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How to Make Oil-Cured Olives

“Last season I made the most wonderful, flavorful, fantastic cured olives I have ever had in my life—just ask my kids,” says Perry Rea, owner of Queen Creek Olive Mill, adding that the term “oil cured” is a bit of a misnomer; these olives are salt-cured and then packed in oil.

For best results, harvest ripe olives directly from the tree when they are a deep black/purple in color and somewhat soft to the touch. Fruit should not have any green color whatsoever. Never use olives that have fallen to the ground as they may promote bacterial growth, spoiling your entire harvest.

  • Milk crate or other large, deep container that will allow drainage through the bottom
  • 2-3 pounds fresh-picked fully ripe olives
  • Rock salt
  • Large piece of cotton fabric, such as an old bed sheet
  • Glass jars with lids
  • Extra virgin olive oil

1. After harvesting, remove any leaves or twigs and rinse olives in a large tub to remove dust or dirt. Let them drain.

2. Line the milk crate or similar item with a clean bed sheet or large piece of fabric, letting the excess fabric drape over sides.

3. Spread a half-inch layer of rock salt on the sheet lining the crate, followed by a 1-inch layer of olives (don’t worry if they are still wet). Continue layering rock salt and fruit until reaching top of the crate, ending with a layer of salt completely covering any exposed olives.

4. Cover the top of the crate by folding over excess fabric.

5. In Arizona, by the time the olives on the trees are black ripe, the weather has cooled down and the garage is the perfect place to cure them. To allow olives to drain and aerate, I use bricks to elevate the crate a few inches above ground level, placing a tray beneath to catch any drainage.

7. Walk away and do nothing for 90 days. You may notice some drainage but don’t worry—the salt is doing its job, curing and dehydrating the fruit. After three months, the olives will look shriveled and have a leathery consistency.

8. Rinse off the salt and let the olives dry completely, then tightly pack them in a lidded glass container, adding enough oil to coat all the fruit. Cover tightly. I keep mine in the refrigerator. I have also placed the jars in the freezer and then thawed in the fridge. I have kept sealed jars in my freezer or my refrigerator for longer than one year.

My family enjoys cured olives in many different ways, but my favorite is to drizzle with fresh extra virgin olive oil and sprinkle with chopped garlic, crushed red chiles, aniseed, dried oregano and salt to taste. Toss and enjoy!


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