My name is Denise Cazenave. I'm in my fifties, and I work in partnership with my son Andoni at GAEC FAGALDEA [the FAGALDEA Joint Farming Group]. I moved to the farm following the accidental death of my brother, who was a farmer. I have always liked gardening and looking after plants, and I wanted to turn that interest into a profession.
After passing my BTS [Higher Technical Certificate] in agricultural techniques (1985), I worked as a dairy cow technician for 20 years. In 2005, thanks to support from my husband and my children, and help from my parents and neighbours, I summoned up the energy to continue production at Fagaldia because ending operations in the family business proved to be too painful for me. Despite the doubts, the arduousness of the work and the long hours, I carried on and made the work less physically demanding by making some investments in it.
The advent of my son as a partner (after GAEC FAGALDEA had been created) in 2011 has allowed me to focus again on the production of Espelette pepper, while he takes care of the animals.
My mother handed down to me all the ancestral recipes, which I still reproduce today when making my jellies or other pepper recipes. As for my father, he passed on to me the age-old ways of forecasting the weather (especially regarding hail) by observing the natural world and the behaviour of the animals. For example, if a sheep goes off to graze in a rather sheltered place, near a forest, it is sure to rain during the day. Conversely, if the sheep are outside and they move a long way from the farm, the weather promises to be fine.
As for the farm work, in March I sow the pepper seeds that I selected during the previous harvest. In April, these seedlings are pricked out into clumps in a greenhouse when they have two seed leaves. In May, the peppers are planted in the open field. The following months are devoted to manual weeding, staking and path maintenance. From late August until 1st December, the peppers are harvested manually as and when they turn red.
Once the peppers have been gathered in, they are next sorted, spread out on racks (for ripening that allows the aromas to develop over at least 15 days), manually hulled, placed in the drying oven and ground down, and the chili powder is then vacuum-packed. These operations are carried out before evaluation by the organoleptic committee, which certifies that each batch of chilli meets the PDO specification criteria as regards the grinding, colour, aroma and intensity of its spicy flavour.