The Basque region of northern Spain is a gastronomical godsend, both currently, and historically. Though the list of food and drink that the Basque excel at seemingly has no end, with this piece we want to focus on one of our favorites: cider.
Cider making, and the requisite apple growing, has such important historical significance in the Basque that many common surnames pertain to it. Sagastieder, for example, means "beautiful apple-orchard." Dolare means "press," referring to the apparatus traditionally used to turn apples into must to ferment. Upelategi means "barrel building". And so on, with dozens of other examples.
And they’ve been doing it for a long time. Historical records as far back as the 1300s acknowledge the region for the quality of its apples, and the cider made from them. Today, Sagardotegi, or a cross between a cider-house and a steakhouse, remain essential cultural cornerstones.
In a more traditional Sagardotegi, patrons follow a practice called txotx, essentially a call for everyone who wants more cider to make their way down to the barrels to fill up. A small spout shoots the cider out from about head height, and whoever wants some catches the stream as close to the ground as possible. This helps aerate the cider.
Because, unlike most styles of cider, Basque cider is still, not carbonated. The act of pouring from height and distance adds in a bit of foam and brings the flavors to life. There are many different styles of Basque cider, and other a dozen different types of apples that grow there that make good cider. As a rule, though, Basque ciders have a tartness and funkiness to them that make they incredible partners for food. They’re not meant to be drank by themselves.
In fact, this is how the concept of the Sagardotegi came to be. Producers would invite potential buyers of their cider to their cidery, and the buyers would always bring food, understanding they could not assess the quality of the cider without good food. Overtime, some cideries decided they might as well provide their own food. It’s still common, in fact, to bring your own steak with you when you visit a Sagardotegi!
So join us in appreciating these traditions! The Basque country is beautiful and well worth the trip, but in the meantime, transport yourself their with a bottle of their delicious fermented apple juice. Which, by the way, is the literal translation of the basque word for cider, Sagardo!