Chocolate, Bayonne ham, chipirons (small squid), sheep’s cheese, gâteau Basque, wine from Irouléguy and Izarra liqueur… the mere sound of these words makes mouths water and eyes sparkle. At markets, restaurants run by master chefs, at parties or at the family dinner table, Basque cuisine boasts many treasures and flavours.
The Espelette pepper
Ezpeletako biperra, to use its Basque name, has had a Protected Designation of Origin since 2000 and is essential to Basque cooking. It is only harvested in 10 towns that benefit from the ideal hot and humid climate. 188 united growers have made the Espelette pepper a product with a strong identity. It's available in a wide variety of forms, from seeds to powder, and marries well with many different dishes, from starters to desserts, and even with chocolate!
What would Bayonne be without its ham and its dedicated fair? And what would the Basque valley of Aldudes be without the farms of semi-free-range Basque pigs with their distinctive long, black, floppy ears? The whole fresh ham is rubbed with salt from Salies de Béarn, and is lovingly tended throughout the entire drying and maturing period before arriving on the tables.
At the end of the 15th century, Jews arriving from Spain and Portugal brought the first cocoa beans to Bayonne. Since then, chocolate has become a tradition and Bayonne has built a solid reputation for its quality. Chocolate is drunk, savoured and celebrated at the event in October, and visitors can also discover it at two museums in Bayonne and Cambo-les Bains.
Those with a sweet tooth must try this when they visit Biarritz-Pays Basque. There are as many recipes for the traditional gâteau Basque as there are bakers. A crispy crust surrounds the soft filling, which is sometimes replaced by cherry jam and even chocolate. For breakfast, dessert or an afternoon snack, it’s always delicious! Particular fans should visit the dedicated Musée du Gâteau Basque in the pretty village of Sare.
Ardi gasna: Basque sheep’s cheese
This cheese is still lovingly nurtured by shepherds; you can go straight to producers for a taste or find it on any market. With bread, red wine from Irouléguy and perhaps a little jar of black cherry jam from Itxassou… just enjoy.
Food festivals for your diary:
- Ham fair, Bayonne, end of March
- Cherry fair, Itxassou, June
- Tuna fair, Saint-Jean-de-Luz, July
- Cheese fair, Tardets, August
- Wine fair, Irouléguy, September
- Gateau Basque fair, Cambo-les-Bains, October
- Chocolate days, Bayonne, October
- Pepper fair, Espelette, October
Find out more from the Biarritz-Pays Basque Tourist Office