Why should you visit a Basque cider house?
7 reasons to visit a Basque cider house
1. Millennial tradition
When you drink cider you are drinking the fruit of many centuries of tradition. By the 1st century there were already writings where they talked about the large number of apple orchards that were in Vasconia. Later, in the 11th century, texts were written in Latin that speak of the important production and tradition of cider in the Basque Country. In the 12th century, it is worth highlighting the foral laws that were issued around apple orchards. There were laws that severely punished those who stole apples, fines for the cattle owner who stepped on an apple orchard, death penalty for those who cut down more than 5 apple trees at the time of bearing fruit...
Between the 15th and 16th centuries, thanks to the economic boom, there was a large production of cider. In addition to the important local consumption, in those days a large part of the production was for Basque sailors when they went whale and cod fishing to Newfoundland in Canada. It is said that they consumed 3 liters of cider per sailor per day, and thanks to the tannins that cider contains, they fell less ill with scurvy.
Starting in the 17th century, apple and cider production suffered a great decline due to different reasons: the prohibition of whaling, industrialization, wars, the introduction of wheat, among others.
At the end of the 20th century, the few remaining cider houses came together to create a new line of business, that of catering with the txotx ritual. It is an ancient custom, that of tasting cider from the barrels, remembered today through the concept of txotx. Currently, there are around 90 cider cellars in the Basque Country.
2. Meet the locals
Visiting a cider house is your chance to mingle with the locals and feel like one of the locals. We Basques have the habit of going to a cider house several times a month or even a week. It is a place where we enjoy good food, our beloved cider and of course, it is a meeting place for friends and family. What better than enjoying your loved ones surrounded by barrels full of cider and exquisite food!
Also, we Basques love to share our culture and traditions with people who don't know them. Therefore, you will learn first-hand about local customs and culture, and all this while you taste the delicious Basque cider.
3. Basque cider from txotx and in the bottle
Tune your ears and pay attention to the “txoooootx”! This is the magic word after which the cider maker opens the tap on a cider barrel. When we say drink "txotx", we refer to the act of drinking cider directly from a barrel. The word "txotx" means toothpick in Basque, because in the past we did not have the metal taps that we have today, therefore, a hole was made directly in the wood of the barrel and covered with a toothpick. For this reason, when the cider maker was going to open the barrel, he would shout “txooootx”, since he was going to take that toothpick out of the hole and thus allow people to drink directly from it.
But you will not only be able to drink Basque cider from the barrel in the cellar, but you will also have the opportunity to try it sitting quietly at the table and in the bottle. Drinking bottled cider also becomes something unique in the Basque Country, since it is not served as we would serve wine or water. With the glass or glass on the table, we take the bottle and serve the cider at a height of about 15 centimeters above the glass.
Why do we pour the cider? The cider is poured so that the liquid hits the glass and thus creates the natural carbon dioxide. It is a way to aerate the cider and awaken its aromas.
So go ahead and visit a Basque cider house and you will have the opportunity to try these two ways of tasting our cider!
4. Traditional dishes
Despite the fact that cider is the main protagonist of cider houses, you will be in for a great surprise with the gastronomy offered by our cider cellars. It is a unique opportunity to try the most traditional dishes of the area and cooked with great care and professionalism.
The most traditional menu is the one that consists of cod omelette, fried cod with peppers, grilled txuleta, Idiazabal cheese, quince and walnuts.
Although today, many of the cider houses offer more extensive menus where you can find local and seasonal dishes: spider crab, grilled fish of the day, chilli peppers, tomato and tuna salad, grilled rib, monkfish, scrambled mushrooms…And not only that, the cider houses have adapted to all of us and that is why they also offer delicious vegan, vegetarian, gluten-free menus and of course, children's menus for our little ones.
In the cider houses there is a place for everyone!
5. Support a family business
Visiting a Basque cider house is an act of generosity.
You are helping a family that has dedicated itself to cider production generation after generation to continue doing so. You are creating employment in the rural environment. You are promoting the consumption of local products. You are making institutions see the potential of the Basque cider tradition and families can receive more help to carry out their difficult work. You are boosting the economy of the area. You are helping to maintain the historic natural landscape of the Basque Country. And of course, you are enjoying good cider, gastronomy and company.
6. Immerse yourself in the rural environment
When we travel, we tend to visit big cities full of life, commerce and activities. But it is not bad that after a couple of days enjoying the big city, we also immerse ourselves in the rural environment, where we can learn more about the reality of the region.
Most of the cider houses in the Basque Country are located in the province of Gipuzkoa, a 45-minute radius from San Sebastián. All of them are located in small towns, surrounded by beautiful apple orchards, fields, mountains and farmhouses, and also, many of them are accessible by public transport.
The green color is always the protagonist around the Basque cider houses. Visiting one of them can become a complete experience where you will get to know a small town in the area, immerse yourself in the beautiful local landscape and enjoy our gastronomy.
7. Learn about the process of making Basque cider
We have talked about the different ways to drink cider, but before you can taste it, you have to make it.
How is Basque cider made? It is a question that many ask themselves. Well, knowing the answer to this question is as easy as going to a local cider house. At the cider house, you will have the opportunity to have someone from the family or from Sagardoa Route explain the entire process necessary to obtain our liquid gold. You will start by learning about the origin of the family tradition, and after that, you will visit the apple orchard, the production area and the cellars, to learn about the Basque cider process, from the apple to the barrel.
Go ahead and come learn and enjoy one of the most unique experiences in the Basque Country!