Category: Basque Cider

Kerri Lesh interviewed by Basque newspaper Berria

 

PC to Monika del Valle

This past month, in between traveling from Bilbo to Donostia for the II. Sagardo Forum – Sagardoaren Lurraldea, I was interviewed by Lander Muñagorri Garmendia from the Basque newspaper Berria  about my dissertation project.  As I am constantly improving my Basque-speaking skills, we switched back and forth between Spanish and Euskara over a beer at a local bar while I described my project and findings over the last year as a doctoral student.

Here is a translated portion of the interview from Basque paper:

 

How did you come to start researching about the use of Basque on labels?

I am a [Teaching Assistant] teacher at the Nevada School of Basque Studies, and I have a small obsession with txakoli: I really like it. I study sociolinguistics, and they told me why I did not connect the two areas. In Northern Europe there is a group [of researchers/scholars] that investigates minority languages and labeling, and from there I started researching. I started with txakoli, and I continued with labels of Rioja Alavesa wine, milk,  craft beers….

Which products are used more in Basque?

Milk, and then cider. And it is  interesting what language is used to export outside the Basque Country, there is a lot of Basque. It is true that it is difficult to make different labels and each with their own destination. [In the case of wine, for example, which is why so many producers make a label focusing on the languages used by the majority, such as English or Spanish].

 

You have studied the languages chosen on beverage labels. Did you have to try a lot of wine and txakoli?

Yes, a lot. I think that I have chosen a good subject (laughter). I went to several cider houses and txakoli bodegas to study local products, and to consumers as well. For example, I carried out interviews in the txokos [gastronomic societies] of Bilbao, where they serve Rioja wine. Many people know and ask for local products, but most just ask for any Rioja wine, and not specifically from Rioja Alavesa.  It was interesting to observe that.

Does the geographic area affect [language use on labels]?

Yes, I think that in the Northern Basque Country they use a lot of symbols and it’s more folkloric. But this difference is still to be investigated, what people consume and how this language is utilized. As for the difference in the marketing of the Southern and Northern Basque Country, I think that there is a different way of living a language. I am now seeing and starting to understand how people that speak a minority language live. I previously did not understand [how this affected daily life], and from an anthropological point of view I think it’s important to see how this affects many people and causes frustration.

 

It was so great to hear from so many of you after reading the article-thank you all for the love, support, and opportunity to continue learning…

 

 

 

 

Kerri Lesh presents a panel on Basque “terroir” for the American Anthropological Association

Before heading across the better half of the continental USA, I had a chance to reintegrate with a little action in Washington DC just a couple of weeks ago. I was nervous and excited to chair, present, and  co-organized, alongside Anne Lally, the panel “Taste and Terroir as Anthropological Matter” at the annual American Anthropological Association meeting. My panel was titled “The sociolinguistic economy of terroir: constructing and marketing identity in the Basque Country”. In this paper I discussed how the concept of terroir was directly and indirectly translated into Basque within various gastronomic contexts. The result was to show how this multi-faceted concept of terroir provides a lens for looking at which components become most salient to Basques in the process, and what that in turn shows about the values portrayed in social, linguistic, and gastronomic production.

It was an amazing opportunity as I was luckily enough to secure Amy Trubek, one of my academic idols and author of “Taste of Place;  A Cultural Journey into Terroir”. It was well attended with questions to follow that provide further food for thought. Afterward, it was everyone to the bar for a round of drinks, which was my favorite part-not because I love wine, but because it is at these AAA meetings that I feel I have found my academic family. Cheers, and stay tuned to see what becomes of the panel! Rumor has it, it’s not over yet…

2017 Basque cider season kicks off with annual ceremonial opening of the barrels

Yesterday’s ceremonial opening of the new cider barrels to welcome in the forthcoming “txotx” cider season–the traditional time between January and April when the cider is drunk straight from the barrel in Basque cider houses–is so much more than just a publicity stunt. It marks a key event on the Basque culinary and cultural calendar, with the dry apple cider produced there an important symbol of the Basques’ culture, as we revealed in a previous post.  That said, it would be disingenuous to think that the event is not a canny marketing opportunity for the cider houses, too, but let’s just say this is one of those moments where commercial and cultural interests intersect successfully.

The great “txotx” experience. Photo by Jon Urbe (Argia.com), courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Every year a Basque personality has the honor of taking the first drink from the new vintage, and this year that honor went to Eneko Atxa from Zornotza, Bizkaia, the 3-star Michelin chef at Azurmendi in Larrabetzu, also in Bizkaia. Prior to taking the first drink, at the Zapiain cider house in Astigarraga, Gipuzkoa, Atxa offered up the traditional toast to “Gure sagardo berria” (Our new cider). In keeping with tradition, too, Atxa also planted an apple tree in the grounds of the Sagardoetxea, the Basque Cider Museum. And the event was accompanied by traditional dances (the “Sagar-dantza” or apple dance) and the participation of the bertsolariak (improvising oral poets) Amets Arzallus and Jon Maia. See highlights of all this in the video, from Berria TB.

