In Basque country, just outside San Sebastian, Spain, you’ll find traditional Cider Houses (Sagardotegias) between January and April. Here, the price of admission gets you tastes from many different wooden barrels (kupelas) of apple juice, fermented without added sugar or gas. We heard the cry “txotx” (pronounced chotch), meaning tap or break out the cider throughout our visit. After each txotx we were called to a different cask, which we were instructed to fill holding the glass low at an angle to collect the stream as the glass is slowly raised, aerating the cider and collecting about two fingers worth from each sampled barrel.
We visited Gartziategi, possibly the oldest cider house in operation, since it’s mentioned in 16th century documents. It produces 100,000 liters of cider per year. Our visit coincided with Carnival, a period of parades, costumes marching bands and celebrations. Since children have school vacation for the Carnival celebration, our Monday afternoon visit was packed and included many families, both local Basque and out-of-town visitors.
Along with the cider tastings, family-style large platters of food are presented, without individual plates. First crusty fresh bread, then a cod omelet, next cod fish with pepper, onions and garlic, a huge grilled salted T-bone steak served rare, and finally walnuts and quince jelly served with local sheep milk cheese.