by Don Harris | January 2004

Lleida was called Lerda by the Romans, and it is there that Caesar defeated the troops of Pompei. The capital city of a mountainous province in Cataluña, Lleida is nestled in the foothills of the majestic snow capped Pyrenees. Lush irrigated fields surround Lleida (as it is called in the Catalan language) which stands on the right bank of the Segre River, close by the spot where it runs into the Ebro.

Because of this fertile farmland, Lleida is the site of many famous cattle, agricultural, and fruit shows. The arbequina olive orchards in the area produce some of the most celebrated olive oil in Spain. Its delicate fruity flavor makes it a favorite of gourmets for their green salads, or even just enjoyed on a piece of freshly baked bread.

Many of the houses of Lleida climb a steep hill which is crowned by an imposing citadel which surrounds both La Zuda, an old Moorish castle, and also a fortress built in the 12th century by the Knights Templar just after their reconquest of the city. In the center is a soaring and majestic 12th - 15th century Romanesque Gothic cathedral. Its extraordinarily large cloister with notable archways is decorated with Gothic and Renaissance doorways. Within the old "Seo" is a valuable collection of tapestries.

Notes about Arbequina Olives:

Originally from Arbeca in Lleida, the Arbequina olive also grows in Tarragona, Zaragoza and Huesca.

The Tree - The Arbequina olive tree is fairly small and can be grown in concentrated numbers in orchards. The wood has a dark green color which, along with the tree's size, makes the Arbequina look something like a broom bush. Its leaves have a lengthwise groove and are ocher-green on the top with a yellowish underside.

The Fruit - Arbequina olives are small and oval shaped, with a large pit. The trees start producing early and provide large quantities of fruit. Arbequina olives have a distinctive flavor, unlike typical green olives. They have a light nutty flavor, and our family has been known to consume a whole jar at one sitting. They are also ideal with martinis, or so I have been told.

The Oil - Arbequina olives produce an exceptional oil with a wonderful fruity aroma. This sweet and smooth oil has a slight aftertaste of almonds. Extra virgin Arbequina oil combines perfectly with garden salads, fresh spring vegetables and grilled fish.

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