For some reason cider has become the theme of the week … and not a drop has yet passed my lips . .. I swear!
My partner, the village lawyer, always seems to get interesting cases when the Basque cider houses open (usually between January and April) although I have to admit, the ‘wild-boar-in-the-boot-of-the-car’ case during last year’s hunting season also had its appeal.
From what I can gather the local cider seems to reach deep into the Basques lumber-jacking genes (many of them having spent their youths as log cutters in the high Pyrenees or the French alps) and more than one Sagardotegia (cider house) has woken up on a Sunday morning to find itself with a couple of trees less than it had had the night before. Near Elizondo, a couple of evidently ‘new-age’ Basques, also bestowed their affections on the local flora; but this time just the shrubs and flower pots outside the door. I will ask tonight what the arguments were in their defense.
The Basques have an age-old tradition of making cider, and cider was the traditional beverage way before wine was every introduced. In days gone by almost every farmstead would have made cider for its own use and even now, if it is possible to lure my farming neighbours away from the toil of the farm for an evening on the tiles, (where does that expression come from?), then the local cider house would still be very much their first choice. Today, the Sagardotegiak are a slightly more elaborate affair offering an accompanying menu of cod tortilla, piperada, T-one steaks and sheep’s cheese etc.
I leave you all with a happy picture of Stuart, a guest of mine from last year on our Walking, Basque Culture & Gastronomy week enjoying the cider at the mushroom fiestas in the village of Elgorriaga down the road. (In his case I believe the trees (at least) were left standing!).
There are a couple of good cider houses around here, one in Lesaka and another high in the hills above Elizondo. However, my favourite is a really rustic one run from a farmhouse in Igeldo (on the outskirts of San Sebastian) and run by the world famous Basque Aizkolari (log cutter), José Mari Olasagasti. He is one of the main personalities of the Basque rural sports arena and is usually around at the cider house to join in and tell the stories of his life. Great food and great atmosphere. Naturally, he is one of Maika’s friends too.
So what’s the nearest cider house to Ituren, Georgina? I must come and sample it one February.