In the southwestern part of Catalonia, in the province of Lleida, lies Les Garrigues, where the gray-green foliage of compact Arbequina olive trees stretches across some 20,000 hectares of the soft, dry landscape. This is where some of Spain’s best extra-virgin olive oil is produced.
The olive tree has been cultivated in Catalonia since at least ancient Roman times, although it was probably first introduced by the Greeks in 600 BCE. Its cultivation developed alongside other typical crops that flourish in a dry climate – such as almonds, grains and grapes – until growing olives and producing olive oil became the main industry of Les Garrigues in the 19th century. These days, Les Garrigues produces top quality extra-virgin olive oil with a very distinctive personality, produced with minimal technology by cooperatives of families and small producers.
While Andalucía in the south of Spain can claim olive oil production that is much older, more extensive and also of notable high quality, the first official protected designation of origin for Spanish extra-virgin olive oil was bestowed on the Catalan D.O. Oli de Borges in 1975, with European recognition in 1996 as D.O.P Les Garrigues, which includes villages of the greater municipality such as La Arbeca, Juneda and Les Borges Blanques.
Of the olives cultivated in Les Garriges, 90 percent are arbequina, a small aromatic olive originating in the eastern Mediterranean that was introduced to Catalonia by the Duque de Medinaceli in 1760, who used to live in La Arbeca. These olives yield a superb extra-virgin oil with a soft fresh-olive aroma, expressive and complex flavors with a sweet opening and notes of green almonds and tomato flavors, among others, and a dense and full body. It is one of Spain’s most aromatic olive oils.
To promote and celebrate this important product, in 1998 the area began hosting an annual olive oil fair as an add-on to the Fira Traditional de Sant Antoni, a fair dedicated to all agricultural production in the region.
At the olive oil fair, which took place January 20 to 22 this year, we saw and tasted some of the best olive oils in the country, the latest innovations from local producers, oils from recovered heirloom olive varieties and all kinds of traditional artisan products such as olivadas, olive pastes that are becoming a delicious pantry staple in every home here. Among the other tasty offerings were chocolates, breads, cocas (including cocas de recapte), pastries, liqueurs, cured sausages and cheeses.
The main event at the fair was the olive oil competition, and everyone wanted to sample the winners. “Best Fruity Green Sweet EVOO” went to Olis Castelló, made by Molí d’Oli Gabriel Alsina, which produces oils from more than 12 different types of olive, including the new variety sikitita, which is a cross between the intense and spicy picual and soft, elegant arbequina. “Best Fruity Green Bitter EVOO” went to Camp de Bovera’s Or del Terme, and the “Best Fruity Mature EVOO” was Degustus from Cooperativa de la Granadella.
For more information about the olive oil fair, visit: