Category: Basque Cider

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.”

640px-Sagardotegi_baten_barnealdea

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.

Song of the basques 1

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.

Song of the basques 2

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.