“A woman should never be seen eating or drinking, unless it be lobster salad and Champagne, the only true feminine and becoming viands.”
Several months back (oops..) my classmates and I, along with our fearless leaders/teachers, went to the nearby port town of Getaria, home of both Juan Sebastián Elcano and Cristobal Balenciaga, amongst others. Neither food nor drink (nor fashion) were on our minds: we went to look at tons upon tons of live mollusks and crustaceans in a huge distribution center. Oh boy!
Water filters and warehouse walls made listening difficult, and a precarious camera battery situation lent a sense of urgency, so I snapped away at beasts both dead and alive, not paying too much attention to our gracious host.
Getaria is darling.
Flip it over, there are eggs!
Yes, once it was offered up, everyone wanted to taste lobster eggs. From a live lobster.
Including yours truly. Salty, tasty, but not terrifically exciting.
Velvet crab says what up.
My friend and classmate Alaia: part-Basque, part-Native American, all-New York City. Not a crustacean.
Here things get a little bit tricky: the crabs below are commonly known as “buey del mar” (literally: sea oxes. English: brown crab), but the people in the place where I’m working - and other places, including our school - also refer to them as "txangurro." However, there’s another type of crab, the centollo/European spiny crab/spiny spider crab, that is actually translated in Basque astxangurro. So, for example, when you order txangurro (spider crab) in a restaurant, you’re probably eating buey del mar (brown crab). Ya follow?
I have spent many hours recently cleaning so many of these in the traditional restaurant where I’m interning as part of our school’s program. They’re a huge pain to clean, and I have to wash my hands many times over with lemon juice to get rid of the smell, but there’s the joy in knowing that somewhere (in the dining room upstairs) someone (one of the rich old ladies-who-lunch) is enjoying the fruits of our labor. Anyways, dismantling them and smashing their giant claws (the ones in the picture are rather small) with a mallet are fun in their own way.
Are they luckier to expire in the tanks? Or in giant pots of boiling water?
Cheese. Oh, cheese. That most wonderful manifestation of lactic preservation. Ingenious from the outset, it now encompasses an unfathomable range of flavors, textures, terroirs, and horrors (see also: cheese-in-a-can). If life could be lived on cheese and bread alone, my time in the kitchen might just be over: I love it that much.
So do, apparently, the inhabitants of Idiazabal and neighboring folk. Idiazabal is the name of a town in the interior of Guipúzcoa and also the name of a D.O. (denominación de origen) unpasteurized sheep’s milk cheese, typically from native Latxa sheep. It can be smoked or not and it ranges from semi- to very-cured. Rich, salty, and omnipresent in these parts, its delightfuly ‘sheepy’ character is sure to win your heart and ruin you for all others. It had me at “queso.” (I’m terrible, and I know it, and I just can’t help it.)
Being the fertile spring that it is, towns throughout the region are each taking their turn at hosting fairs and festivals for different fruits-of-the-earth. The crowds (here’s lookin’ at you, me) go wild for local edibles and the streets are always packed. Iñaki is from a small town in the mountains that is (just my luck!) a few minutes away from Idiazabal, where, last Sunday, there was a festival just for Idiazabal cheese. Be still, my heart.
The entrance didn’t look promising, but you just wait.
Look at everyone! They love cheese!
The going and the looking was free, but for 2 euros you got six tickets for six generous pieces of cheese from the various cheesemakers.
Stop at one of the stalls, drop your ticket in the bucket, pick out your cheese and bread. I’ll take a cheese ticket over a drink ticket any day.
The cheesemakers set up their displays with beautiful arrays of their offerings and bits and pieces of traditional cheese equipment or folk art.
This stand with actual lambs was the winner in my book.
But a sheep skull seemed a little grotesque to advertise sheep’s milk. Whatevs.
Sheep themselves were on display, of course, and a few unlucky ones were chosen for a humiliating display that left them sheared, shorn, and ‘shamed. Whether they huddled together in solidarity against The Man or to hide their nakedness, they made for a hilarious - albeit slightly pathetic - sight.
A cheese contest was held, of course, as well as demonstrations on cheese-making and wool-spinning.
At the front of the festival, before the onslaught of cheese and its accoutrements, were stalls selling other foods, ranging from pies & tarts to sausages and from jams & honey to foie gras.
No Basque festival would be complete without taloak, corn (sort-of) tortillas made by women in traditional garb, heated on a charcoal-fueled flat-top, and filled with spicy sausage, bacon, cheese, or chocolate.
Txistorra (fresh, uncured sausages) in oil. Waistlines were clearly a concern at this cheese festival.
Boyfriend looooves talos:
Mountains, people, cheese, sunshine, and sheep: it’s all here, folks. Come and get it.