It is worth noting than numerous public figures also attended the event, highlighting its importance, and that this year’s celebration coincides with the recent announcement of a new regulatory classification system for the product: henceforth, all cider produced with apples cultivated exclusively in the Basque Country will be branded under the “Euskal Sagardoa” label (Basque Cider, natural cider from the Basque Country). Of the 12.5 million liters (approx. 3.3 million gallons) of cider produced in the 2016 vintage–a figure slightly down on the previous year–around 12% currently comply with these guidelines and will go by the name Euskal Sagardoa, although there is a 15-year plan in place to increase this figure significantly. In the meantime, there is also the Gorenak label, which covers producers who also use apples cultivated both within and outside the Basque Country.

Basque cider is also bottled, of course, as in these two examples of the Zapiain (Hegoalde, the Southern Basque Country) and Eztigar (Iparralde, the Northern Basque Country) cider houses. Photo by Bichenzo, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Whatever the case, the cider house “experience” is about so much more than just a glass (or more… maybe) of the crisp, refreshing dry apple nectar; it’s about good hearty no-frills food, conversation, conviviality, and, if you’re really lucky, some collective song. For anyone interested in Basque culture, the “txotx” experience is not to be missed!

Discover the Basque Country: The Basque Cider Museum

For those of you who may be lucky enough to get to visit the Basque Country sometime, we thought we’d share a few of our favorite places with you.

Did you know that the famed Greek geographer Strabo (64 BCE-24 CE) wrote of the Basques as a race of cider drinkers? The importance of apples, and especially their refreshing derivative, sagardoa ( cider), is celebrated in the Basque Cider Museum: Sagardoetxea (literally, the “house of cider”). Located in a famed cider town, Astigarraga (Gipuzkoa), this is a fascinating museum with plenty of hands-on activities for everyone to get involved in.

Los futbolistas tolosarras de la saga Alonso (Periko, el padre, y los hermanos Mikel y Xabi, ambos jugadores de la Real Sociedad) han abierto la temporada de sidrerías 2004, con el txotx en la sidrería Petritegi, de Astigarraga. Tras ellos, han disfrutado de la nueva sidra el resto de los asistentes.

Txotx time! Photo by Jon Urbe (Argia), via Wikimedia Commons

Cider houses developed out of traditional farmsteads, and were once no more than converted sheds for farmers to meet up, eat, drink cider, and of course sing. Indeed, there seems to be an intrinsic connection between drinking cider and singing, whether songs or bertsos (improvised oral poems). But cider house culture is also associated with all round revelry and partying. For example, dancing, too, was not uncommon in the cider houses of yesteryear. In The Basques, renowned anthropologist Julio Caro Baroja describes traditional “cider house dances” that consisted of “imitating the sound of a flute and the bass drum with the voice, and then as if one were eating in a casserole dish while having to take off half of one’s clothes, but always singing. Not all, but some, evolved in such a way that it is assumed that they were not at first mere burlesque pastimes.”

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Family-style dining is the order of the day in this Astigarraga cider house. photo by Unai Fdz. de Betoño, via Wikimedia Commons

Today, cider houses open their doors to offer a unique gastronomic and cultural experience. The most traditional of cider houses are only open to the public between January and April (although others offer an all-year-round service). Family-style dining is the order of the day, as you sit down to a traditional menu of cod omelet, followed by fried cod with green peppers, a big juicy steak, and finish off with cheese, walnuts, and apple quince jelly, all washed down with as much cider as you want from the surrounding kupelak (barrels). Be sure to keep an ear out, though, for the magic word: txotx! (something akin to “drink up!”), which marks the moment when some brave soul goes to open up a barrel.

 

Song of the Basques: A New Documentary Film Coming in 2015

Song of the Basques is a forthcoming documentary film directed by Emily Lobsenz for Daggewood Films, whose timeline can be followed via Facebook here.

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Picture from Song of the Basques, courtesy of Emily Lobsenz

Emily will launch it during this year’s Jaialdi in Boise, Idaho, one of the largest Basque festivals in the world, at which the Center will also have a stand with its books on sale.

As Emily herself comments, “The film will then be in cinemas through Theater-On-Demand distributor called Gathr, which means, we screen in cinemas where audiences request us to come. We are hoping to connect with people who’d want to have the film in their local cinemas so that we can make every screening a special event.”

“We’ll partner with Shacksbury Cider among others for post-screening get togethers, a tasting, some pintxos or bertsolaris, maybe even recreate some Basque traditions in sitio as we did when we created a Basque Cider House at Txikito restaurant in March of this year.”

Here at the Center we’d like to congratulate Emily and director of photography Marcus Lehmann for what promises to be, judging by the tantalizing excerpts available to view now here, a wonderfully evocative portrayal of the residual strength of Basque culture.

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Picture from Song of the Basques, courtesy of Emily Lobsenz

In the film, Olatz González Abrisketa speaks about pelota, a game played all over Europe in the Middle Ages but which had a particular resonance in the Basque Country, where it became the national pastime. Indeed, there it came to be associated with the values that Basques themselves identified with as a people and culture. These ideas are explained in detail in Basque Pelota: A Ritual, an Aesthetic, her comprehensive ethnography of the sport.