Forty kilometers north of Málaga, in the heart of Andalusia’s Axorquia region, the tiny village of Riogordo will celebrate its annual olive oil culture festival despite current COVID-19 containment measures.
This year, La Molienda de Riogordo will also inaugurate an online companion event, which will take place a few days before the festival and is dedicated to the many English-speaking residents of the region.
We share these lands with families whose grandparents grew olives. Going deeper into the world of olive oil is also a way to better understand and integrate with the society of small country villages.
Appropriately for these times, the theme of this year’s event is the olive tree as a symbol of survival, regeneration and renewal.
“We are re-inventing the event in 2021, a pivotal year since it will be the tenth anniversary of La Molienda,” said Leila Bayandor Lawson, the organizer of La Molienda in English, which will be launched on a dedicated website on February 13.
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La Molienda de Riogordo, which comprises educational, culinary and tasting components, has been a two-day event over the past decade, becoming a cornerstone of local culture. In 2019, it was awarded the Agustí Serés Memorial Award, one of Spain’s leading olive oil culture prizes.
At the heart of La Molienda festival is Riogordo’s ethnographic museum, where a historic oil mill was restored and continues to be powered by a mule.
“In 2009, a few residents came together to restore the mill and since then, it has helped promote the local olive oil culture and production,” Bayandor Lawson told Olive Oil Times.
Working with volunteers and olive oil experts, Olearum, an association that promotes oil culture and heritage, began to attract tourists to Riogordo who were interested in the world of olive oil.
“In a normal year, we would host conferences and workshops and have a museum visit,” Bayandor Lawson said. “We would take a tour of the local olive cooperatives, walk among some of the most beautiful groves of the area and taste Riogordo olive oil, one of the most interesting moments for those who come.”
Over the past decade, hundreds of visitors have had the chance to visit the village and taste the local extra virgin olive oil.
“We would prepare the typical Spanish breakfast with olive oil, bread, tomatoes and cheese since tasting is a very central component of the experience,” Bayandor Lawson said. “Through the tastings, people learn the basics of olive oil.”
The founder of La Molienda in English added that the combination of the village’s location in the heart of the world’s largest olive oil producing-region and amidst a substantial community of English speakers inspired the idea for the new group.
“I have been involved since the beginning with the Spanish Molienda and the idea to set up a smaller niche gathering came up year-after-year,” Bayandor Lawson said.
“[So we] set up a smaller gathering dedicated to the English-speaking residents of the Costa del Sol region, people not only from the United Kingdom and the United States but also Germany, Sweden and Belgium,” she added.
For Bayandor Lawson, it is essential for everyone in the region to understand the vital role that olive-growing has played in Andalusia’s history and development.
“We live in small, rural areas, where olives are the lifeblood of the village,” she said. “We share these lands with families whose grandparents grew olives. Going deeper into the world of olive oil is also a way to better understand and integrate with the society of small country villages.”
Last year, Bayandor Lawson said La Molienda de Riogordo attracted up to 1,000 people and included a smaller English-speaking group.
“For the online 2021 event, we are expecting around 100 people to attend,” Bayandor Lawson added. “We were used to welcoming people from our region and some beyond that. This year we must do everything online, but, at least, people from all over the world can reach us.”
Despite being held online, La Molienda in English will follow the course of the usual program.
Instead of the typical breakfast, a resident will demonstrate to viewers how to bake the region’s typical olive oil bread.
Daniel Garcia Peinado, a famous local chef whose specialties revolve around extra virgin olive oil, will host an event demonstrating how to prepare some of his most successful recipes.
The organizers will also take the registered users through a virtual tour of the olive groves around Riogordo, accompanied by international experts of the olive culture, with particular attention given to the monumental olive trees that have survived through the centuries.
Among the English-language guests attending the event is Simon Poole, a medical doctor and author of the Olive Oil Diet. He will answer diet and health-related questions on Zoom.
Gary Beauchamp, president of the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia who discovered of the oleocanthal molecule, will also give a presentation.
Other notable guests include Sarah Gray, the general manager of the Olive Wellness Institue in Australia; Ruda Dagmish, the CEO of the Jordan Olive Products Exporters Association; and Imene Trabelsi Trigui, the executive vice president of programs and innovation strategy from Women in Olive Oil.