August 5, 2013
olives farcies à l’envers
(inside-out stuffed olives)
It was on another summer trip to the Trinity Alps that I learned about olive groves and Jaguars. Starting in 1953, once a summer my father would pile the family into his Chevrolet, except for 1957 when for some reason he switched to a Buick Special. We would head north from the San Francisco Bay Area. The trips always lasted for one week, except for the one in 1953 that lasted two weeks and took us to the Grand canyon and the one in 1957 that lasted three weeks and took us to Canada. Once or twice, we’d make the north to the Trinity Alps trip with another family. This summer was one of those years.
I don’t remember the exact year, but I assume I was either in the eighth grade or just starting high school, which would place the trip in the early 1960s. I had elected to travel with my friend and his parents in the back of their Jaguar sedan sitting on leather seats instead of the back of my parents current Chevrolet sitting on Naugahyde seats. Even before the trouble started, I had questioned my decision to switch cars since my friend’s parents argued as much as mine did, but I had learned to tune my parents out.
We were driving up US99, the main north‑south highway traveling up the length of California through the Central Valley. Interstate 5 was still a few years away. Just south of the town of Corning, the car coasted to a stop in the dirt along the side of the road. The engine was silent. My friend’s father got out of the car, lifted the hood, and buried his head in the engine compartment. A few minutes later, he came back and announced that the engine had blown a Welch plug, whatever that was. My friend and I were instructed to get out of the car and start walking back the direction we came looking for a small metal disk. So off we went.
In the middle of the summer, this portion of California spends most days with the temperature near or above the century mark. Luckily for the wandering, metal‑disk searchers, the side of the road was densely lined with olive trees, and there was shade if you walked close enough to them. There was also a light breeze if you stopped walking. We strode as far as we could and still see the car. No disk was to be found.
By the time we made it back to the car, my friend’s father had already flagged down a car. The driver promised to send a tow truck back to us from town. By the time the tow truck arrived, my parents had realized that we were no longer behind them, and had doubled back. My friend and I transferred to my father’s car, and left his parents to deal with the sick Jaguar. I don’t remember them catching up with us again that week.
When we passed through the town of Corning, there was a big sign proclaiming it to be the “Olive City.” My father explained how most of the olives produced in the United States were processed and canned in Corning. He also promised to bring me back for a plant tour. The Bell Carter Olive Company, the largest ripe olive canning plant in the world, was one of his customers. He never brought me back there for that tour.
As a young teenager, to me, olives only meant pitted black olives. Since I and my buddies were old enough to eat them, olives adorned our fingers before they made it into our mouths. It would be years before I would be introduced to the wide variety of olives in the marketplace today, and have fingers too fat to stuff an olive on.
In thinking about amuse‑bouche, stuffed olives have wandered into my thoughts on many occasions. I’ve tried various fillings and types of olives, but none were satisfying. In each case, the flavor of the olive over shadowed the filling. One of my last attempts consisted of trying to fill the olive holes with melted Parmesan cheese. It was a failure, but it later lead to a grand success.
The amuse‑bouche that I design frequently are the result of two parallel paths crossing eventually in the temporal world, if not the spatial one. At the same time I was stuffing olives with the contents of my refrigerator, I was playing, not knowing where it would take me, with a totally different concept. In Modernist Cuisine, there’s a section about how to keep cheese emulsified when you melt it. In the simplified Modernist Cuisine at Home, there’s a simplified version of the same concept. In one of the videos to promote the second book, there’s an even simpler recipe for what they now call Perfectly Melting Cheese.
The result is a processed cheese that tastes like the cheese it was made from. I love processed American cheese in its traditional form made from a combination of cheddar and Colby, but what would it be like if it was made from Parmesan cheese? That may have some possibilities. So, I simplified the ingredient list of the simplest version and gave it a try. Here’s my version of the recipe.
50 ml (313 T)
filtered water
5 g (316 oz)
sodium citrate
125 g (4716 oz)
grated Parmesan cheese
1. Place the water in a small saucepan, and bring to a boil. Add the sodium citrate, and stir to dissolve. Using a wooden spatula, mix in the cheese.
2. When the cheese melts and gathers in the center of the pot, transfer it to a silicone baking sheet. Place a second silicone sheet on top and press the cheese flat with a metal baking sheet or pot. The resulting cheese “slice” should be close to 3 mm (18 in) thick. Chill the cheese in your refrigerator until needed.
Now it’s time for those two paths to cross. I melted a little of the cheese with the idea of dripping it into the olives. The cheese melted nicely, but it was too viscous to easily pour or spoon, probably because I started with a drier cheese than the recipe called for. So I thought, instead of stuffing the olive with the cheese, why not stuff the cheese with the olive?
I cut the cheese into flat ribbons and carefully wrapped a ribbon around each olive. Each combination was placed into the well of a silicone peanut‑butter cup mold. My thought was to place the mold over a shallow layer of hot water in a roasting pan, and let the heat melt the cheese.
As soon as the mold was placed on the water, I found a problem with my method. This particular mold has 30 cavities of which only six were filled. The whole mold wanted to float. So I filled each of the empty cavities with water and proceeded to place the roasting pan on the stove. As the water below heated up, the cheese slowly began to melt and encapsulate the lower half of each olive. That part was good. Unfortunately, the water in the other cavities started to boil and sputter, splashing water onto the cheese. That part was bad. I finally managed to suck the water from each cavity with a syringe and transfer the mold to a baking sheet for placement in the refrigerator.
After cooling, I removed the six amuse‑bouche from the mold. They sort of worked! The filling at the bottom of the molds wasn’t complete, and the bottom of the olives showed through the cheese, but the taste was just what I was after. Neither component dominated. After a few more tries, and a number of modifications, I finalized on a method that works every time.
“processed” Parmesan cheese, cut into 3‑mm (18‑in) cubes
1 piece for each olive
“processed” Parmesan cheese, cut into 3‑mm (18‑in) strips long enough to fill the olives
pitted green olives
capelin roe
1. Lightly spray the cavities of a silicone peanut‑butter cup mold with baking spray. Starting in the center of the mold, fill each cavity with the cheese cubes until they are level at the rim of the cavity.
2. Fill the empty cavities with metal or ceramic pie weights. Place the mold into a shallow roasting pan large enough for the mold to sit flat. Carefully add water to the roasting pan until the water comes about halfway up the sides of the cavities. Place the roasting pan over a burner and set to high.
3. While the water is heating, stuff enough olives to match the number of cheese‑filled cavities with the strips of cheese. When the water comes to a boil, turn the heat down and start watching the cheese in the cavities to see when it starts to melt.
4. When the cheese cubes are barely soft, insert an olive into the center of each cheese portion. They should push in with a slight resistance. Immediately straighten the opening on each olive. If necessary, push down the cheese strips previously stuffed into the olives so they are slightly below the opening.
5. When the cheese cubes fuse together, remove the silicone mold from the water and place it on a baking sheet. Place the combination in your refrigerator to chill.
6. When cool, pour the pie weights out of the mold. Pop each of the cheese cups from its cavity and place on a plate or in a container. Cover and refrigerate the amuse‑bouche until its time to serve.
7. At serving time, stuff the top of the hole in each olive with the capelin roe. Place the cheeses in candy papers and serve them.
Note: One order of cheese made from the above recipe will produce 12 to 15‑molded cheese‑olive cups.
Note: I’ve held the prepared cheese‑olive cups in my refrigerator for two weeks without any problems.

© 2013 Peter Hertzmann. All rights reserved.