What is it about the Basque region of Spain that makes it so appealing? The people? The food? The cider? It is a combination of those things and more, and anyone who has been there can testify that Basque culture is a compelling intersection of food, community and hallowed traditions.
To be in the north of Spain is to experience an immersion in briny seafood, grilled meats, never ending streams of cider and Txakoli: traditional Basque white wine.
It was these types of encounters that intoxicated filmmaker Emily Lobsenz enough to convince her to move to San Sebastian and make a documentary film about Basque culture. The cider houses were of particular interest to Ms. Lobsenz, who recalls anticipating the end of January when the cider houses in Basque country open their doors to the community in celebration of enduring another long and difficult winter.
When the Basque cider houses open from January to May, cider makers allow revelers to participate in the longstanding tradition of tasting their new vintages straight from the barrels before being bottled. With her film “Song of the Basques,” Losbenz tries “to create an immersion” through stories about Basque farmers, fisherman, artists, athletes and musicians. Most importantly, she hopes to convey an understanding of the Basque country environment. “It is an integral part of Basque culture to know and understand where the food comes from,” she says.
When Lobsenz met New York chef Alex Raij, they became fast friends. Their separate passions for all things Basque fueled the idea for a collaborative venture. Chef Raij helms the kitchens at La Vara, El Quinto Pino and Txitkito — three distinct restaurants that each showcase a different aspect of Spanish cuisine. On Sunday, March 29 at 6:00 p.m., Raij will open the doors of Txikito in Chelsea to a Basque cider house of the duo’s creation with music, art, projections of Lobsenz’s film and lots of food.
Before the main event begins, chef Raij and her husband chef Eder Montero will offer an hour of pintxos, or the Basque version of tapas. Traditional Basque cuisine starters such as cod omelets and blistered green peppers will commence followed by steak from Dickson’s Farmstand Meats with piquillo peppers, cheese, membrillo and whole walnuts (meant to be cracked two at a time). Local cider from Farnum Hill Ciders, Shackbury Cider and Aaron Burr Cider will be poured generously throughout the meal.
The choice to utilize local cider makers, in addition to the Basque-made cider Petritegi is a nod to the similarities between New York State and Basque Country. Both have orchards, and where the Basque have a long and unwavering tradition of cider culture, New York State also has a strong history of cider that was nearly obliterated during Prohibition. “They’re bringing it back,” said Lobsenz. “These guys are trying to revive an American tradition,” which may seem like an odd reason to want to highlight their products in a Spanish-themed dining event, but is in fact completely in tune with the remarkably resourceful Basque sensibility of understanding your environment and always celebrating what you have.
Read more and get your tickets to Basque Cider House here.