Zalla is a mainly rural municipality in the province of Biscay (Spanish Basque Country). There are many farms here and local farmers cultivate the land with care and passion. The annual agricultural fair is one of the most important of the region. The Zalla violet onion is a traditional product from the area, with women mainly being responsible for maintaining this high quality but now disappearing variety.
With a medium sized purple bulb, and pointed conical shape, the Zalla violet onion is harvested in July and August, but is available throughout the year. The onion is a mid-late variety; the time from planting to harvesting is relatively short, but the onion will keep for a long time, up to nine months. To avoid unwanted pollination and crossing with other varieties, the seeded fields-at an altitude of about 400 meters-are isolated.
Sweet, juicy and flavorsome but without sharpness, this onion is particularly suitable for salads and gives a delicate, never overpowering flavor to soups. It is one of the basic ingredients in vizcaina, one of the best known sauces in Basque cooking. Its preparation requires about one kilogram of Zalla onions, garlic, twelve peppers and 40 grams of flour per liter of liquid. In the pig-slaughtering season (txarribodas), the onions are used to make morcillas de Las Encartaciones, a traditional local blood sausage. Though mainly produced for family consumption, the onion can still be found at markets, such as the weekly Balmaseda market, where it is usually available in braids of 12 bulbs.
The Presidium was created to give support and advice on cultivation methods to the five producers, to promote awareness of this excellent vegetable, investigate other culinary uses and prevent its possible disappearance from the market. In coming months it is planned to draw up a production protocol, which will be shared by the five women. To improve commercialization of the product and boost public awareness, the Presidium producers will attend various national and international events organized by Slow Food.
Zalla, province of Biscay, Basque Country, Spain
Mariano Gómez Fernández