We’re just back from our Spring vacation (look at me and all my Americanisms) a week’s sojourn in Bayonne, the heart of the French Basque country. I love my food, and living in France is like landing in heaven. Then to spending a week in the French Basque country, is like arriving in a paradise of food. Yes, I literally ate my way through this holiday, as well as lolling around on a beach or two. We even ventured into Spain and introduced the kids to Pintxos. If you love your food, the French Basque country is the place to be!
The French Basque country, a paradise of food
Here are just a few of the delicious delicacies I have discovered. Some have made their way home with me!
The Foire au jambon or the ham fair
The city of Bayonne is famous for its ham, jambon de Bayonne. And they even have a festival to celebrate this wonderful charcuterie. The 555th Foire au Jambon took place 13 – 16 April honouring the production of this delicacy.
I have never been to a fair that celebrates a single food product, but this is France this is what they do! And we loved it. The town was buzzing, producers from across the region proudly offered us tastings of their goods.
The city was bursting with ham – slices, tranches, hunks, chunks and legs. In the excitement of it all, we bought a kilo of jambon de Bayonne which we will work through at our pleasure.
Now, this is scrumptious.
Gateau basque is a traditional dessert from the French Basque country and can be found in pretty much all the patisseries and is served up in pretty much every restaurant.
It’s buttery, a really buttery sweet pastry cake which is filled with either creme patisserie (vanilla creamy filling) frangipane (almondy creamy filling) or Basque black cherry jam.
My favourite was definitely the black cherry filling. I can only really liken it to a munching my way through a particularly delicious Bakewell tart minus the icing and glace cherry.
I am currently searching out recipes to make my own gateau Basque at home.
Cerise noir confiture, black cherry jam
Cherries from the French Basque country are grown in the high altitude of the Pyrenees mountains where they thrive in the cooler climate. And it’s these cherries that are used to make the famous French Basque cerise noir confiture or to you and me – black cherry jam.
ltxassou is the home of Basque cherry production, where recipes are passed down through generations of families. The cherries are harvested by hand in June and celebrated at the ltxassou Cherry Festival, Fete des Cerises.
A little jar of ltxassou black cherry jam has made it home with me. Mine incorporates a hint of piment pepper which just takes the edge of its sweetness, I’ll be using my black cherry jam to make my Gateau Basque.
I came across Esplette pepper during a cooking class I took here in Paris. It’s not a super spicy chilli but adds a nice warmth to your cooking. Piment d’Esplatte is used to make Piperade, a typically Basque dish.
Me, I like to add this chilli pepper to almost everything, it’s particularly great with a tomato pasta sauce, giving it an extra zing.
Piment d’Esplette or Esplette chilli pepper is probably one of the most famous exports from of the French Basque region. Chilli peppers first arrived in France in the 16th century from South America. Initially it was used for medicinal purposes before being added to food to flavour or preserve meats.
A bit like a fine wine this chilli pepper has it’s own AOC (Appellation d’Origine Controle) and is grown in 10 villages in the region including, of course, Esplette. And at the end of October, over 20,000 people come together to celebrate this fine pepper at the Fete du Piment.
If you are visiting the Basque region, then drop in on Esplette, it’s a lovely little village, dripping with chillis and where you can buy a jar of Piment d’Esplette!
Bayonne chocolate, the chocolate capital of France
We end back in Bayonne.
Of course, France is famous for chocolate, but in Bayonne is where the story of France’s chocolate began.
The Portuguese Sephardic jews fled the 17th century Inquisition and settled in Bayonne setting up the country’s first chocolate factories, and the rest they say is history.
Yup, you guessed it there’s a festival of chocolate. In May the annual Chocolate Days celebrates the city’s long chocolate heritage.
And is the chocolate good? It sure is, and my lucky kids got their Easter chocolate from Bayonne, but to them, chocolate is just chocolate, to be scoffed in a quick mouthful!
French Basque country food festivals 2017
- 13 – 16 April 2017 Foire au Jambon
- 26 & 27 May Bayonne Chocolate Days
- 4 June 2017 Itxassou Cherry Festival
- 28 & 29 October 2017 Fête du Piment à Espelette
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