Gastronomic Society in Northern Spain where friends gather to cook, drink and oocasionally brust into song.
Gastronomic Societies became popular in the mid-19th Century, in the Basque town of San Sebastian, the culinary capital of Spain. They developed as a result of the movement of people from the countryside to the cities, and the subsequent decline of the rural cider bars. It was in these sidrerías that people got together to exchange news and enjoy food and drink. The gastronomic societies, known as Txokos in the Basque dialect, became the urban replacement.
Basque society is strongly matriarchal, with women controlling the finances and running the home with a firm hand. Txokos were places for the men to escape from their wives, and enjoy the company of other men while they cooked, drank, sang and discussed their news. Even today, many gastronomic societies do not allow entry to women, and those which do very rarely allow a woman into the kitchen to cook.
The gastronomic societies are still at the heart of Basque culture, and there are around 120 txokos in San Sebastian today. One of the main characteristics of a Gastronomic Society is that the members are the ones that cook. Normally they start the day with a visit to the market to source the ingredients, and finish with the cleaning up of the kitchen.
There is a tradition of singing together in the Basque Country and it is usual to find cuadrillas of all ages singing after, or even during, lunch.
There are many advantages of being a member of a Society. The group normally have common interests (sports, music, racing, etc); as all members are owners they can spend as much time as they like in the society even if they are not spending money; drinks are cheap and there is no closing time.
Societies are based on mutual trust between the members as they all hold the door key and can enter whenever they wishFor this reason, new members must be introduced by old members, and there is normally the right to refuse admission. However each society has their own regulations.
During the 1970s, many families from the Basque Country went to La Rioja during their holidays. One group of friends decided to look for a place to meet and enjoy food and wine while they were in La Rioja. With this idea in mind they bought a “merendero” (name given to the societies in the region of La Rioja) in the town of Ollauri, where they would meet to cook and enjoy food and wine. At the beginning, they bought wine from other wineries, however they soon decided to make their own wines, for which they bought some land, planted vineyards, and started to build a winery, naming it Beronia. Some of the original founders of the winery are still involved in the company, and they visit Beronia frequently, to continue to enjoy good food and wine.
Continuing the close links between the winery and San Sebastian, Bodegas Beronia has teamed up with the San Sebastian Food Cooking School, the leading culinary space for food lovers in the Basque capital.
The state of the art Beronia Cooking School is located in the city’s iconic Hotel Maria Cristina. This innovative concept, brainchild of Jon Warren a San Sebastian resident, is fast becoming the meeting place for all foodies, bon viveurs and those who have a love of good food and wine.
A variety of courses are on offer from Japanese cookery, baking and pastry courses and mixology, to classes on the art of conserving, making your own charcuterie and wine appreciation. The objective is to give guests a closer understanding of gastronomy and wine, tailored to their level of knowledge and expertise. Those attending the school can also enjoy themed dinners and learn about the history of Basque cuisine at specific show cookery sessions.
Bodegas Beronia is fortunate to have the support of some of the most renowned local chefs and food producers for this new experience, including; Edorta Lamo from A Fuego Negro, Parrillada (Bar Zazpi), Ismael Iglesias from Kata 4, Ander Esarte at Restaurante Txuleta, Sonia Tapias, Josean Calvo from Bar Zeruko, Kenji Sushi and Cristina Ibáñez. There is also an international influence thanks to the participation of chef Ash Mair, winner of UK Masterchef 2011 and contributor to the BBC Good Food magazine.
If you are visiting San Sebastian, our Friends at San Sebastian Food can show you an authentic txoko experience, but even if you are not in the Basque región, the Beronia txoko experience can now be enjoyed around the world. Cookery classes, tastings and all manner of food and wine events are being run around the world. Cooking clases, themed txoko evenings in restuarants and sampling at food festivals are all on offer.