Basque Knife Maker: Calico Forge

Andy Franco recently learned of his Basque roots and, since then, he has really immersed himself into all things Basque he could.  A blacksmith, who owns Calico Forge in Nampa, Idaho, he was an integral part of the recent exhibit at the Basque Museum in Boise on Basque whaling.  Andy forged the harpoons and other implements, including the lamps, that are part of the display.  He has also contributed to local fundraisers, making some beautiful lauburus and other Basque-related items, some of which are also for sale at the gift shop at the Basque Museum.

Since I learned of his efforts at the Basque Museum, Andy and I have become friends and I wanted to take this opportunity to let everyone know about his new website, Calico Forge, where some of his knife work is on display.  Right now, he doesn’t have any of his Basque related items on his site, but maybe soon, we can convince him to share some of that wonderful work too!

Big Happenings in Euskal Herria

This past week, there have been two major events in the Basque Country.

First, on Sunday, March 1, elections where held in the Basque Country (as well as other parts of Spain) for the Basque Parliament, the body that governs in the Basque Autonomous Community (BAC) comprised of Bizkaia, Gipuzkoa, and Araba.  Since the formation of the BAC shortly after Franco’s death, the Basque Nationalist Party (PNV-EAJ) has held power in the Parliament.  On Sunday, while they still won more seats than any other party, they didn’t capture a majority.  What’s more, a combination of parties that are not Basque nationalist in outlook, including the PSE-EE and PP, do hold a majority, and could elect the first non-nationalist, non-PNV-EAJ lehendakari (president) of the BAC since it’s formation.  What this will mean for a number of Basque-related issues is unclear, including language policy, the proposed referendum for self-determination, and so forth.  What is clear is that things will be different in the BAC in the future.  There is a lot of talk about what this means for the future of the BAC; see here, here or here.

Second, Athletic Bilbao, the only team in all of the European primer leagues to not hire foreign players, won their match against Sevilla 3-0, putting the team in the Copa del Rey final on May 13, where they will play Barcelona.  This is the first time since 1985 that Athletic Bilbao will be in the Spanish championship (they last won it in 1984).  Barca last won in 1998 and holds 24 total Copa del Rey championships.  Bilbao holds 23 or 24, depending on how you count.  So, the winner of this final, again depending on how you count, could be the holder of the most Copa del Rey championships ever.  The next couple of months will be very exciting.  For more details about the match between Bilbao and Sevilla, see, for example, this article or this one. Aupa Athletic!

Home Made Chorizo

(At left, chorizo filler meat.) If you go to any Basque event in the US, one thing you will always find is chorizo. In Boise, instead of hotdog vendors, they sell chorizo on the street corners. And there are a number of meat packers that mass produce Basque-style chorizo. But, in my opinion, nothing beats home-made.

My dad has been making his own chorizo for maybe 20 years now.  He never had time when I was a kid, but once I was off to college, he started making both chorizo and ham, in the jamon serrano style.  Both are excellent and he and the guys he makes them with have gained a reputation.  The annual chorizo-making effort has grown and is an event in and of itself.

(The vets — Tony, Ramon and my dad Pedro — with the final product.) Even though I’ve had the luxury of feasting on dad’s chorizo and ham for a while now, I’ve never actually participated in helping make them.  This year, during the Christmas holidays when we were visiting Idaho, I finally got a chance.  A six-man crew, including my dad, Tony Larrocea, Ramon Ocamica (the veteran crew), Steve Zatica, Rick Uria, and Stan Zatica, met at Rick’s shop.  A few days earlier, they had mixed together the meat.  I unfortunately missed this all-important step, so I don’t have a good feel for what the “secret” recipe is.  Suffice it to say that I did learn that they use the legs so as to ensure that there is enough meat in the filling.  On the day I showed up, they had 5 buckets of filling ready for stuffing in the casings.  And away we went.

Tony and Stan, at left, manned the stuffer, filling the casings with the chorizo meat.  Rick, Ramon, and Steve tied the filled casing into sausage-length segments with string.  I helped a bit with that and with poking the casings with a safety pin to release any trapped air.  My dad, as his legs were bothering him, began preparing the feast we would enjoy afterwards.

I don’t remember now how long we were there, but it was the better part of the afternoon into the evening.  I’m guessing I was there for something like 5 hours (and I arrived a bit late too).  I think, all told, they made 300 pounds of chorizo, about 60 pounds each (I think Tony donated his services for the evening).  Once we were done, we had a feast fitting of the Basques, consisting of port ribs, solomo (pork loin prepared Basque style), home-made bread, courtesy of Teresa, Tony’s wife, and stew, all accompanied by good drink.  We topped off the meal with several desserts, courtesy of Rick’s family. It was an excellent way to end the day and celebrate our efforts.

(The full crew — Tony, Rick, Ramon, Pedro, and Steve, standing, and Stan, kneeling — at right.) Once the chorizos were finished, they let them sit in the shop, slightly heated (maybe 70 degrees, I think), for a few days to dry out.  Again, I was lucky enough to still be in town to get to try a few, just a few days after they were made.  And they were excellent!  One of the best batches yet.  Dad made sure to send me home with enough to tide me over until the next time I make it back to Homedale.

The whole experience was great.  While I’m a carnivore, and enjoy meat, I’m not a hunter, and have never really participated in any way in the production, if you will, of the food I eat.  So, it was a good experience for me to get into the nitty-gritty, at least a little, and help make one of my favorite foods.  They always say that one thing you should never observe is how sausage is made.  And, while I missed the step that is most likely the origin of that saying, I definitely became even more appreciative of chorizo and what goes into making them.

Eskerrik asko, jaunak!  Thanks for letting me take part!

Bombing of EiTB

This morning (11AM Bilbao time), ETA set off a car bomb at the headquarters of EiTB, the Basque radio/television company. It appears that no one was hurt, as there was a warning.  More information can be found on EiTB’s website.

I can’t understand what would motive such an attack.  EiTB is one of the most important institutions for the promotion of Euskara and, while they maybe could do some things better, they are also crucial for the survival of Euskara.  I just don’t understand.

My thoughts are with those of EiTB.  I hope that this does not deter any of them from their important work.

Interview with Mikel Morris

Some of you may recognize the name Mikel Morris.  He has written the definitive Basque-English dictionary, the Morris Student Plus. Mikel, born in the United States, has lived in the Basque Country since 1978.  As part of his efforts to live in Euskadi, he created the Morris Academy, an English language school in Zarautz.

As a foreigner who has immersed himself in to Basque culture and Euskara, he has a unique perspective on the language. In this interview, Mikel describes his tribulations in getting his dictionary published, shares his thoughts on the Basque government’s policy regarding Euskara, and teases us with hints on his next project, the Morris Magnum, which promises to be the largest bilingual Basque dictionary yet.

Mikel is very blunt in his observations of the state of Euskara, not because he is in any way anti-Basque, but because of the opposite, because of his love for the language, because of his desire to see Euskara not only survive but thrive.

This interview is the first in a series of interviews with Mikel.

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