The cultivation of apples in the French Basque Country dates at least as far back as the Middle Ages, when apple orchards featured in the lists of assets belonging to the bourgeois families of the time.
Until cultivation fell in the 19th century, two zones were historically used for apple growing. Fruit destined for the local markets and the many ports was cultivated along the coast, while the apples to be used for cider were grown further inland, at the foot of the hills. Indeed, the slightly sharp but very thirst-quenching sagarno (Basque cider) used to be found on every table in the Aquitaine region.
Some producers are bringing back this typical local cider production. The Presidium project on Northern Basque Country Cider gathers 27 producers who grow heirloom varieties of apples adapted to cider production.
The Presidium works to protect the local heirloom varieties and to promote the sensory qualities of the cider and juices.
The apple varieties used to make sagarno give it a very high acidity level, distinguishing it from the ciders of Normandy and Asturias. The main varieties used for the Basque cider are Eztika and satiny-white Mamula, which are slightly tannic without being bitter or floury.
To make cider, the apples are selected, washed and pressed to extract the juice. The juice is carefully filtered to remove residues and to concentrate it as much as possible, then left to ferment slowly, for between three and five months, to preserve its aromas.
Sagarno can be still or slightly sparkling and dry or semi-dry. The colour ranges from pale yellow to golden, and the taste is acidic, with slightly tannic notes. The alcohol level varies from 5% to 11%.
The Presidium is working with Sagartzea, the association of producers who cultivate the local apple varieties used for cider production. Founded in the 1990s in the northern Basque Country, the association has revived the area’s existing traditional orchards, planted with around 75% acidic apples and 25% sweet apples. Over time, around 16,000 apple trees have been replanted in the three provinces of the northern Basque Country, and the association has produced around 150,000 bottles of Sagarno cider and 50,000 liters of apple juice.
Learn about the producers of this and other French Basque Country products in the following video (in French, Italian and Spanish).
This association was created in the unique context of the Basque Country where a strong regional identity and the reaction to the dominant agricultural model have contributed to shape a particular model of cooperation. There are many organisations, which protect handcrafted producers. Furthermore, several Presidium producers are part of Idoki, a brand and certificate created to protect local and family productions and direct sales.
Photos — Archivio Slow Food
Presidium supported by — European Leader and Feader projects, Aquitaine Regional Authority, Department of Pyrénées-Atlantique and Arrapitz association