The north of Navarre has a long cider house tradition stretching back a thousand years, part of which is the custom of gathering around a table to enjoy the delicious local produce, with a brief interruption each time one of the diners decides to go to the barrel or kupela to sample the precious yellow nectar. And how do they do it? Very simple: the glass should be filled two fingers high and emptied unhurriedly but in one go, so as to retain the qualities of the cider.
Every January, to the calls of ‘Hau da gure sagardo berria’, meaning ‘This is our new cider’, the start of the cider season is marked with the opening of the barrels and the celebration of the txotx ritual. The stopper plugging the hole in the barrel is removed, the new cider begins to flow and all those present take their turn to try it. It is usually celebrated in one of the five complete-cycle cider houses of Navarre located in Lekaroz, Lesaka, Beruete, Aldatz and Lekunberri. All of them follow the traditional method whereby the farmers work the orchards, prepare their own cider, serve it for tasting in their own cider house and bottle the rest to sell.
October also sees the celebration in Arizkun of kirikoketa, the playful name taken from the rhythmic sound of the instrument which our Navarran forebears played to mark the end of the chopping and pressing of the apples before the winter fermentation process.
Nowadays there is a wide variety of cider houses spread across the region offering the classic menu of chorizo cooked in cider, cod omelette, thick cod steak with green peppers, the coveted chuletón T-bone steak, and for dessert, cheese with walnuts and quince jelly. And of course, as much cider as you like. This is where relationships and friendships around the kupelas are formed. It’s an experience that few Navarrans can resist, and which is becoming increasingly popular beyond our borders.
AND THE ROTISSERIES
Another of the most popular gastronomical choices in Navarre is eating in an asador, or rotisserie. As well as grilled meats - such as T-bone and sirloin steaks, lamb ribs or suckling pig marinated in a good DO Navarre wine - they also serve wild-caught fish straight from local markets. Also on offer from the grill are delicious hake, monkfish, sea bream and turbot. The dessert menu usually includes cuajada (cheese curd), leche frita (a fried milk pudding) and cheesecake.