Long red chilies of moderate heat, AOP piments d’Espelette have a lovely taste that gives Basque dishes their je ne sais quoi. Like chocolate (see chocolat chaud for a bit of history) they came to the Basque Lands from the New World and have been planted in and around Espelette since at least 1650.
Women were the first to cultivate them as a replacement for then-very expensive black pepper, and they thrived in the sunny, warm and wet micro-climate of the Basque hills.
Surprisingly they nearly disappeared in the 1980s; local producers in 1993 formed a union to grow, perfect and promote them, and in 2000 they were designated AOC, and AOP two years later.
In the late summer they are sun dried on strings across the façades of the pretty white houses in Espelette and the other nine comunes of the AOP area, then are sold dried on strings or ground into a powder (poudre) sold in little jars all across France.
Images by Pinpin on Wikimedia Commons, Sébastien Bertrand