Castelvetrano olives served with drinks at Maiden Lane | NYC.  We could eat the whole bowl (photo courtesy Musco Food).
Olive connoisseurs love Castelvetrano olives (pronounced kah-stell-veh-TRAH-no). And more than a few people decide that they like olives after tasting the delicious, bright green fruit, named for a town* in the center of their growing region, the province of Trapani on the western side of Sicily.
*The cultivar is actually Noccellara del Belice, named for the valley formed by the Belice River, which flows across the sunny, verdant island.
The olives are so good that in a land of many olives, they’re Italy’s number one snack olive—selling three to one over any other type of olive. These bright green gems are often referred to as “dolce” olives, the word for “sweet” in Italian.
The flavour is mild, subtly salty and delightfully sweet, lacking the bitterness found in most green olives. And the texture is a wonderfully robust combination of meaty, velvety and crisp.
The olives are hand-harvested young (early in the season) and are cured in lightly salted brine, which accounts for their bright green color, firm, meaty texture and mellow, buttery flavor. Those who don’t like olives because they’ve only had stronger, brinier varieties may have found their olive.
Some people say that Castelvetrano olives taste a bit like fine olive oil. That’s not surprising: Some of the finest olive oil comes from Castelvetrano olives (the oil is often called Noccellara—see footnote above).
Castelvetranos debuted in the U.S. only in the last five years, starting in the olive bars of specialty food stores. They quickly became top-sellers. Mezzetta, one of our favorite brands (and the leading producer of glass-packed olives, peppers and specialty foods in the United States), was the first to offer them in jars in the U.S.
Once tasted, they become a favorite; and due to their relatively small production quantities, they can be hard to find.
If Castelvetrano olives are pricier than other olives, it’s because the trees have only a fair yield. But you get what you pay for: Mild and seductive, they’re olive bliss.
We buy them by the case from Mezzetta’s online store. We go through a jar a week.
HOW TO ENJOY CASTELVETRANO OLIVES
Drinks, Appetizers & Cheese
Pitted and added to a Martini
In an antipasto, with cheeses and salame
In a plated cheese course, with Manchego or mozzarella di bufala cheese and Marcona almonds
To garnish any cheese plate
In green salads—with crisper lettuces such as romaine, endive and radicchio
In citrus salads, with red onion and fresh, flat-leaf parsley
With mixed baby greens, orange sections, shaved fennel and a light lemon vinaigrette (1 part lemon juice, three parts olive oil)
Chopped and added to vinaigrettes
In couscous, with lemon juice, olive oil, sliced green onions, chopped flat-leaf parsley, salt and pepper
In a cold broccoli or Brussels sprouts salad with a lemon garlic vinaigrette
In braised dishes: beef, chicken and lamb (first pit the olives)
With roasted dishes: fish, meats and poultry
In a red pasta sauce or a pesto: whole and pitted or sliced
As a snack with beer, wine and cocktails (while delicious plain, you can add some fresh rosemary and cracked pepper to the dish)
As a quick bite straight from the jar
BEFORE ADDING TO RECIPES, REMOVE THE PITS
Remove the olive pits with a cherry pitter.
If you don’t have a pitter, crush the olives with the side of a chef’s knife and poke out the pits with a chopstick. Return the pitted olives back to the jar of olive juice to maintain their bright color. When exposed to air for a long period of time, their brilliant color will begin to turn brownish.
You can buy Castelvetrano olives online at Mezzetta.com. Use the search box to get to the two options: a single jar (16 ounces, $6.00) or a case (6 jars, $27.00—a 25% discount).
OLIVE HEALTH BENEFITS
Olives are a very healthy fruit. Some people avoid them because of their “high fat content.” But that’s the same incredibly heart-healthy, monounsaturated fat that we’re encouraged to consume via olive oil.†
†Monounsaturated fats have been found to reduce the risk of atherosclerosis and increase HDL (good) cholesterol.
Olives have a trifecta of healthy components that work in synergy. In addition to the monounsaturated fats, olives are rich in the powerful antioxidant vitamin E–which neutralizes damaging free radicals–along with polyphenols and flavonoids, which have anti-inflammatory properties.
As a bonus, olives are also rich in copper and iron, and are an excellent source of fiber.
Discover more types of olives in our Olive & Olive Oil Glossary.