Apple orchards can be found all along the northern part of the Basque Country, although most ciderhouses are located around San Sebastián in towns like Hernani and Astigarraga. The latter is the village with the greatest number of ciderhouses per square kilometer and inhabitant in the whole of Europe.
The diverse climatology of the Basque Country translates into a great diversity of apples. In the Atlantic watershed, the mesothermal climate features mild temperatures, humidity and heavy rain⎯somewhere between 1,200-2,000mm of rainfall per year. In addition to this, the middle area is characterized for being a space of transition for subatlantic and submediterranean climates, so its temperatures are warmer and rainfall more moderate. During summertime, the moderate sunshine helps preserve the characteristics of the apples.
Apple trees are usually grown in slightly acidic soils that have high levels of organic materials. The soil of the Basque Country is distinguished by the balanced and specific compositions of its mineral elements.
Although there are over a hundred types of local apple in the Basque Country, cider is usually produced by using apples from the twenty-four recommended varieties. Those ciders belonging to the Designation of Origin Euskal Sagardoa – Sidra Natural del País Vasco must be elaborated using exclusively Basque apples.
It is the epicenter of cider, with towns like Astigarraga and Hernani where ciderhouses are so numerous that they are located next to each other. This area also encompasses the towns of Urnieta, Andoain, Zubieta and Usurbil.
This is a rural area in the interior of Guipúzcoa where the ciderhouses are mainly located in small villages like Aduna, Asteasu, Lizartza and Ikaztegieta, as well as Tolosa, the area’s capital and well-known thanks to its market, steakhouses and patisseries.
A mountainous area in the interior where, similar to what happens in Tolosaldea, most of its ciderhouses are found in small, rural villages like Zerain, Ataun, Alzaga, Legorreta or Olaberria. There are also ciderhouses in Ordizia, whose market is an important gastronomic factor of the region.
There are two ciderhouses in this territory, located in Aramaio, which borders Gipuzkoa, and Kuartango, placed between the natural parks of Gorbea and Valderejo.
Here the ciderhouses are located in towns like Amorebieta, Gizaburuaga, Markina-Xemein and Gatika, although the apples used for the elaboration of cider are harvested in nearby villages like Ispaster, Mendexa or Aulesti.
The cider produced under the Designation of Origin Euskal Sagardoa – Sidra Natural del País Vasco is obtained from the combination of local apples.
Following traditional techniques that have been handed down from generation to generation, each ciderhouse brings to the table its own characteristics to this drink, always looking for a harmony between the acidity and the bitterness of each kind of apple, aroma, structure and complexity.
Technological developments have equally brought sophistication to cider. Each potential drink is analyzed and certified in the Fraisoro laboratory where analytical and organoleptic controls are carried out. Following these, only the successful ciders will be granted the Designation of Origin Euskal Sagardoa emblem, which is a red cap.
There are also other premium ciders that, distinguished by a golden cap, are those which have scored very high in the tasting committee.
Colourwise, Basque cider features hues that range from light to straw-like yellow. It offers a slight carbonic touch in the palate, which gives it a fresh and pleasant acidity. Depending on the style of each ciderhouse, the cider presents more or less bitter and tannic taste. It also offers aromas of apple and strawberries.
It is suggested the cider be consumed at a temperature of 10-12oC in a glass and, if possible, without it having been poured from a height.