Gregori Canalias, head of the School of Hospitality and Tourism of Lleida
About 60,000 liters of extra virgin olive oil — 20 percent more than last year — were sold at the Extra Virgin Olive Oil Exhibition held in the small Catalan town of Les Borges Blanques Friday to Sunday.
And despite chilly, wet weather, organizers say the number of visitors, 68,000, was also a record for the event, which this year attracted about 20 producers of olive oil, many of them cooperatives.
Les Borges Blanques is in the district of Les Garrigues, home to Spain’s oldest olive oil designation of origin, and part of the province of Lleida, one of Catalonia’s main olive oil regions and about 100 miles inland from Barcelona.
At the “Fira de l’Oli,” producers offered a wide range of packaging sizes, including cruet-style 250ml bottles and spray packs but it was not uncommon to see families buying 2- and 5‑liter plastic containers of extra virgin olive oil, at about €10 ($13) and €20 ($26) respectively, and gift packs and flavored olive oils seemed popular.
Along with cheeses, sausages and pastry goods, also on sale were packs of dried olive stones and furnaces in which to burn them as a cheaper alternative to oil-based home heating.
Olive oil-snail synergy
Lleida is known for its arbequina olive oil and also as the Spanish capital of snail gastronomy. The two complement each other as it is popular to eat “los caracoles” with “alioli” a garlic mayonnaise traditionally made with olive oil.
Seizing on this, an agreement was announced at the exhibition under which the major Aplec snail festival will now promote Les Garrigues extra virgin olive oil during its tour of Spain.
Students from the School of Hospitality and Tourism of Lleida also capitalized on the connection, providing samples of a snail pate, and other variations of regional fare — such as “la coca de recapte” (Catalan-style pizza), “esqueixada” (dried cod salad), and locally-grown pears — using olive oil to highlight natural flavors.
Gregori Canalias, head of the school, told Olive Oil Times its participation in the exhibition aimed to stimulate creativity and showcase local gastronomy. Among samples provided to visitors this year were olive oil ravioli and an olive leaf tea sweetened with stevia.
The instructions for the tea are simple: infuse 40g of olive tree leaves in 1l of water at 90C for 10 minutes then sweeten with stevia. But Canalias said tasks set for the school’s students for the next fair include perfecting a jellied version of it.
“Stevia is a natural sweetener and the olive tree leaf has many health properties that we are only just discovering,” he said.
“We hope to develop a great-tasting dessert that is not quite a medicine, but nearly. That will be one of next year’s surprises.”