Basque dairy products are also of high quality, and the Basques use milk, butter and cream extensively in their cooking. Sheep's milk goes into the production of several kinds of Basque cheeses made on both sides of the border, many of them matured in caves or huts high in the mountains. And the Basques are crazy about mushrooms. Every spring, summer and fall thousands of Basques head to the forests and meadows to pick the many varieties of wild mushrooms that suddenly pop up in secret places.
Market gardens grow the fresh produce so essential to many Basque regional dishes, including artichokes, asparagus, cabbages, leeks, onions and carrots. With the first Spanish voyages to the Western Hemisphere years ago, tomatoes, potatoes, peppers, beans and cacao later processed into chocolate began returning in the holds of the ships and eventually became an important part of the Basque diet. Across the border in the French Basque country, paprika made from the bright red peppers grown around Espelette is the first and only spice in France to be awarded an AOC controlled designation of origin and APO protected designation of origin status.
Spanish Basque meals are often accompanied by excellent red wines from the Alavesa area of the famous Rioja wine region. One of the most expensive dishes in Spain is the Basque dish of angulas , silvery-white baby eels which cost up to 1, Euros per kilogram! And although the Basques have an abundant and continuous supply of fresh fish from the sea, they also love bacalao , dried salt cod that has been split lengthwise, flattened out, heavily salted, and dried in the open air.
Reconstituted in water before being prepared in innumerable ways, bacalao has been aptly described as mummified fish brought back to life by the cook. The Basques also prepare baby squid in a thick, creamy, subtly flavored sauce tinted black by the squid's own ink. Another classic Basque dish is piparrada Spanish or piperade French. Often beaten eggs are swirled into this sauce just before serving, to make a kind of scrambled egg dish, or the sauce alone is served as an accompaniment to baked, grilled, or roasted meats.
Colorful Basque pintxos at a bar in Bilbao.
Go on the Pintxo Tour
Pintxos are a particularly popular category of foods in northern Spain. The Basque version of Spanish tapas, these are bar snacks that range from traditional potato omelet slices, mayonnaise-bound potato salads, spicy sausages, and stuffed mussels, to more modern variations made from a thick slice of chewy white bread topped with two or three layers of tasty, colorful ingredients, all held together with a toothpick. Miniature masterpieces of the culinary art, these pretty little open-face sandwiches are enticingly displayed on the counter of each bar.
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10 things you should know about the Basques
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The ultimate guide to the best traditional Basque food recipes
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