` Resurgence of a Centenary Tradition - Olive Oil Times

Resurgence of a Centenary Tradition

Jun. 9, 2012
Olivarama

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When the peo­ple of Moreda de Álava say they are going to organ­ise a party, you can be sure they’ll keep their word. Unlike other oil cul­ture cel­e­bra­tions, which tend to con­tribute lit­tle and bore a lot, the I Fiesta del Aceite de Oliva de Álava suc­ceeded in mas­ter­fully com­bin­ing the cul­ture of a prac­ti­cally unknown prod­uct, even in the province it is pro­duced in, with numer­ous fun activ­i­ties for the whole fam­ily.

Normally, the major­ity of tourists that visit the south­ern­most extreme of the Basque Country every year don’t even realise the olive exists. And we cer­tainly can­not reproach them for this. Particularly bear­ing in mind that, when they travel here, they tend to do so attracted by the evoca­tive sug­ges­tions of the Rioja Alavesa Wine Route that tempt all and sundry to explore it.

At these lat­i­tudes, vis­i­tors are almost inevitably, rapidly seduced by the excel­lent wines of the land, the impos­si­ble and majes­tic archi­tec­ture of the bodgeas –some mod­ern and some old‑, the immen­sity of the vine­yards, the lux­ury of the hotels or the dis­tant his­tory con­tained in the muse­ums. With so many irre­sistible stim­uli all around, in real­ity it is hard to pay any atten­tion to other charms which, less for­tu­nate, tend to go unno­ticed.

Among the lat­ter, the olive trees patiently await their well-earned pro­tag­o­nism, some­times hid­den by the weeds and oth­ers blend­ing their pres­ence in among the long rows of vines. The same vines and fields of cere­als that have been steal­ing land from these olive trees over the last decades but now seem will­ing to return them.

A tra­di­tion restored

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The olive tree in the Rioja Alavesa region appeared to be con­demned to extinc­tion. In fact, only the old­est neigh­bours recalled the impor­tant role it had played in the local econ­omy until the mid­dle of the last cen­tury. Yet, when on its deathbed and about to dis­ap­pear, luck turned her smile on it once again. And it did so through var­i­ous pub­lic and pri­vate ini­tia­tives, which have been cre­ated to restore the dig­nity of these trees that should never have been lost in the first place.

Many of these projects are already a real­ity, such as the Proyecto Oleum, which we spoke of at length in the 16th edi­tion of this mag­a­zine; or the A.D.O.R.A. Association, which we also men­tioned in these pages. For its part, oth­ers are grad­u­ally being set in motion, for instance, through bode­gas tra­di­tion­ally ded­i­cated to vine cul­ti­va­tion and wine pro­duc­tion.

In any case, the recent and grow­ing inter­est in the Rioja Alavesa olive groves has given rise to an increase in the sur­face area ded­i­cated to this crop to over 300 hectares, which will become 500 in a few years time thanks to new plan­ta­tions”. This, at least, is the fore­cast made by Borja Monje, regional Agriculture rep­re­sen­ta­tive for Álava. Since tak­ing over this posi­tion a few months ago, this young man who is a native of the area has set him­self the per­sonal chal­lenge of recov­er­ing the olive trees in his land. With this aim in mind, the Álava County Council will do every­thing within its power”, he promised with con­vic­tion.

We met up with the Representative in Moredo de Álava, a small town which has earned itself the title of oil cap­i­tal of the Rioja Alavesa. This dis­tinc­tion, in turn, gave rise to the cel­e­bra­tion of the Fiesta del Aceite de Oliva de Álava, on March 24.

More than one rea­son for cel­e­bra­tion

With an olive oil indus­try in the midst of a recov­ery process, some extra vir­gins that con­quer palates wher­ever they go and growth fore­casts as ambi­tious as they are real­is­tic for this sec­tor in the region, it was just a ques­tion of time before the olive pro­duc­ers got together to savour the fruits of their suc­cess together. And why not share their sat­is­fac­tion with the rest of their friends and neigh­bours too?

Attracted by the smell of roast­ing chick­ens on the main street more so than the aroma of new oil, hun­dreds, maybe even thou­sands, vis­ited Moreda to quickly min­gle with the just over 200 local inhab­i­tants who see each other daily.

