Saturday, June 02, 2007

In Tolosa

This gastronomic article comes to us via EITb:

So typical in Tolosa and Goierri

Visitors cannot leave Tolosa and Goierri without tasting typical Basque Beans and Steak.

Beans on Ernio Mountain

Ernio is a mountain quite familiar to most Gipuzkoans. The closest 1,000-metre peak in the spur range of the Pyrenees has become a customary hike for a number of people from the many nearby industrial towns. The ritual alubiada, or pot of beans, is often served to restore hikers' energy after their early-morning excursions.

The steep vegetable gardens and cool air of the Goierri region valleys gave rise to a delicious, thin-skinned black bean with soft; almost sweet meat called the tolosana. Beans were often grown in symbiosis with maize, much the same as in America and then harvested in autumn. The "etxekoandre" (Basque for housewife) then cooked them slowly on a wood-fired iron stove along with products from the annual pig slaughter. Today this dish can be found in several local restaurants, offering choice and quality at least as good as the most sophisticated coastal establishments.

Steak Country

Basque livestock has been venerated for ages. "Farmers look after their animals as if they were members of the family," noted Catalan traveller Mañe y Flaqué in a meticulous description of the Basque Country and Navarra one hundred and fifty years ago. Pío Baroja, in a more cynical tone, said that in order to live well here one had to be either a priest or a cow. Locally grown Basque meat holding the official Kalitatea Label of Quality or the stamp of approval from other independent stock raising associations is truly extraordinary. The vast majority of livestock feed on grassy pastures, and massive stabling is rare. This explains the reverence for the possible best cut of beef, and here the chuletón is unquestionably the ultimate in gourmet eating.

Today, this meat comes from carefully fattened cows instead of oxen, which are now bred essentially as a sport animal for competing in "idiprobak" competitions (ox superiority contests). The cuts of meat are "cured", depending on the quality and size, sometimes for over forty days. The meat is then cut into thick slabs of about a kilo each and roasted over a wood fire following a very particular technique. Tolosa has become the world capital and exporter of this difficult art.

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