Cider in Basque Country
Cider in Basque Country
Today we want to talk about one of the most renowned alcoholic drinks in Basque Country. We are referring to cider, and specifically, cider produced particularly in our region.
What Is Cider?
Cider is an alcoholic drink obtained from the fermented juice of apples or pears. In the case of our community, cider is solely produced from apples.
In fact, according to the Cider Association of Gipuzkoa, we understand the term ‘Basque cider’ as being that which is ‘crafted following traditional practices, without added sugar, that contains exclusively endogenous carbonic acid gas and that its minimum alcohol content is more than 4,5 deg’.
In Basque, we refer to cider by the name ‘sagardo’ which literally means ‘apple wine’.
History of Cider in the Basque Country
Since bygone eras, our fields and hillsides have been full of orchards, as testified in the writings of the first century, that speak about abundant apple orchards in Gaul and Vasconia. The works also mention a drink that was prepared in those regions; whose ingredients consisted of chunks of cooked apple and diluted in water and honey. This drink was called ‘phitarra’ by the Vascones.
But it isn’t until the 11th century, specifically until the 17th of April 1014, that we find a written text in Latin that talks about the production of cider in the Basque Country. From that date onwards, we discover various writings that speak about the productivity of cider not only in Iparralde yet also in Egoalde.
The cultivation of apple plantations and the production of cider was very important, in such a manner that in the Basque ‘fueros’ or historic rights, different laws dealt specifically with apples and cider. The first known regulations that deal with them date back to the year 1189 prohibiting the access of livestock into the orchards and imposing severe punishments on apple thieves. Even in the villas, for example, neither the trading of apples nor cider was permitted.
In this way, and up until the 19th century, the making of cider was well regulated. So much so that all cider houses, where cider was produced, were inspected at the start of each season.
Cider and the Sea
Cider was an important drink for the seafarers and fishermen that left our coastline to confine themselves in the world of vast oceans. During the Middle Ages and the 16th and 17th centuries, our seaman loaded their ships with great quantities of barrelled cider, estimated to be around 50.000 litres per boat.
Contrary to fresh water, which would go bad over time, the cider would not spoil and thanks to the fermentation process it conserved all its vitamin properties, that being a fundamental tool in the fight against ‘scurvy’.
Furthermore, the cider was useful to the seafarers and fishermen as a means of exchange. For example, in the 16th and 17th centuries, much of the Basque whaling factories situated on the coastline of Terranova, Labrador and the Gulf of San Lorenzo adopted the practice of forming Friendly Societies with the locals; swapping cider and bread for labour.
The Consumption of Cider
For many years, the production and consumption of cider was that of a family nature. It was not a commodity for buying or selling. Each farmhouse would prepare its own cider and consume it throughout the year. Nevertheless, and with the emergence of urban centres, cider became a consumer product.
It is in the rural areas and mountains of Bizkaia, Gipuzkoa and northern Navarra, where wine did not arrive, that cider was the most typical alcoholic drink. During this time, cider was known as the ‘village wine’.
When the early urban centres started to appear, cider began to be commercialized and cider houses formalized, experiencing a golden age that extended right until the year 1500.
From that date onwards a long period of decline commenced mainly due to two factors. The first was the arrival of corn from the Americas, little by little they began substituting cornfields for the apple orchards as well as other types of cultivation such as the grapevine or wheat. The second factor was the introduction of wine through Navarra and Alava, slowly occupying the place once taken up by cider. In this way, our beloved cider returned to being simply family produced and consumed.
Finally, in the 20th century, cider lived through its worst era under the Franco dictatorship. Output dropped from 30 million litres during the 1920s to 1,25 million litres in the 1960s. They were hard years for cider houses that saw production of this drink relegated, almost exclusively, to certain areas of Gipuzkoa.
It was precisely in Gipuzkoa, starting from the decade of the 1980s, where cider began to recover a certain prominence; thanks to support from various institutions, individuals and associations.
Today, Basque cider has still not reached the figures that it had a century ago, but its consumption and market are currently experiencing moderate growth every year. This year, for example, 11,8 million litres was produced, of which 11 million was produced in Gipuzkoa.
The Txotx Season
The cider season or the season of Txotx normally begins around the second fortnight in January and lasts until the end of April. During this period it is typical to visit cider houses where cider is being produced and to savour it directly from the barrels. The tasting is accompanied by a good menu that usually consists of a bacalao (salted cod) potato omelette, fried cod with peppers, beef steak and a dessert of Idiazabal pressed cheese, membrillo (quince paste) and walnuts.
What is the meaning of ‘Txotx’?
Txotx is the action of opening the peg to the barrel, where the cider has been lying for some time and serve it into cups offered for tasting. It’s for this reason that the shout of ‘Txotx!’ signals for diners to stand up from the tables and head, glasses in hand, towards the kupelas (or barrels in Basque) where they’re filled directly from the tap.
Gipuzkoa Cider region, of Par Excellence!
In Basque Country there are around, 238 cider houses spread across the regions of Gipuzkoa, Bizkaia, Alava, Navarra and Iparralde (French Basque Country).
Gipuzkoa with 149 cider houses has the highest number, by far superseding Bizkaia with just 49 establishments in total. The most famous spaces are in Gipuzkoa, in the areas of Astigarraga, Hernani, Urieta and Usurbil all forming part of the most significant establishments in Basque Country. Just in Astigarraga there are 21 cider houses alone. Amongst them is the most important, Petritegi cider house, with five generations dedicated to the process of artisan cider making.
Tradition, Culture and Entertainment, will you join in?
At Troka Abentura we appreciate combining tradition, culture and entertainment when planning our activities and experiences for companies. That’s why we consider cider houses the ideal locations where these pieces all fit perfectly.
Gaining an understanding of how apples are collected, their juice is extracted and how cider is produced while enjoying a typical cider house meal. Ending the experience with a series of activities of herri kirolak (Basque traditional sports) or team building, all essential ingredients in achieving the perfect day.
If you have an event for businesses in mind, don’t hesitate to contact us on +349467742 65 or write to us at email@example.com and discover our proposals and unique experiences.