France Grand Chapitre
Basque Country, October 14-18, 2020
Four days exploring the Basque Country
" The region is a popular tourist destination "

The French Basque Country includes three former historic French provinces in the north-east of the traditional Basque Country both sides of the Pyrenees, namely Lower Navarre, Labourd and Soule. Bayonne and Biarritz are its chief towns. The region is a popular tourist destination.

Wednesday, October 14th
Opening the four days of events was a welcome at City Hall by Madame Maider Arosteguy, the Mayor of Biarritz. A welcoming dinner followed at Restaurant Chez Albert in the Port des Pêcheurs district.

Thursday, October 15th
The day’s tour by coach was themed “Basque Terroir”.

First stop was at Espelette, classified as one of the “most beautiful in France”. Here we learnt about the famous Espelette pepper, a variety of capsicum. Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée (AOC) Espelette peppers are harvested in late summer. In September characteristic festoons of peppers are hung on balconies and house walls throughout the delimited villages to dry out.

Moving on to the village of Irissarry we visited the Dagorret family who are famed for breeding kriaxeras ducks and kintoa pigs. The ducks are reared in the open air in grassy fields adjacent to streams. Pig farming and butchery has been a common activity in the Basque Country for hundreds of years. “Kintoa” derives from “quinta” the name of the tax paid during the time of the Kingdom of Navarre (when one in five pigs had to be handed to the King).

Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port, another classified “Most beautiful village in France” was the location for lunch. In the heart of the town we dined at the Café Ttipia where we discovered many of its home-made products, especially those from the duck and pig

Friday, October 16th
The morning was devoted to Annual General Meeting of the Bailliage France held at the Grand Hôtel Thalasso & Spa in Saint-Jean-de-Luz.

Those not attending the meeting could participate in a visit to Moulin de Bassilour, dating from 1741 it’s the oldest watermill in southern France. It works with a “flying wheel” (horizontal), a system used in Roman times. Different types of organic flour are produced there, as well as breads and cakes.

For lunch we crossed into Spain to dine at the Bar-Restaurante Ganbara in Donostia, San Sebastián. A walking visit in the city followed.

Late afternoon saw a departure to Cidrerie Zapian, a cider maker in Astigarraga. Written documents mention making apple cider in the Basque Country happening from the 11th century. Most farms had an orchard and many places have names related to apple or cider production. In the 16th century, cider was the only solution for Basque sailors hunting whales or cod in the far North Atlantic when faced with scurvy and drinking water issues at sea.

Continuing the theme of meeting top producers we continued on to Txogitxu by Imanol Jaca, known as “The Basque Butcher”, for a visit and dinner in Txogitxu’s club gastronomique “El Sauce”. After a wonderful evening of outstanding food and hospitality, the return to France was a late one!

Saturday, October 17th
An early morning departure by coach led to the Maison Louis Ospital in Hasperren. In 1984 three breeders met three butchers. Artisan Charcutier Louis Ospital agreed to comply with strict specifications for dried meat production in order to produce the “Rolls-Royce” of Bayonne ham. The product was an immediate success. The greatest chefs worldwide beat a path to the company’s door!

We moved on to visit Egiategia in Ciboure where we were welcomed by Emmanuel Poirmeur. In 2007 he filed a patent for the vinification and aging of wines beneath the ocean. This specific process consists of carrying out the fermentation in vats at a depth of 15 metres in the sea offshore from Saint-Jean-de-Luz. What a most interesting experience it was learning about this innovative process.

Lunch was back in Saint-Jean-de-Luz at Restaurant Tokiko (means “local” in Basque) located in an old farmhouse with red shutters nestled in a garden of flowers and greenery. In keeping with the overall theme of the Grand Chapitre the restaurant gives pride of place to Basque products.

And so we arrived at the Gala Induction Evening. First the Induction Ceremony presided over by Claire Veaux, Member Honoraire of the Conseil Magistral and a former Chancelier of France. The ceremony was held in Villa Arnaga in Cambo-les-Bains where we were welcomed by the Mayor, Christian Devèze.

The Gala Dinner was held at the Michelin 1-star Auberge Basque in Saint-Pée-sur-Nivelle. Renowned for its refined, colourful and natural dishes made with emblematic products from the Basque Country, the establishment offers a truly Basque cuisine as interpreted by Chef Cédric Béchade.

Of note was that Alexandre de Lur-Saluces was there in person to specially present his Sauternes ‘Château de Fargues’, an estate that has belonged to the Lur-Saluces family since 1472! [Ed. The family owned the famous Château d’Yquem until 1999]

Sunday, October 18th
On the occasion of this Grand Chapitre, Jules Julien, President of the “Club Comte de Monte-Cristo” inaugurated the Cigar Club of the Bailliage of France. In the company of Échanson Florent Martin, Premier Sommelier of the Four Seasons George V Paris, they explored the relationship between Armagnac and cigars. Florent also presented a mixology course with cocktails linked to the Basque region.

Conclusion
The gastronomy of the French Basque Country derives the reputation of its local products from small family farms and producers. It’s all about respecting traditions and know-how. The passionate and fascinating suppliers visited during the Grand Chapitre programme were selected with great pleasure so as to introduce the participants to the beautiful region in the south-west corner of France.

Laurent Poultier du Mesnil
Bailli Délégué