch-thick wedges
12Mezzetta Pitted Kalamata olives
12Mezzetta Pimiento-Stuffed Olives
1tablespoon balsamic vinegar

Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add rind, rosemary, fennel seeds and fennel wedges; cook 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Add olives; cook 1 minute. Remove from heat; stir in vinegar. Serve warm.

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