Basque Cider, Fred Flintstone steaks and catching a drink
Earlier this year I was invited to the Basque Country with Visit Basque Country to discover all that it has to offer. I must admit that initially, the only thing I knew about Basque Country is that the Guggenheim has a museum there and Bilbao is the closest airport to Rioja.
I was definitely in for a surprise. Of course, we did visit the Guggenheim, which was amazing both inside and out, but we also got to see a more traditional side of the region. One of the highlights of the trip for me was lunch at a Basque Cider House. The Basques have been making cider for generations and we visited the Gurutzeta Cider house in the hills just outside San Sebastian
Driving up to it, it’s a simple 2 story wooden house and the decor inside is just as simple. But we were not there for the decor, we were there for the cider (and the food!). Basque cider is made dry and stored in huge barrels. The cider was good and lipsmackingly dry but what sets a visit to a Basque cider house aside from any other is the way they serve the cider. The barrels are about 3 meters high and at about eye level there is a spiggot. One of the workers’ tasks is to stand at the spiggot and turn it on and off while you catch the cider (in a glass) that comes streaming out. The purpose of this is to get the bubbles in the cider to burst quickly. The rule is to fill your glass up to 3 fingers wide and drink it straight away.
I have to admit it was fun getting up and refilling our glasses everytime we ran out. Once we had our cider, we sat down to eat a traditional cider house meal. People go to cider houses with groups of friends, usually people they’ve known since childhood and usually same sex to enjoy the bacalao, gigantic steaks, and hunks of cheese that constitute a meal. I suspect it’s not really the food but rather the conviviality and companionship that comes with sharing a meal with friends.
We ate our fill of steak and took as many trips as we wanted to refill our glasses – a great way to spend lunch and definitely an out of the ordinary mealtime ritual.