Within Spain’s world-renowned La Rioja wine country, the smaller Rioja Alavesa region is synonymous with all things vino. But it isn’t just about wine in this southern pocket of Spanish Basque Country, and the upcoming Fifth Annual Olive Oil Festival will very much make the case for that.
These days, it is more and more about the oil. Oscar Jiménez Ibáñez, a member of La Equidad, the region’s largest cooperative (of which there are three), explained to Olive Oil Times that “people are looking to go beyond wine, and are therefore turning to olive oil.” With that in mind, more wineries also turn to olive oil by doing tastings and demonstrations.
Rioja Alavesa is keen to put a spotlight on what it believes is another of its star products: extra virgin olive oil. Its oil is typically made from the local Arróniz variety, which is grown exclusively in Spain’s Rioja Alavesa and Navarra regions. Small in size, the olive is characterized by its high polyphenols, and a resulting oil that has bitter and pungent attributes.
The festival in honor of Rioja Alavesa’s liquid gold will span several of the region’s olive oil-producing towns, including Oyón on March 19th, Lanciego on March 26th, and Moreda de Álava on March 27th.
The event will begin with olive mill visits, olive oil tastings, and even pringada eating. The latter entails toast drizzled with freshly produced olive oil and then sprinkled with sugar. The regional breakfast and snack grew in popularity in the 1940s after the civil war, explained Oscar, and has since formed part of daily culture here. “My daughter eats it regularly as a snack.”
The festivities continue from an ancient olive mill visit (at Oscar’s cooperative, La Equidad), to a street market featuring local culinary products, and a charity raffle to win one’s weight in olive oil. Also, given that this part of Spain is famous for its pintxos (essentially Basque Country’s gourmet version of the tapa), there will be an olive oil-inspired pintxos contest.
When it comes to olive oil, there is certainly a lot to celebrate: As olive oil consumption goes up worldwide, things are no different here in Rioja Alavesa. Oscar affirmed that interest in and consumption of the region’s oil is definitely rising. But, he noted, increasing overall production will depend on the slow growth of the trees rather than just the growing demands of consumers.
Ultimately, said Oscar, “our region’s production of olive oil is small (he estimates roughly 70,000 kilos a year), but it’s high in quality.” And that alone is definitely worth toasting to — though perhaps with a glass of extra virgin and not just wine.