After four days of chowing down on French delicacies I thought would never even get close to my dinner plate, we crossed the border into the Spain for our first day in Bidegoian to a traditional farm and producer of a rare breed of Basque pigs called, Euskal Txerria. In my days as a gastronomy student, I’ve been to a fair amount of pig farms, memories of eye wateringly pungent smells, metal gates, and shit-covered hay. Never in my life have I seen pigs as strange and ADORABLE as the pigs we saw here. Black and pink spotted little devils with ears so floppy they had a very limited visual plane.
After kvelling (my Jewish New York maternal side emerges) for an hour about how adorable these little oinkers were, we were then proudly presented with their ultimate destiny and true purpose for being on the farm: homemade Chorizo and Jamon! Never fall too in love with an animal you see on a farm because inevitably it will end up sliced into little pieces on your dinner plate. Nonetheless, the passion conveyed by these producers for their work, and also for their animals permeated into the quality of their products, and ultimately worked to alleviate the pain caused by eating the cutest pig I have ever seen.
Spending the night in San Sebastian, we were then introduced to the extensive cultural practice that is Spanish Basque cider at the local Cideria. Made from fermented apples, this extremely tart beverage is drunk in continuation by locals of this area. Served from massive wooden barrels, the traditional way to drink the beverage made a lasting impression (until of course my vision was blurred as a cause of over consumption..oops) Opening a little spit on the side of the barrel, the cider came spitting out as we lined up to fill our glass. An important rule however, was not to fill our glasses too high because the carbonation goes away quickly. Therefore, drink small amounts, often. In fact we were told to go up to the barrel as often as we wished, which, was obviously greatly appreciated.
Waking up feeling like I endured a minor concussion, we promptly hopped on the bus again to the Spanish fishing town of Getara, watching the boats unload pounds and pounds of fresh sardines to be sold at the port. The sardines were huge!!
After a scrumptious fish-based lunch washed town with traditional Basque cider, we were off to a the picturesque Aroa vegetable farm to learn about an indigenous pea variety, Guistante Lagrima, which is sold to restaurants at a ‘humble’ price of 40 Euro/half kilo…. though the price seems a bit ridiculous, they were the most succulent, sweet, and crisp peas I have ever consumed. In the garden we were also given the opportunity to pick fresh arugula, a spicy lettuce variety, amongst other deliciously organic fruits and vegetables.
Changing pace completely, we hopped on the bus to yet another farm, however this one was like unlike any I have ever seen. Spread across acres of the Spanish countryside, I was refreshed to see a farm that went beyond industry that truly represented the love this family had for their animals and their main product: Idiazabal cheese. Made from raw sheep’s milk, the cheese was absolutely extraordinary, slightly spicy with a texture that mimicked Asiago. I couldn’t stop eating it. The animals on the farm seemed happy, and the sheep basked in the sun as we met with the cheese producers.
We then arrived in Bilbao, the largest city in the Basque country, unfortunately my impression of the city remains a bit sour because we stayed at one of the most unsanitary hotels I have ever experienced, located conveniently in the drug and prostitution center of the town. Unlike any other city in Spain, Bilbao is an incredibly modernized city, littered with strange and modern art sculptures in the city squares. Most definitely the most memorable moment in Bilbao was the Guggenheim museum, designed by famous architect Frank Gehry. There was an incredible exhibit of Anish Kapoor art that really opened my eyes to the beauty of modern and abstract art.
After one of the most eventful and exhausting weeks of my life, I happily returned to Parma (at 2am) and practically fell into my bed. I calculated the total hours we spent traveling on the bus and it came to about 50. Needless to say, I get chills down my spine at the sight of a tour bus, my ass is still shaped to the mold of the chair. Reflecting on the trip, my stomach is full, I am recharged, and ready to continue to eat my way to gastronomical enlightenment.
This is Grassroots, This is Gourmet.