Basque Country - A gourmet itinerary

Published the 09/06/2020 in Exploring the Region

My Private French Travel explores the New Aquitaine region, and this week we take you on a gourmet trip to the Alduldes Valley, in the heart of the French Basque Country.

In the heart of the Atlantic Pyrenees, just steps away from Spain, lies a valley full of treasures, the Alduldes. It is the ideal place to discover the Basque gastronomy, since there are many producers within a very short distance. Here is a gourmet itinerary not to be missed, from Saint Jean Pied de Port to Urepel.

Saint Jean Pied de Port

Irouleguy Wine

At the start of the Alduldes Valley is the Irouleguy vineyard, one of the smallest AOC in France. The vineyard extends on the hillsides between Irouleguy, Saint-Etienne de Baïgorry and Anhaux. It is the geography of the place that gives the typicality of its wines, since these are extremely steep vineyards, on the mountainsides, which is reminiscent of the slopes of Burgundy.

The grape varieties are tannat, cabernet sauvignon and cabernet franc for the red and rosé wines, and petit and gros manseng for the dry whites.

There are many producers along the vineyard, but it is a vineyard that lends itself perfectly to hiking, starting from Irouleguy in particular.

Vignoble Irouleguy à flanc de montage

OSSAU IRATY  & the pastures

The Ossau Iraty PDO extends over a large area of the Atlantic Pyrenees, from the Pic du Midi d'Ossau to Saint Jean de Luz. Along this cheese route, there are nearly 120 farms, dairies, summer huts producing this fruity ewe's milk cheese. 

Les brebis en estive

This is also one of the originalities not to be missed if you go to the region from May to October, the summer season, since you can go directly to a summer hut, the cayolar in Basque, that is to say a shepherd's hut used in the mountains during the summer, when the sheep are brought to the high mountain pastures to feed on the fresh grass of the natural high mountain meadows, which are found especially in the Alduldes Valley. Ossau Iraty cheeses bear the mark of their origin thanks to a distinctive hallmark, especially if they are made in the summer in the mountains.

Ossau Iraty - le fromage de la région

If you go hiking in the summer, expect to come across many sheep, cows and ewes on the mountain slopes. The silence of nature often gives way to bleats or bells, hanging from the animals' necks. 

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After the green pastures, direction the torrents of river since it is in the heart of the Alduldes, in the small village of Banca, that we find another emblem of the region, the trout! It is a fish farm that can be visited throughout the year, to discover the production of this delicate dish. 

Les truites Arc-en-ciel

The Goicoechea family wished to open the fish farm to the general public to explain its main principles and to educate the general public about the reasoned practices implemented within the structure. This rainbow trout, which could be confused with salmon, is still found in its natural state but its fishing, in the Pyrenean rivers, is very controlled.

So, what is the difference between a "white" trout and a salmon trout? Well it's the food! A salmon trout feeds largely on seafood, including shrimp, which gives it this pinkish aspect.

And in Banca, no garbage! A local originality, the skin of the Banca trout can be used in leather goods, and the brand has developed its own line of accessories - espadrilles, handbags, belts, wallets - made from trout skin. An original and unique gift!

Nuances de peau de truites

Kintoa pork

Last gourmet stop on this road, Pierre Oteiza's farm. A beautiful story for a product that had disappeared some thirty years ago. The Basque breed of pig, called Kintoa, was almost extinct before a handful of local breeders, led by Pierre Oteiza, decided to structure themselves to ensure the breed's survival. Today there are nearly 80 breeders in the region. The Kintoa Pork, PDO since 2017 with strict specifications since each breeder must raise a maximum of 40 pigs per batch, outdoors. 

Porc Kintoa

Kintoa pork is recognizable by its red meat contrasted with white fat, which makes it a true emblem of the Basque Country, and to the taste we find notes of hazelnuts and a buttery texture. If you are a fan of Ibérico, you will appreciate it.  

Au calme

Pierre Oteiza's farm offers a short 45-minute walk around the pig farm, with a breathtaking view of the Alduldes. For the little ones, there is a donkey ride available to climb. And we invite you to conclude this hike with a gourmet break at the store, with a taloa (corn and water pancake) of cold meats and cheeses from the region. 

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I have only taken you about twenty kilometers, in the heart of the Alduldes mountains, which is full of beautiful products. The gastronomy of the Basque Country doesn't stop there, so don't miss the next stops to the coast, with the other specialties of the region. 

itinéraire Pays Basque