The cider-house season starts on January 15. Typically associated with Gipuzkoa, it’s a popular time of the year where cider becomes the star of the show, accompanying delicious cider-house menus to perfection.
What started out as private tastings for buyers and wholesalers to sample and select the best ciders, has, over time, become the region’s most popular and well-known gastronomic event.
Most of the region’s cider houses are concentrated around the towns of Astigarraga, Hernani, Urnieta and Usurbil. Some have stayed true to their origins. In the large, older, barn-style cider houses, diners need to wrap up well and eat standing up –no seating is provided– while the modern ones are centrally heated and people sit at long, shared trestle tables.
Most cider houses serve a set-price, traditional menu consisting of a salt-cod omelette, fried salt-cod with peppers, and chargrilled steak, with Idiazabal cheese, quince jelly and walnuts for dessert. Diners can drink as much cider as they like, all served directly from the kupela (barrel in Basque).
At the original tastings, the cider-house barrels were opened one by one by removing the wooden stopper (called ‘txotx’ in Basque) so the buyers could sample the cider in the different barrels and choose the one they liked best. Nowadays, the cry of “txotx” is the signal for diners to approach the barrels with their glasses to taste the cider.
Seven local Gipuzkoa ciders among the world’s top 100
Seven craft ciders produced in the Basque Country were selected by British journalist/writer Susanna Forbes in her book “The Cider Insider. The essential guide to 100 craft ciders to drink now”.
Susanna Forbes is a journalist and writer who specializes in wine, beer and cider. Originally from Herefordshire – the county with the longest cider-making tradition in England –, she recently opened a small craft cider house called Little Pomona.
But her passion for cider goes way back. She has just published a comprehensive book on the subject which includes 100 recommendations on craft ciders from England, Wales, Brittany, Normandy, Germany, Italy, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, South Africa, Asturias, Galicia and the Basque Country, among others.
Seven Basque ciders are mentioned in the book, namely Zelaia Gorenak Sagardoa 2017 (made in Hernani), Zapiain Euskal Sagardoa Premium 2017 from Astigarraga, Isastegi Euskal Sagardoa 2017 from Tolosa, Gartziategi Gorenak Sagardoa 2017 (Astigarraga), Gaztañaga Gorenak Sagardoa 2017 (Andoain), Bereziartua Euskal Sagardoa 2017 (Astigarraga) and Bordatto Txalaparta 2016 (Jatsu-Garazi, Navarra).