Getaria, Basque Country. Home to members of the Spanish Armada, Spanish explorers, haute couture fashion designer Cristobal Balenciaga, and the reason for our visit, Anchoas Maisor.
Just one of many examples of how beautiful the Basque Coast is, this quaint port village is breath-taking. As the bus wove through the mountains and along the ocean, it finally dropped us off at the top of the cliff. As we walked down the steps and towards the port, the clouds opened up and the sun came out. What a beautiful day it turned out to be!
Although they produce several preserved fish products such as sardines and bonito, they are most known for their salt cured Anchoas (pictured right), and Boquerones which are only preserved in vinegar (pictured left). Maisor anchovies are of the highest quality for several reasons. First, they come from Getaria, fished from the Bay of Biscay. They’re called Anchoas del Cantábrico, or the scientific name, Engraulis Encrasicolus, which distiguishes them from other anchovy varieties. The fish come fresh off the port and directly into processing. Second, they are hand-made on premises, and it’s an extremely laborious process.
The salt cured anchoas are brought in from the port, heads ripped off, and packed into large barrels. One layer of fish, one layer of salt, packed down as much as possible, and repeat until the barrel is full. The anchoas cure for 7 to 8 months maximum. Then comes the hard part. The anchoas are cleaned one by one, cut in half, and the bones removed, every singly tiny one. Finally, they are meticulously placed in glass jars and covered in a neutral oil so as not to impart any other flavors. Because production happens on premises, you can catch a glimpse of the women at work through a window in the store. There are only about four or five of them but boy are they are fast!
Just a taste, or two, or three. You know, quality control. They definitely pack a salty punch and have this incredible depth of flavor. A little goes a long way in a pasta sauce, mayo, dressing, or just as is on the traditional pintxo of anchoa, guindilla, and olive. They add that extra umami factor. The boquerones, which are only pickled in vinegar for 12 hours, are much milder and easier to eat on their own. They are quite addicting actually.
Itsas Mendi also sells other high quality Spanish and Basque products from olive oils, vinegars, preserved and pickled items, to Txakoli, a type of white wine that has a Denomination of Origin from Getaria.
Aside from the bangin’ anchoas, I love how passionate everyone there is. One of the women who prepares the anchoas came in to start her shift and stopped to talk to us for a minute. She told us about a time she was at the bar with friends munching on anchoas. They were so good that she had to ask what kind they were. Turns out they were Maisor. She thought to herself “Of course they are.” Her pride was evident.
After Itsas Mendi we walked around Getaria a bit. What an adorable town.
I’m fascinated by the doors in Basque Country. Is that weird? They are so beautiful!