Espelette Chili Pepper

Corde d'Espelette

Leaving Bayonne, we drove down the Atlantic coast to see Biarritz and Saint-Jean-de-Luz. We stayed in this fair beach city for the night and had a really nice dinner at a modern-Basque restaurant called Olatua — an excellent cod with txorizo and a mighty fine gâteau basque.

In the morning we left and crossed the Spanish border to visit San Sebastián, in the Spanish Basque country. The road to get there was magnificent, offering heart-stopping vistas at every turn of the road — which means it took us an inordinate amount of time to cross the Pyrenees, as we were constantly stopping the car to take pictures, enjoy the fresh mountain air, and say hi to horses and cattle who were grazing idly in the sun and forceful wind. San Sebastián itself was great and we really enjoyed our walk around the narrow streets of the historical center, but the highlight was definitely food-related, as we sat down for a late lunch at a tapas bar called Aralar. We adored the concept of freshly-made pinchos laid out on the bar for us to take our pick: we more or less sampled and shared one of each delicious bite, and particularly enjoyed the tortilla and the octopus — tender, juicy and full of flavor.

The next day took us where I had been dying to go ever since I’d spotted the tiny speck on the map (stamping my feet in the car and having red, cute and spicy visions): Espelette, home of the über-pepper, le Piment d’Espelette (AOC). A lovely village in and of itself — all white houses and red shutters — it was further prettified by the very thing that makes it so famous, strings of Espelette peppers hung up to dry on facades and balconies, inside restaurants and homes.

Espelette peppers are harvested over the course of ten weeks, starting in mid-August. They are hand-picked and hand-sorted, before being strung together into the famous cordes (on each string is written the week of harvest), or turned into a variety of condiments — powder, jelly, jam, etc. Once on the string, Espelette peppers can be used immediately while they are still fresh, or at every subsequent stage of dryness, turning from bright red and smooth-skinned to dark crimson and shrivelled. When dry, they can be added into a soup or stew, wherein they will plump back up a little, or they can be ground to a powder with a mortar and pestle.

So Espelette found us indulging in a little shopping: a beautiful corde for our kitchen, which we carried around with extreme care over the rest of our trip; a variety of pepper-derived products, including a marvellously spicy boudin basque; a hunk of the renowned artisanal pain d’épice from the nearby village of Aïnhoa; but also something non-edible (why does that so surprise you, I wonder) in the form of a bottle of perfume (for me) from the artisan-parfumeur Christian Louis.

We also had a memorable lunch at Euzkadi, a typically Basque restaurant where we got to sample a variety of excellent specialties — a piperade (scrambled eggs with tomatoes, onions and bell peppers), fried pig’s ears salad (yum!), an axoa (ground veal cooked with piment d’Espelette), and a stupendous stuffed magret. (See pictures on the moblog.)

Olatua
30 boulevard Thiers
64500 Saint-Jean-de-Luz
05 59 51 05 22

Aralar
10 Parte Vieja
20003 San Sebastián (Spain)
943426378

Euzkadi
64250 Espelette
05 59 93 91 88

  • Sabine

    Hello Clotilde, I am a brand new visitor on your blog, and I must say how inspiring and interesting it is. Cooking is not a passion for me, but I am getting more and more interested into it, thanks to all the information you and your blog peers do provide. My family actually moved down between Bayonne and Dax a couple of years back, and we actually went to the restaurant Euzkadi this summer. The pictures you took reminded me how delicious, fulfilling, and not expensive this meal was. We had a great family moment there, and your pictures brought back a flood of memories to me, so thank you. Cheers, Sabine

  • Alisa

    Summer of 2004 we did this trip. I so want to go back. But I never knew of the perfume…it doesn’t smell like the peppers does it?! Our drives over the boarder into Spain were often stalled by the most stubborn herds of sheep and goats – one big billy goat came up to the open car window and stuck his face in!

  • http://blogingrid.blogspot.com ingrid

    I love the Piment d’Espelette. It’s so fine and so esthaetic!

  • http://www.lindamathieu.com Linda Mathieu

    This is one of the places in France that surprised me the most. I thought it would be dry plains since it is going into Spain but it reminded me more of the rolling hills in England. It is someplace I want to return to and visit in more depth.

