Let us take you on the journey of an olive from the tree to your table.
The olive tree is revered as one of the longest-living and hardiest trees on earth. The slow-growing tree can bear fruit for hundreds of years. Eventually, the trunk withers and new shoots develop at the tree's base. The shoots grow into a new tree -- hence the olive tree's reputation as "the immortal tree."
Olives grow best in climates that are mild in the winter and hot in the summer, much like the warm inland valleys of California.
Between April and June a multitude of small, white flowers appear in groups under the preceding year's leaves. They only last a few weeks. One olive will result from the birth of 20 flowers.
The olives mature all summer and are harvested in the fall. The crop for the next year begins soon after the harvest, with microscopic flower buds beginning to form by November.
The California olive harvest generally begins in September and lasts through November. Table olives are still harvested by hand, with pickers working on the ground and on ladders. The fruit is removed by sliding a gloved hand down the limb in a combing action. It takes 12 days for one picker to harvest one acre of olive trees.
Olives picked straight from the tree are too bitter to eat. They require some kind of curing process. There are basically three ways to process an olive: oxidized, green, or natural.
The olives used to make California black ripe olives are harvested when they are green. Most California olives become black ripe olives through a process of oxidation. The olives are brought from the orchard, put immediately into storage tanks, and taken to the processing plant to be cured. A flow of air bubbles into the tanks gives the olives their distinctive black color. The olives cure for about one week before they are hand sorted to remove soft, off-color, or broken olives. After being pitted, the fruit is sent to the canning lines, where it is packed and heat sterilized. Only then are the olives ready for your table.
The olives used to make Spanish green olives are brought to the processing plant and left to rest for a day or two. This rest period softens the fruit, which protects its skin during curing. The olives are then treated with a curing solution. All of the fruit must be totally immersed in the curing solution to retain its green color. The olives then ferment for up to two months. The fermented olives are hand sorted, sized and graded, then pitted and stuffed with a variety of flavors and packed into glass jars. Delicious on their own or in your martini!