In real­ity, many of these vis­i­tors, the major­ity from the Basque Country, came with­out really know­ing what to expect. Just a few knew that olive oil was pro­duced in their own land and many were aware that just one day ear­lier, this prod­uct had been cer­ti­fied with the Eusko Label. This seal, granted by the Basque Government, guar­an­tees its qual­ity, its ori­gin and its sus­tain­able pro­duc­tion”, as Jakes Agirrezabal, man­ag­ing direc­tor of the Corporación HAZI, explained to us. An expla­na­tion also shared by Pilar Unzalu, regional Agriculture Minister for the Basque Country, as she believes that said qual­ity rep­re­sents both a chal­lenge and an oppor­tu­nity”.

And so the major­ity of vis­i­tors dis­cov­ered that Moreda holds the largest olive grove sur­face in the entire Rioja Alavesa (from which it gets its title of oil cap­i­tal of the region). Many of them vis­ited the cen­te­nary oil press which, located in the vil­lage cen­tre, shares instal­la­tions with the mod­ern mill that cur­rently extracts the extra vir­gins of La Equidad coop­er­a­tive.

In total, almost 3000 peo­ple got to see the old mill work­ing and, thanks to the expla­na­tions of José Ramón Ceballos and Jesús Eraso, mem­bers of the Governing Board, they could com­pare it with the cur­rent machin­ery to gain a com­plete under­stand­ing of the olive oil extrac­tion process”.

As if this were not enough, the most curi­ous vis­i­tors took a bus tour to also enjoy an inter­est­ing route through the cen­te­nary olive groves of the area, many of which have been com­pletely recov­ered.

A tast­ing ses­sion of many

Back in Moreda, both chil­dren and adults learned to taste the olive oil, to iden­tify its organolep­tic sen­sa­tions and to dis­cover its qual­ity. This mass tast­ing ses­sion took place in one of the vil­lage squares, in which hun­dreds of peo­ple came together to savour the first oils of the sea­son, fol­low­ing the sim­ple instruc­tions pro­vided by the organ­is­ers of the act. In this case, the hon­our was shared by the chefs, Luis Ángel Plágaro (Cocina de Plágaro), Juan Gil (Mesón Erauskin) and Roberto Ruiz (Frontón de Tolosa), who revealed the ben­e­fits of the Arróniz vari­etal to their coun­try­men.

And the fact is, this olive type is cur­rently pro­duced by var­i­ous brands. Among these, Lurzabal, pro­duced in the heart of the Proyecto Oleum for the Álava Council, stands out; as do La Equidad, Rivo de Moreta, Hermanos Bujanda or those made by the Asociación A.D.O.R.A.

All of these share a series of spe­cific char­ac­ter­is­tics”. According to Juan Luis Bujanda, one of the many organ­is­ers of the fes­ti­val, and co-owner of the Hermanos Bujanda brand, our vari­etal is grown in a bor­der­line zone, cli­ma­to­log­i­cally speak­ing, between the Mediterranean cli­mate and the Atlantic”. For this and other rea­sons, the Arróniz olives present a large polyphe­nol con­cen­tra­tion that makes its oil highly aro­matic and quite bit­ter and spicy”.

Olive oil and other prod­ucts of the land

Organised with a view to repeat­ing the event in the years to come, the I Fiesta del Aceite de Oliva de Álava suc­ceeded, beyond a shadow of a doubt, in meet­ing the expec­ta­tions of all of its par­tic­i­pants. Apart from the afore­men­tioned cul­tural vis­its, vis­i­tors could also buy some of the most typ­i­cal Álava prod­ucts from var­i­ous stalls set up around the coun­cil square. These included Añana salts, Montaña Alavesa cheeses, Zuia beer, Moreda wine, Treviño pulses, the Aiales txa­coli wine and, nat­u­rally, the extra vir­gin olive oil of the Arróniz vari­etal.

The curios­ity of the vis­i­tors, con­stantly sur­prised by the exten­sive local del­i­catessen, man­aged to exhaust the sup­plies of the major­ity of stalls. They had sold every­thing! A very com­fort­ing image, par­tic­u­larly in cur­rent times when con­sump­tion just can­not seem to take off.

On the way to the Laboratorio del Gusto, organ­ised by Slow Food Araba, the crowd trav­el­ling there inevitably bumped into the Proyecto Oleum stand, which its coor­di­na­tor, Fernando Martínez-Bujanda, had not left for a sec­ond the whole morn­ing. This was where many of us left with the desire to buy one of the boxes of Arróniz olive oil choco­lates pre­pared espe­cially for the occa­sion. Once again, the prod­uct lit­er­ally flew off the shelves. Proud of this suc­cess, Fernando took advan­tage of the occa­sion to pub­licly thank all the vol­un­teers for their effort in mak­ing the fes­ti­val pos­si­ble, as well as the great job done by Artepan, which man­aged to make some deli­cious choco­lates”.