  • http://celinesblog.blogspot.com Celine

    Hi Clotilde,

    Very interesting report! Just a word to say that the “horses” you’ve seen were actually what we call Pottok (pronounce Potiok in occitan!).

    Bye,
    Céline

  • http://deetsasdiningroom.blogspot.com/ Nerissa

    This was a region of France I never even considered traveling to. I am rethinking my assumptions because you make it all sound so good!

  • http://papillesetpupilles.blogspot.com/ papilles et pupilles

    Hello Clothilde,

    I love the pain d’épices from Ainhoa. It is so good. You can see photo here :

    http://papillesetpupillesannexes.blogspot.com/2005/10/bon-got-daquitaine-un-aprs-midi.html

  • http://www.gladysgreen.com Gladys

    The horses (or Pottok) look like they have a great life, and a super view.

  • http://www.feedandsupply.blogspot.com Jessica Battilana

    Clotilde,

    I read your blog from time to time and was happy to see this piece on Piment D’Espelette, though I suspect we must be psychically linked, as I wrote about Piment on my little blog a few weeks back! Your posts are always interesting–I look forward to more.

  • http://tascadaelvira.blogspot.com/ Elvira

    One of my favorite hot pepper!

  • Delphine

    Hello Clothilde,
    when in season, it’s the green piment d’espelette, slightly more bitter than a green capsicum, that is used in piperade.
    It’s also very tasty fried with girolles, potatoes and persillade.

  • http://www.bornapplet.blogspot.com blanc

    Surely these restaurants are safe from mobs, are they?

  • Joan

    not only a food writer! Clotilde you have that wonderful ability to bring a place to life..always thank you, always

  • Laurie

    Your trip sounds and looks so perfect it seems fake! I love to read your blog and from my drab office in the U.S. it really brightens my day. I can’t wait to visit the lovely French country side again!

  • http://chocolateandzucchini.com clotilde

    Alisa – No, my perfume doesn’t smell like Espelette peppers (it’s a citrusy-woody scent), but they had a really interesting one that smelled like coriander seeds and cumin!

    Céline – Thanks for the precision. Those pottok (is there an “s” in the plural?) were everywhere, and I like them better than horses: they look more humble, like poneys.

  • Alisa

    while looking up something completely different I realized that you have been responding to comments – i was kind of kidding on the pepper thing – and thanks for the info on the phyllo :)

  • Dan Dx

    Hi, Clotilde! Agur!

    The plural of “pottok” is “pottokak” :)

    In Espelette, didn’t you try the chocolate of “Antton” (pronounce Ann-tion) They have a speciality of ganache spiced with Espelette pepper. It changes.

    Imho, for sure, the Cazenave chocolate factory in Bayonne is a must. A vision, a perfume and a taste of Heaven. Isn’t it?

    Very glad you enjoied my country! :))

    Dan
    (In exile in the North of France)

  • http://celinesblog.blogspot.com Celine

    Hi Clotilde,

    I’m not sure, but i would put a “s” for the plural. My memories of occitan language are very far (do you know it could be an option for the “baccalauréat”??), but I was a very bad student!

  • Your papounet

    I’ve checked, and pottokak it is, Dan Dx know his basque all right ! See this :

    http://www.zientzia.net/artikulua.asp?Artik_kod=11246

    Céline : nothing to do with Occitan, this is Basque, a totally different language, with the reputation of being one of the trickiest ones (I’ve read quite a lot about it, it’s mind-numbing…) Go for Hungarian if you want something marginally less difficult, but in the same category of languages, known as agglutinative languages.

  • http://celinesblog.blogspot.com Celine

    Hi Clotildes’s papounet!

    Thanks for this precious research and sorry for my mistakes!
    I didn’t even know what “agglunitative language” mean….
    What we learn with food blog is incredible!

  • Dan Dx

    Papounet, agur eta mil esker (ndt : salut et merci)

    As the saying runs there, Basque language is so difficult that the Devil himself has been unsuccessful at learning it ! :))

    Dan

  • tanabutler

    I hope you see this soon. We grew and dried our own Espelettes this year, with great success. Do you have any recipes to recommend? Merçi!

    • http://chocolateandzucchini.com/ Clotilde Dusoulier

      I just use Espelette pepper (mostly ground) anywhere and everywhere I want a nice heat!

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