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The Peppers of Espelette
Being that the Basque Country is so synonymous with taste experiences of the highest order, we just couldn’t pass up the opportunity to pick one of the region’s rather more intriguing foodie towns as the focus of this bite-sized article.
Located only a hop, skip and jump across the Spanish border, tucked away in the south-westerly corner of France, the settlement of Espelette would be but a typical Labourd-looking village, were it not for the hundreds and thousands of bright red chili peppers hanging from almost every available alcove, eave and balcony for as far as the eye can see. But far from being a blot on this beauty spot, these dangling capsicums add a fascinatingly appealing twist to the idea of industrial pride – the peppers are, after all, one of the area’s main and most sought after exports, and this is something much celebrated by the people. In fact, so proud of these spicy little seedpods are they that a boisterous festival occurs in their honour every year.
Grown in these parts for centuries, the piquant pepper has been used in countless recipes, both traditional and otherwise. Classically used for the curing of Bayonne hams and lending a unique hit of hot sweetness to stews and soups, there has been a more ‘out there’ modern trend of adding the spice to sweeter dishes, making ordering a cup of hot chocolate or a slice of cake quite a risky gamble in this town. But, to refer back to that age old adage: If you can’t stand the heat, get out of Espelette.