Piment d`Espelette is a special spice that is nifty and versatile. The plant is cultivated in the southwestern pat of France and the cultivation has a tradition that is hundreds of years old. Piment d`Espelette gives every dish the special kick.
Whether with fish, meat or for seasoning a sauce, Piment d’Espelette is a refined spice. And it’s also something special because the chilies from which it is made come from south western France. In the Basque Country, the cultivation has been a tradition for centuries. However, the plants have originate somewhere else.
Piment d’Espelette is made from the “Gorria” breed of chilies. Gorria belongs to the type capsicum annuum and has its origin in Mexico. Once it arrived in Basque County, it had already traveled some. It was the French sailors who brought home this chili strain. And the current region of Espelette offers indeed the best conditions: lots of sunshine! After all, the gorria wants to grow tall. On average, these bushes grow to heights of up to 1.5 meters and bear lots of fruit. It is not uncommon for it to bear more than twenty peppers. Above all, you cannot overlook them. The word “gorria” means nothing more than “red”. And this is exactly how the 13-14 cm long chilies with a rounded tip present themselves. The bright cinnamon red is hard to miss. The conical fruits are green at first and their color changes to red when they are ripe. In order to produce Piment d’Espelette, they are air dried for many days and then ground into the red powder. The production of Piment d'Espelette is extremely lucrative, so the cultivation areas in the Basque country have been constantly expanded. Nowadays the plants are grown and processed by about 140 farmers processed. Cultivation has thus become a tradition with economic weight over the centuries and the spice powder is sold from France to the whole world.
The plants thrive very well in the Basque Country of France - here they get enough sun to grow in the slightly acidic soil. But it is also possible to grow Gorria in the home garden and to produce your own Piment d'Espelette. It is best to begin breeding early in the year. Sowing can be carried out in February in order to achieve a long vegetation period. The best way to do this is to have a greenhouse and some cultivators. However, if you have no space in the garden, you can safely use a greenhouse. Because after the last frost, the seedlings should already be vital enough to be transplanted outdoor. A sunny place, but protected from rain, is particularly suitable. The Gorria plants do not tolerate too much moisture very well. Moreover, if the soil is too moist, it can lead to diseases. In addition, during growth, it may be necessary to support the shrubs. This also helps the plants to grow as tall as possible. Of course, the plant should be fertilized exclusively with vegetable material such as compost. Other than that, the weeds should be regularly removed – if the environment is right, growing Gorria is not challenging. Nevertheless, you should grow more plants in order to get as high as possible a yield. For this purpose, the plants can be arranged a bit offset, on several rows. From here on, it takes about 70 days until the chilies are ripe.
At the end of the ripening period, the sight of Gorria bushes is a real joy - not only for the French growers, but also for the passionate amateur gardener. As they ripen, the chilies change color gradually from green to red. If the peppers are at least 80% red, they can be harvested by hand. Afterwards, they can be used directly in food, put into oil or processed into Piment d'Espelette. However, this requires a very good harvest, as some chili pods are needed in order to produce a few grams of the gourmet spice. For that, the chilies must first be dried. For the drying to be as gentle as possible, they should be air dried. For this purpose, the chilies can be threaded on some string and hanged in a place with good airflow. The air should be as dry as possible to prevent mold. While the chilies dry, their color darkens to a strong reddish brown. This process takes about 20 days. Only then the full aroma unfolds in the peppers. After that, the stalks have to be removed and the dried chilies are shredded into flakes. Then they are ideal for grinding into Piment d'Espelette. Alternatively, they can be dried once again in the oven at a low temperature. This is done to remove any residual moisture. It is not necessary to remove the seeds and walls - they do not affect taste or heat. But the powder itself should be protected from moisture. For storage, it is recommended to use an airtight container or spice glass. The taste stays much longer this way!
The taste is what made Piment d’Espelette so popular and loved. It’s for good reason that those who try the spice will forever love it. Gourmet chefs around the world use the reddish brown powder as a refined ingredient and delight with it the palate of their guests. Piment d’Espelette is slightly milder than Cayenne pepper, but much more aromatic. Its taste reaches from fruity-sweet to spicy and shows some slight smoky notes. The heat is very modest. You can find it between 1500 and 2500 SHU on the Scoville scale. This is usually a little bit less than a typical tabasco sauce and is similar to a mild Sambal. Thus, the spice is suitable for “pepping up” various dishes.
As said, the chilis of the Gorria plants can not only be dried and processed to Piment d'Espelette. The pods are excellently pickled in garlic oil and can be enjoyed or filled with, for example, fresh cheese. Their juice is also processed into a fiery jelly in some regions. But, of course, the main focus is on the production of Piment d'Espelette. Thus far, only the powder coming from the original cultivating region may be called Piment d’Espelette. The name has been protected for decades, and for good reason: it can only be proven with the certificate of authenticity that all quality features are adhered to so that the customer gets a high quality product. Above all, it is a very versatile product! Thanks to its long cultivation tradition, Piment d'Espelette is an integral part of traditional Basque cuisine. It is an important ingredient for the regional traditional meals, such as the piperade. This is a special paprika omlette with sautéed tomatoes, onions and garlic, which can be enjoyed wonderfully with fried Bayonne ham. In general, Piment d'Espelette often replaces black pepper in the Basque cuisine - this way the dishes taste a bit more peppy. Thanks to its moderate heat, you can easily prepare mild dips, such as a sweet Chilli dip with Piment d'Espelette, and use it to season other dishes. Whether meat, fish or even seafood - the spice powder lends each dish receives a fine, subtle and very pleasant heat. This can be seen quite clearly in the area where it is cultivated: after all, dried ham and dried salami have been sold here since forever, and they come rubbed with the red Chilli powder. Even cheese can be beautifully refined with Piment d'Espelette. Your sweet-tooth can also look forward to the fine aroma of the Gorria chili. The popular spice has also been used for the production of chocolate since the 17th century. Marmalade can also be rediscovered thanks to Piment d’Espelette.
Piment d'Espelette is a special spice which has not only shaped the international gourmet kitchen. With its long cultivation tradition in the Espelette region, it has gained a high place in the daily life of the inhabitants. Above all, the region is of great economic importance. It is one of the most important cultivators in the hilly landscape. And this is reason enough to honor it once a year with a great festival - namely the Fete du Piment. The festival was held for the first time in 1967 and today it doesn’t only attract traders and residents from the surrounding area, but also tourists are coming to this chili spice’s party. Because on the last weekend of October, in Espelette there is lots of partying and things to try. During the festival, you can find farmers which introduce their product and let you taste it on every street and in every alley. But next to all the goodies, there’s also music, dance and good will. Above all, there is a lot to see, because everything is decorated with chilies. Whether it’s strings hanging from houses or table decorations or made into the coat of arms of the city of Espelette – the peppers are everywhere.
Those who don’t want to travel the long road to the Basque Country or can’t wait for the harvest festival in October, can get Piment d’Espelette at the well-stocked specialist trade. You can find the more than just the ground spice in the Pepperworld Hot Shop. You can find the seeds, spice mixes which are already combined with the noble Bayonne salt and for example also the puree made from these aromatic chili peppers. So there is a lot to discover, as Piment d’Espelette is suitable for almost every taste.
Gourmet mix of coarse Bayonne salt with Piment d'Espelette. Fantastic for cooking and for seasoning at the table
A very delicate and fine taste: mustard refined with Espelette chili! Medium hot and very aromatic, a pleasure not only for BBQs.
A think and spicy puree from the highly aromatic Piment d'Espelette chili - extremely tasty on bread, for grilling, for sauces…