Basque country, or Euskal Herria, is a tiny region comprising seven provinces around the Pyrenees mountains between France and Spain. It’s a long way from Northern Nevada, where a generations-old Basque community has played a significant role in local development.
The Basques are known as “Europe’s Indians,” because their language and culture are said to be more ancient than others in Europe, according to the University of Nevada, Reno’s Basques in Nevada project. Their impact in Nevada is rooted in the gold rush era, when young Basques joined other immigrants moving through the Sierras to find a life working in mines or as sheepherders. Basque laborers proved a big boost to the sheep industry in the region, and it’s estimated there were at least 2 million sheep grazing the Nevada Sierras in the Basque heyday, prior to the end of World War II.
Of course, Basque communities didn’t just tend the herds. They also developed hotels in the region, where couples or families gathered around large tables for hearty meals with wine or Picon Punch and games of cards (mus) or handball (pelota). Those gatherings evolved into festivals that still occur today, full of food and fun competitions such as stone-lifting and sheep-hooking. The National Basque Festival is set for July 4-6 in Elko (find information at exploreelko.com).
In downtown Gardnerville, the J.T. Basque Bar and Restaurant (gardnervillebasquerestaurant.com) serves lamb shoulder, sweetbreads and pig’s feet alongside burgers, fries and steaks, maintaining traditional fare and a family-oriented environment. There’s even Basque music on the jukebox.