What to do when you hear the word Txotx?
It’s time for one of my favorite Basque traditions!
Did you know we are officially in cider season? It began on January 20th and runs through April, and I thought I’d take a little time today to talk about this beloved Spanish tradition, and what to do when you hear someone yell “Txotx!” (Yes, I know some of you are doing Dry January, but it’s almost over so you can have your cider very soon!)
While many regions in Spain are all about wine making, there are cooler northern regions—Asturias and Basque Country— that instead focus on apple cultivation and the production of fermented apple cider. In Asturias, we call it sidra; in the Basque Country, it’s called sagardo.
You may know I am from Asturias, and when we go to there to visit my family, you will find us in the cider town of Mieres, where we hang out in the central plaza’s sidrerías, talking, laughing, eating some shellfish and chorizo, and washing it down with lots of cider. Maybe you’ve seen how the Spanish cider is poured…in long arcs almost like rainbows! That long pour is so important because it aerates the drink and adds some fizzy texture…without it you really are not getting the whole experience. If you don’t know how to do the pour, let your waiter do it for you!
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I love the sidra of Asturias, which is fresh and a little fruity. But I’m also a huge fan of the Basque Sagardo which is a little dryer and more tart and sour. The new sagardos are unveiled every year in a big festival called Txotx that’s held in the cider region of Sagardoaren Lurraldea. For those of you that have been to the amazing city of San Sebastian, this is just a few kilometers away. The area is made up of the towns of Astigarraga, Hernani and Usurbil. Astigarraga is the cider capital of the area. It has fewer than 6,000 people, but they have almost two dozen cider houses!
The Txotx season kicks off every year on January 20th, when Basque cider makers, called “sagardotegis,” officially bring their ciders to market. About one million people every year come out to celebrate the new season, to taste the cider straight from the barrels, to share some typical foods and, above all, to be together!
Cider season has a lot of old traditions. The first is the planting of an apple tree and the “sagar danza,” the traditional dance of the apple tree. Once the season is open, most Spaniards take to the streets, touring the different cider houses, tasting the new harvest, sitting at long tables and eating a traditional menu: some chorizo, a cod omelet, roasted cod with green peppers, a nice medium-rare chuleta steak, and of course, some Basque cheese (like Idiazabal) served with walnuts and quince paste. How good does this sound?!
But, my friends, here is the thing about Spaniards. We don’t taste cider the way you might when you go to wine tastings in California or the North Fork of Long Island, sitting and drinking from a glass quietly. It’s not like that at all. In the Basque country, the cider houses just open the spigot of these 13,000-liter barrels, and out shoots a thin stream of cider. To drink cider like the Basque people, you stand up from your meal, get in line, and hold your glass at just the right angle to catch some cider from the stream. Next you drink the small amount in your glass and then follow the cidermaker to the next barrel. It takes some practice to get it right, but it’s a lot of fun to practice.
Now you may also hear this word Txotx (pronounced “CHOACH”) shouted from the cider makers. What is this all about? It’s an invitation to the crowds to get up from the table to go and taste a new barrel. The word has a very interesting history, and you know I love a good bit of history so here’s the story.
Cider making goes back to the 11th century, but it wasn’t until the 16th century that many cider-makers began sharing cider with their neighbors to taste and enjoy. To carry out the tastings, a small hole was made in the “kupela” (barrel) and the cider was poured directly into the glass. When the time came to stop the flow, the “kupela” was plugged with a thin wooden stick, or “txotx” in Basque. That’s where you get the tradition of shouting, “Txotx” to remove the stick and start drinking!
So when you get some friends together for Spanish cider, be sure to yell Txotx! Let me know how it goes!
José, with every post you make me dream of visiting the various areas of Spain you talk of. Another year or so and I’ll be free from work and able to hit the road - you know Spain features high on the list! You really have a gift in the way you describe things, Thank you for sharing that with those of us here at Longer Tables and the world at large.
I have wanted to visit Asturias since your show with Anthony Bourdain in that region. Now, I have another reason! I have always enjoyed dry cider and this sounds like a cider lovers dream. The tricky decision is whether to visit for Txotx season or In the summer when the heat makes you crazy for a cold drink. Hmmmm.... Thanks to you I now have trip planning to ponder. XOXO