In spring, the streets, gardens and fields of the small village of Itxassou in the center of the French Basque region fill with the colors and scents of cherry blossoms. The trees are scattered around the orchards or at the edges of fields in Itxassou, from the valley floor up to the mountain flanks.
Many varieties of Itxassou cherries exist, including Peloa, Xapata and Belxa, as well as the rarer Markichta and Garoua.
Found along the edge of footpaths since the 12th century, the cherry trees used to represent an essential source of income to the local economy. Production peaked between 1850 and 1950, when during harvest time, a market would be held in the town square every day. Before the Second World War, annual production was around 300 tons.
Depending on the variety, the color of the skin ranges from red to brown and the flesh from pink to red. The fruit is rich in sugar, but also has a tart flavor and a slightly astringent note at the end, accompanied by a freshness with subtle notes of lemon.
The cherries are picked by hand in early June.
Itxassou cherries are excellent eaten fresh, but they are also used in various typical recipes, like jam, the traditional Gâteau Basque (a cake made from flour, eggs and butter and filled with pastry cream, or, in the older version, cherry jam), cherry syrup and sweet-and-sour cherries, served together with cured meats and local sheep’s milk cheeses. In many local restaurants, it accompanies duck breast.
The production techniques for the jam have been passed down through the generations and every family has its own recipe. The fruit is cooked in a large copper pot, and the main variation is the cooking time: Some prefer a short cooking to preserve the fruit’s original flavor and the sensory characteristics of each variety, while others prefer a slow, lengthy cooking, which gives the finished product a caramel flavor.
Si tratta delle tante varietà di ciliegie di Itxassou: la peloa, la xapata e la belxa, ma anche le più rare markichta e garoua.
Itxassou municipality, Pyrénées-Atlantiques department, Aquitaine region, northern Basque Country
Presidium supported by
European Leader and Feader projects, Aquitaine Regional Authority, Pyrénées-Atlantiques department, Arrapitz association
tel.: + 33 623197024
tel.: + 33 679312765
GAEC Itsas Mendi
Saint Pée sur Nivelle
tel.: + 33 660101874
tel.: + 33 608783196
tel.: + 33 616314483
tel.: +33 645562639
tel.: +33 677001641
tel.: +33 559298201
tel.: +33 559934106
Le Verger du Pas de Roland
tel.: +33 0672959246
Maison Uste Gabea
tel.: +33 647772693
tel.: +33 658031696
tel.: +33 682598796
Maison Iguzki alde
tel.: +33 686961966
In the center of the village, a confectioner-grower, Emile Harispourou, work with the Presidium cherries, making jams as well as an excellent Gâteau Basque.
Place du Fronton - Itxassou
tel. +33 559293274
Présidente de l’association Xapata
Elise Momas – EHLG