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
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
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.