March 2004

Dear Friends of Tienda,

Once every two years the city of Barcelona hosts the Alimentaria. It is a gigantic food fair where producers of fine food display their finest cheeses, artisan hams, wines, almonds, seafood, beverages -- anything you can imagine -- virtually all from Spain. As you are reading this update, Ruth and I are enjoying the Alimentaria, renewing old acquaintances and making new friends while we search for wonderful artisan products which you might enjoy. With the euro being so strong (a 35% gain in the last two years) shopping for value will be a bit more challenging.

The Fair in Barcelona can trace its lineage back to medieval times -- for markets have always been the center of activity in rural societies. A few years ago the market in the town of Alicante celebrated its 700th anniversary. In the earliest times farmers would sell at the farm gate. Then, as the population began to expand, they would bring their produce and livestock to market at a nearby village -- not further away than a day's travel. (Six to seven miles was regarded by thirteenth-century lawyers as a normal day's journey to market.)

Eventually market towns grew in significance as they became the main point of contact between the country people and the world of commerce. Famous fairs which date from the Middle Ages still exist in Cologne, Paris and Barcelona -- cities that are along waterways so that goods can be transported easily. The seaport of Barcelona served as a gateway to the Mediterranean and the Middle East -- the cultural home of the Moors who for 700 years populated a significant part of what we now know as Spain.

Even today we are reminded of markets almost from the time of our birth! If you were born in America the odds are that while you were still in diapers your admiring Mom would wiggle your little toes and recite:

"This little piggy went to market; this little piggy stayed home,
This little piggy ate roast beef..."

Later, we all sung the nursery rhyme:

"To market, to market to buy a fat pig!
Home again, home again, jiggity jig."

Markets in Spain have become increasingly prominent over the centuries as the population has grown and people have prospered. The 2004 Alimentaria version of the medieval market occupies an area of more than one million square feet. One exhibition building the size of a field house is filled with the hundred cheeses of Spain -- most of them artisan, still made by hand. Ten structures are needed to house the myriad jamones and chorizos of Spain.

But despite the vastness of the Alimentaria, it retains the essence of the medieval fair. As in times past, many people still bring their artisan quality goods from the countryside to market. For example, our friend Fermín was able to introduce us to his community's Señorío de Vizcántar olive oil at the 2000 Alimentaria because the night before he had loaded a few cases onto his truck and headed for the fair. His trip to Barcelona from the country town of Priego de Córdoba exceeded the medieval average of 10 miles to the market town, but his was still less than a day's journey.

Here in Barcelona Ruth and I are meeting many friends such as Antonio and Fabiana of the Cazorla olive company. In talking with them over tapas in Sevilla I wondered out loud why the great cracked olives of Andalucía were not available in America. Two months later we received a package with his recipe for the home-style cracked olives that many of you enjoy!

We had lunch with Anuska last spring in rural Pozoblanco. She arranged for us to spend the afternoon with a small group of young men and women who contribute to a cooperative which produces a remarkably tangy organically grown olive oil that soon you will be able to enjoy. We will be looking forward to seeing Isabel, Rosalia, Miguel and Abel who will be bringing us up to date concerning our concerted effort to bring Jamón Ibérico to America.

In Spain, even at a busy fair like the Alimentaria, I find it easy to feel valued as a person, not just as a customer. But one does not have to fly across an ocean to live in that personal way. We can do this in America too. All it takes is a little effort -- choosing to place a higher value on the fruit of human labor more than the bottom line. In this way we foster the personal way of life we admire so much in Spain.

Tu amigo,