Luckily, the for­tu­itous encounter between the cocoa and the olive oil was also present at the tables of the afore­men­tioned Laboratorio del Gusto, which also organ­ised tast­ings of cheese, cider, tapas and other typ­i­cal prod­ucts.

Chatting with Alberto López de Ipiña, pres­i­dent of Slow Food Araba, we dis­cov­ered that this asso­ci­a­tion had col­lab­o­rated in a com­pletely self­less way in the organ­i­sa­tion of the var­i­ous acts that made up the event. In fact, the money made from the sale of the choco­lates and tick­ets to the Laboratorio del Gusto will be donated to the Asociación Berakah”, he told us.

And at this stage, as if we hadn’t eaten enough already, the fes­ti­val con­cluded with a big pop­u­lar meal, also orga­nized by Slow Food Araba, that sated the appetite of even the hun­gri­est vis­i­tors.

An option to bear in mind

Some more pompous, oth­ers more for­mal, oth­ers even bor­ing… the Spanish oil geog­ra­phy is spat­tered with var­i­ous fes­ti­vals pay­ing homage to the cult of olive oil. However, not all can claim to be for all ages.

On its very first edi­tion, the Fiesta del Aceite de Oliva de Álava has already con­sol­i­dated itself as a pop­u­lar cel­e­bra­tion that is highly rec­om­mend­able for the whole fam­ily. In this sense, its unques­tion­able suc­cess would not have been pos­si­ble with­out the col­lab­o­ra­tion of the young peo­ple from the vil­lage, such as Iker Díaz de Cerio and Aitor Marauri, from the mill, Rivo de Moreta; Juan Luis Bujanda, from the com­pany, Hermanos Bujanda; or the mem­bers of the Trujal Cooperativa La Equidad, who all offered their help free of charge to make sure that every­thing ran per­fectly.

This event, apart from boast­ing excel­lent organ­i­sa­tion, lit­er­ally responds to the fes­ti­val con­cept, which goes beyond the pure oil exhi­bi­tion.

If the weather per­mits, as it did last March 24, chil­dren can calmly enjoy the Oil Workshop while learn­ing curiosi­ties about olive oil. The adults, for their part, can revise their knowl­edge and share expe­ri­ences in a fun and relaxed atmos­phere. Later on, they can taste the region’s gas­tro­nomic gems together.

  1. Pilar Unzalu. Pilar Unzalu, regional Minister for Agriculture of the Basque Government, has always shown her sup­port for the Álava olive oil, a qual­ity prod­uct she con­sid­ers both a chal­lenge and an oppor­tu­nity.
  2. Jakes Agirrezabal. The man­ag­ing direc­tor of the Corporación HAZI, Jakes Agirrezabal, came to the fair as the man­ager of the Eusko Label, the qual­ity seal that guar­an­tees the qual­ity of the Álava olive oils.
  3. Borja Monje. Agriculture Representative for Álava, Borja Monje, enjoyed the fes­ti­val among his coun­try­men, to whom he has a per­sonal com­mit­ment to recover the olive groves of their land.
  4. Fernando Martínez-Bujanda. Tireless, Fernando Martínez-Bujanda attended the Proyecto Oleum stand, while also mak­ing sure that every­thing ran smoothly at the fes­ti­val.
  5. Juan Luis Bujanda. Juan Luis Bujanda, one of the many organ­is­ers of the fes­ti­val, and co-owner of the Hermanos Bujanda brand, explained the pecu­liar­i­ties of the Arróniz olive to vis­i­tors.
  6. Alberto López de Ipiña. Both Alberto López de Ipiña, pres­i­dent of Slow Food Araba, and all of his team took part in the organ­i­sa­tion of the Laboratorio del Gusto, the tast­ing ses­sion and the pop­u­lar meal, with­out any vested inter­est.

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Trujal. Numerous mem­bers of the Cooperativa La Equidad expressed their pride in their museum, their mod­ern mill and their oils to all those who came to meet them.
Olivarama arti­cles also appear in Olivarama mag­a­zine and are not edited by Olive Oil Times.

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