Basque Fact of the Week: La Vina and Burnt Basque Cheesecake

Our night in the Parte Vieja started off at a cocktail bar, Arraun, where everyone else (I’m a beer and kalimotxo drinker) had some of the fanciest drinks I’ve seen in quite a while. It was cool to find such a non-traditional spot in the heart of all of these pintxo bars. But, really, those pintxo bars were the main attraction and we hit several of them, with one highlight being La Viña where the now famous burnt Basque cheesecake was created. It is amazing that what is now a global phenomenon started off at this little spot in the Parte Vieja!

Lisa and I outside of La Vina. Our daughter is in the background, enjoying the cheesecake.
  • La Viña opened in the Parte Vieja of Donostia in 1959 as a pintxo bar. The first owners were Eladio Rivera, Carmen Jiménez, Antonio Rivera and Conchi Hernáez – Eladio and Carmen were husband and wife, as were Antonio and Conchi. Today, La Viña is run by Santiago “Santi” Rivera, Eladio and Carmen’s son, who joined the family business in 1987. He took over La Viña in 1997.
  • Santi created what would become known as burnt Basque cheesecake not long after he started in the family business, in the 1988. Through classes, he was familiar with some ingredients that were less common in the Basque Country. And he had free range of the kitchen on off days and would experiment. He went with a minimalist approach, partially because there simply wasn’t enough space in the bar’s kitchen to store so many ingredients. His classic cheesecake only contains 5 ingredients: cream cheese, eggs, cream, sugar, and flour.
  • His cheesecake doesn’t have a crust – just the burnt shell from cooking the cake at “too high” of a temperature. This was done in part because he didn’t want the distraction of a chewy/crunchy crust – he wanted the cake itself to be everything, to melt in your mouth.
  • It was in 1997 that, following the advice of another chef, he stopped storing the cheesecake in the fridge and left it out to sit on the counter, letting it keep its lighter texture.
  • La Viña has been serving Santi’s cheesecake for decades. But it is only in the last few years, with the influx of tourists, that burnt Basque cheesecake has become a world-wide phenomenon. In 2020, the New York Times named it the flavor of the year for 2021.
  • Santi and his team are currently building a bakery to make their cheesecake, but it won’t be shipped. Santi says the cheesecake is best eaten with 36 hours of being made. He isn’t willing to sacrifice the unique flavor and quality for greater profits.

Primary sources: La Vina’s webpage; The story behind Basque burnt cheesecake, National Geographic; The True Story Behind Burnt Basque Cheesecake—and the Pintxo Bar That Created It, Condé Nast Traveler

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