Alentejo – a Mediterranean flavour
Portugal is well known for its authentic native cuisine and its multifoliate array of wines, as well as for being a beloved holiday destination. But how many people know about Alentejo? The region whose wines are the most popular in Portugal itself? And what does anybody know about the olive oils grown in Alentejo? No question, olive oil and wine form the two pillars upon which the Mediterranean lifestyle is based. For this reason, the olive oil producers’ association ‘Casa do Azeite’ and the winegrowers’ organisation ‘Vinhos do Alentejo’ are cooperatively instituting the campaign ‘Taste Mediterranean’, in order to share the essential information concerning these southern Portuguese products with the rest of the world.
A cultural heritage that is good for you
The notion that consumption of wine and olive oil contributes to good health has been extensively discussed and recognised since (at the very latest) the famed French Paradox of 1992. But this fact has been acknowledged and appreciated for thousands of years.
In addition, it is certain that the social aspects of the Mediterranean lifestyle contribute substantially to the well-being of the people: the element of conviviality, gathering in large numbers at table with friends and with family, the preparation of meals from recipes that have been handed down – all in all a rhythm of life well suited to the human animal, one that allows more room for emotion and interpersonal relationships than is normally the case in our typically product-orientated western society.
Alentejo is one of Portugal’s five component regions, and occupies more than a third of its continental area. The region is situated south of the Tejo, the longest river of the Iberian Peninsula (Alen-tejo translated means – ’beyond the Tejo‘, in English occasionally called the Tagus River).
We can cite a couple facts and figures to help describe how easy and relaxed things are in Alentejo: in Portugal there are some 11 million people living in an area of 92,212 square kilometres. This amounts to a population density of 115 inhabitants per km2. By comparison, Germany has a surface area of 357,167 square kilometres, home to some 81 million residents: this corresponds to a population density of 226 inhabitants per km2. And within Portugal, the region Alentejo has a mere 24 inhabitants per km2, and its approximately 520,000 residents add up roughly to a mere 5% of the population of mainland Portugal.
In the vernacular, Alentejo is often referred to as the ‘breadbasket of Portugal’. In some areas, its fertile soils are ideal for the cultivation of wheat, while on the more meagre soils olive trees, cork oaks and grapevines are planted. These plants are essentially less demanding than wheat! Some 20% of Portugal’s wine is produced here in Alentejo, and the region is the largest cork producer in the world.