Hot Stuff

Hot Stuff

A Best of France selection.

Since just before the turn of the 21st century, the fiery red Basque pepper called the piment d’Espelette, or in the Basque language Ezpeletako Biperra, has had its own AOC-the official recognition that the Espelette pepper has unique qualities of taste and aroma rooted in its terroir. In this case, the territory is the area of ten designated communities near the medieval village of Espelette, about 25 km (16 mi) inland from Biarritz, where in autumn garlands of peppers drying in the sun adorn the facades of the traditional red-and-white Basque houses. The ancestors of the piment d’Espelette were imported into Europe in the 16th century, along with other exotic foods and spices from the Americas. The piquant-but not explosive-peppers flourished in the local soil and warm oceanic climate of the Basque Country, and were rapidly incorporated into traditional regional dishes. They can be cut into fine strips for chicken or tuna Basquaise, ttoro fish stew and piperade omelet, or they can be used à la Basque, in powdered form as a substitute for black pepper (it’s best to go lightly at first, and, to preserve its unique aroma, sprinkle the powder at the end of cooking). Today piment d’Espelette has become a favorite ingredient in contemporary cuisine throughout France. The Confrérie du Piment organizes an annual piment festival in Espelette, on the last weekend in October, and this year some 20,000 fans turned out to celebrate the country’s hottest AOC product.


Originally published in the December 2008 issue of France Today.

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