Spanning the border between southwestern France and northeastern Spain, the Basque Country is a land unto itself, with a distinctive culture and an ancient language. The native name of the region is Euskal Herria, literally translated as “the land where people speak Basque.” Archaeological and historical records indicate that the origin of the Basque people dates back to the stone age. Despite the antiquity of the Basque, the mountainous, coastal topography has evolved a fragmented culture, one that didn’t have a unified language until the 1950s. The Basque people have always been fiercely independent; since revolts against imperial Rome, they embrace and preserve their unique culture and traditions against all odds. Intense respect and love for quality and craftsmanship in all things has evolved the region into one of the world’s most unique and revered gastronomic cultures.
To be Basque is to love the food and products which have evolved over the centuries to become essential ingredients for top chefs around the world. It is this deep respect for quality and dedication to the refinement of ideas which has driven the region to greatness on an international scale.
The land of the Basque Country stretches from the Ebro river in Rioja to the Atlantic coast into France following the Bay of Biscay. From rolling hills to steep mountains and coastal fjords, it is a harsh, rugged, and intensely beautiful land. The influence of the Bay of Biscay is felt in both the cool, damp climate and abundance of ingredients from the sea. Seafood forms the traditional backbone of Basque cuisine, complemented by cured meats and fresh vegetables from the interior regions. Spain and France have both influenced the cuisine of the Basques, but that influence runs both ways; for this is the birthplace of pintxos and txokos, the Basque gastronomic societies, which number in the thousands. Donostia has long been the home of pintxo culture; it is where the small plate movement began and spread throughout the world.
Vermouth has also traditionally been a part of pintxos culture, which has been revived by this generation, after almost dying out. Traditional recipes are being produced once again by artisanal houses, with vermut de grifo, or vermouth on tap, taking its place at the beginning of the meal, opposite the incredibly popular Spanish Gin Tonic, which is traditionally consumed at the end. The social aspect and low alcohol of vermouth make it the perfect drink to consume with friends at the beginning of a meal, as a slightly sweet and bitter accompaniment to salty and complex Basque pintxos. Basque vermouth culture has quickly spread across the world with the proliferation of chefs trained in the Basque culinary tradition, radiating from the txokos.