Grown since the 16th century in the Basque Country of France, Espelette pepper soon became fashionable for use in savory and sweet dishes. Used as a substitute for pepper for generations, this medium-strength red chili pepper imported from the Americas is a source of pride for the Basques, and it received French Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée (AOC) status in 2000, followed by PDO status from the European Union in 2008. These labels guarantee the quality of these peppers with developed aromatic notes produced in only ten communes in the Basque Country region.
Only produce bearing the name “piment d’Espelette” or “piment d’Espelette - Ezpeletako biperra,” with Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) status, should be considered. This also applies to both the ground pepper and the fresh or dried pepper found in festoons. Espelette pepper should only be of the Gorria variety of chile pepper, which is grown in ten localities in the French Basque Country, including the villages of Espelette, Aïnhoa, and Itxassou. Ground Espelette pepper is found in French supermarkets, while the fresh produce is found in markets. On the first weekend of October, Espelette holds a festival in honor of this pepper.
Use a knife to remove the seeds and white ribs from the pepper. Then rinse under running water.
Espelette pepper should be added at the end of the cooking process.
Espelette pepper is not as fiery as other chile peppers (4 on the Scoville scale), but adds aroma and spiciness to sauces—such as piperade, a Basque specialty made from tomatoes and green bell peppers from the Landes region of France—to meat, fish, and shellfish dishes, and to goat cheese and vegetables. A pinch of this pepper can even perk up the flavor of cocktails and add a subtle lift to jams and jellies, chocolate fondants, fruit salads, and other entremets.
A fresh whole Espelette pepper can be stored in the refrigerator for about two weeks. By the festoon, fresh peppers should be kept in a dry place. A festoon of dried peppers can keep for several years. Ground Espelette pepper should be stored in a jar protected from air and moisture.
Espelette pepper has few calories and contains no fat. It also has traces of protein and carbohydrate.
Espelette pepper comes from the Capsicum annum family, the most common capsicum species that includes both bell and chile peppers, such as Landes green peppers (mild) and Cayenne pepper (hot).