The olive pit spit­ting con­test at Terres de l’Ebre fair in the vil­lage of Jesús, near Tortosa, February 21 – 23, 2014.

Catalonia’s olive oil fairs are not just a chance to try and buy new sea­son oils but usu­ally to have fun, too.

Apart from learn­ing more about olive oil and its uses, they offer a chance to dis­cover local gas­tron­omy and cul­ture and some­times some unusual tra­di­tions.

Here we look at some of the pop­u­lar activ­i­ties and pro­mo­tions at three recently-​held fairs.

The “Master of the Mortar” title: gar­lic sauce mak­ing

Silvia Panisello presents her alli­oli for weigh­ing.

Thirty men and women stooped over mor­tars, stir­ring non-​stop with pes­tles while pour­ing in — some­what anx­iously — a steady trickle of extra vir­gin olive oil. That was the sight dur­ing the adults’ alli­oli con­test at the Terres de l’Ebre fair held in the vil­lage of Jesús, near Tortosa, February 21 – 23.

Their biggest fear? That their alli­oli would ‘break’, in other words the emul­sion would sep­a­rate, which did indeed hap­pen to some entrants.

Allioli has long been part of Catalan gas­tron­omy and can be made in var­i­ous ways though the basic ver­sion is are lit­er­ally just a sauce of ‘all’ (gar­lic) and ‘oli’ (olive oil), or with egg yolk added to pro­duce a gar­lic may­on­naise.

In this crowd-​drawing con­test the entrants are pro­vided with salt, extra vir­gin olive oil, eggs, gar­lic, and water, and have 25 min­utes to pro­duce as much sauce as they can. They first form their emul­sions in mor­tars then move to bowls to add mass. The bread is used only in case of emer­gency — an emul­sion sep­a­ra­tion — when adding a bit can help save the day.

The bowls are pre­sented to the judges for weigh­ing at the end and last Sunday the win­ner was Silvia Panisello with 2.66kg. Though aged just 22, Panisello, has known alli­oli glory before, win­ning the juve­nile cat­e­gory in 2007, just a week after her par­ents first taught her how to make the sauce.

“You need to stay very relaxed, she said, “and keep mov­ing in steady cir­cles from your wrist because if you change your motion the emul­sion can break.” That hap­pened to her in last year’s con­test, when some­one spoke to her, she got dis­tracted, and poured in too much olive oil. At home her fam­ily makes alli­oli at least twice a month, she said, to accom­pany food such as fideuà — a dish like paella but with noo­dles not rice — and grilled meat.

Olive pit spit­ting con­test

In terms of quirky fair activ­i­ties it’s hard to beat olive pit spit­ting con­tests, where the prize goes to who­ever projects an olive stone the fur­thest. One was held at the Terres de l’Ebre fair, attract­ing 50 entrants and many bemused spec­ta­tors.

Each con­tes­tant was given six olives to eat in order to obtain six pits, of which they spat three and had their two best dis­tances noted. Organizers said black olives from Aragón were used, “but just because we had some.”

The win­ner of the adults’ con­test was Cristian Melero, with 10.77m, while Cristian Serett the won the under-​14 divi­sion with 5.45m. Pablo Delgado, last year’s cham­pion with 9.87m, said the trick is “sim­ply to blow hard.”

Children’s activ­i­ties: olive preser­va­tion and a Mediterranean diet board game

Playing the “Oca Mediterranea” game at Siurana DOP fair.jpg

Among the free activ­i­ties at the Siurana DOP olive oil fair held in Reus, Tarragona, in November, were two that were a big hit with chil­dren. One, run by the Cel Rogent envi­ron­men­tal edu­ca­tion orga­ni­za­tion, involved a hands-​on work­shop in pre­serv­ing olives in salt.

Children lined up for this small work­shop, dur­ing which they were told about olive preser­va­tion and allowed to select a hand­ful of olives, put them in a small jar, add some dried herbs and brine, seal the jar and take it home.

Also sur­rounded by chil­dren was the stand where they could play a large-​scale form of the pop­u­lar board game La Oca (the Goose) but with a spe­cial twist — using a ver­sion based on the Mediterranean Diet and requir­ing them to move them­selves, not pieces. Winners received a nor­mal size set of the Mediterranean Diet ver­sion, which was con­ceived by the Spanish Association of Municipalities of the Olive Tree (AEMO) and pro­motes healthy eat­ing and lifestyle habits.

Local gas­tron­omy

Another fea­ture of most fairs is that dur­ing them, assorted local restau­rants offer spe­cial menus based on the use of extra vir­gin olive oil. The Terres de Ebre fair in the vilage of Jesús, for instance, saw nine local eater­ies offer three-​course meals (starter, main course and dessert, wine included) for €15 ($20.50). The meals fea­tured local pro­duce and typ­i­cal dishes such calçots (a type of scal­lion) with romesco sauce, potatos with alli­oli, arti­chokes, sausages, and the typ­i­cal anise-​flavored pastis­set de Tortosa, made with olive oil, for dessert.

Visitors could also buy a €5 tast­ing menu ticket enti­tling them to a glass of wine and 5 sam­ples from a dozen or so dishes avail­able in stands at the fair that were made by restau­rants in the region and using extra vir­gin olive oil. Among the dishes were a coca (kind of Catalan-​style pizza) with octo­pus; pig cheek tim­bale; duck and prune casse­role; ravi­oli stuffed with arti­chokes and rice; bacalao (dried cod­fish) with arti­chokes, broad beans and alli­oli; an apple cake; and var­i­ous pas­tries.

Animals and ath­letes

The tim­ing of the annual Les Garrigues Extra Virgin Olive Oil Fair, held in Les Borges Blanques in mid-​January, coin­cides with the feast of Saint Anthony, the patron saint of ani­mals, so vis­i­tors can see a bright street parade of animal-​theme floats pass close by the fair precinct, and later a bless­ing of ani­mals.

And for more ath­letic olive oil fans, there is the Olive Oil Race, with a course of just over 10km, which usu­ally attracts hun­dreds of entrants. Complementary attrac­tions at this year’s fair included draw­ing and photo com­pe­ti­tions, a work­shop on olive wood carv­ing, a sem­i­nar on olive oil in nat­ural cos­met­ics and a small rock fes­ti­val.

- For ideas on teach­ing chilren about olives, olive oil and olive trees see: “Get out of the Classroom” from the Catalan Society for Environmental Education: www.scea.cat/documents/fora%20de%20classe/Guia_angles_baixa.pdf…



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