How a Drink Fueled a Sea People
But in the late 20th century, when the txotx ritual was introduced to commemorate old ways, there was a renaissance in cider drinking and apple growing. And, today, the Basque Country is full of regenerated cider houses open to visits and cellar tastings. In some, around 200 liters of cider are consumed with each meal.
In particular, the province of Gipuzkoa surrounding San Sebastián is home to 70 surviving and reinvented cider houses, while the town of Astigarraga has 19, the orchards forming a winding ribbon of fruit trees in the gentle hills that slant northwards in towards San Sebastian. coast, just 7 km. Emphasis is placed on salvaging native apple varieties and cross-pollinating trees so that a single sapling can produce more than one variety.
And throughout the region during the September harvest, up to 15 million liters of cider are produced. You can almost hear the sound of splashing alcohol, laughter and general merriment.
Considering the relationship between past and present, a visit to Astigarraga and its most historic cider houses – Zapiain, Lizeaga Sagardotegia and Petretegi – is a must. Here, meals border on standing business, with waiters spinning plates of chistorra (miniature chorizo), bacalao taco (salted cod with green peppers) and txuleta (salt-crusted sirloin steak), and drinkers concerned about free-flowing cider. The encouraging idea is to soak up the booze but also sample the traditions of the Basque Country and learn more about why it has become such a gastronomic destination – dinner menus cost around €35, while cider is only €7 for as much as you can drink.
On my last day I visited Petretegi, where the “Txotx!” the call rings once more. The golden cider gushes out. Drinkers gathered under wooden rafters. Darkness fell, with winds blowing across the river, and groups of friends refueled, sampling barrel after barrel. Naturally, and effortlessly, I joined them.
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