During these 12 years one of the private tours I have done more often in San Sebastian are pintxos tours. On this (normally half day tours) we go to different bars, trying different specialties. Since I love sweets, and it is a gastronomic practice, I have always wanted to end the tours with a sweet pintxo. I usually suggest two exquisite options. Nowadays my favourites are the Burnt Basque Cheesecake and ice cream.

When I started making food tours my favs were: the Cheesecake from Bar La Viña and the so-called Bob Limón from Bar Zeruko. The latter was a very interesting place because it offered spherifications and used other haute cuisine techniques in their pintxos. It is a shame that Bar Zeruko has disappeared, and that others have not assumed the continuity of those creative practices of Joxean Calvo. It has been the bar that has provided the most innovation in pintxos in the entire Basque Country, in my opinion. I remember the False Tomato, La Hoguera, La Rosa…

Since I started working as a private and personalized tour guide in the Basque Country, until about 7 or 8 years ago (around 2015 or 2016), the Cheesecake of the Viña was not very in demand. My guests when facing the options, they mainly asked to know and taste the pintxo Bob Limón. This creative pintxo had won the Guipúzcoa championship in 2010 and was a surprise for my clients. It was a surprise because of its flavor and also because it was a trompe l’oeil created by chef Joxean Calvo.

On the plate you saw a fried egg with a piece of chorizo and a piece of bread, a txistorra (Basque chorizo) with a small flower decoration. But you really tasted an exquisite airy lemon sponge cake (the bread), a citrus cream with its spherification of passion fruit (the fried egg), a raspberry marzipan (the txistorra), and you finished the ceremony with the Sichuan flower, that worked wonders in the mouth. I still remember fondly the pleasant impression that a woman who had not eaten sugar for years because of her strict diet had with this pintxo as she decided to try this sweet, after the strong requests to do so by her husband.

La Viña Burnt Basque Cheesecake

La Viña Cheesecake or Burnt Basque Cheesecake

Santiago Rivera, the second generation in this bar, created the cheesecake for Bar La Viña in 1990. Santiago commented on a gastronomic program on Basque television ETB that he even recorded a video of La Viña’s cheesecake on DVD and given it to his clients… Santiago Rivera commented: “Making the recipe known helped us motivate people to make it and that the interest of public grew little by littleI have always started from the rules of Basque cuisine… used to transmitting the ideas of a work done at home.” Bar La Viña did not maintain the exclusivity of the innovation of its recipe, nor was it a secret to anyone. The New Basque cuisine has as its norm the transmission of recipes, seeking to make the culture of cooking popular.

Since then it began to be known by lovers of desserts, like me, but it also became known by regulars at the bar, including French, and by some chefs from other countries such as Anthony Bourdain. The La Viña cheesecake was increasingly requested by tourists visiting San Sebastián. In 2008, a version of the Basque cake was already made in New York and a different cheesecake appeared in 2009 in Melbourne. Around 2012, when I was starting out as a tour guide, the cafes in Istanbul already had their version called “tart of San Sebastian cheese”.

The blast of different imitations of this dessert was little known in the Basque Country, at least by Basque society. Although it is very possible that it was known by the gastronomic world.

I remember in 2013, when Phil Vittel of the Chicago Tribune called it “the best cheesecake I’ve ever had“. The North American journalist tasted it in the versions of two Chicago chefs who had discovered the cake during their visit to the Basque Country. It began to reach my ears that in addition to the United States, the Basque Burnt Cheesecake had already gained his space in Turkey and Japan’s sweet shops and restaurants. But where I felt the success of the cake best was when I started to notice the interest of my private tour guests in San Sebastian, who requested my help in designing and accompaniment on their pintxo tours. Many of my clients were from the countries I just mentioned.

The best thing about Bar La Viña is that it not only has an excellent cheesecake, but also an exquisite pintxo menu, making it an ideal bar that I suggest incorporating into any pintxo tour of San Sebastián or the Basque Country.

In front of Bar La Viña

In front of Bar La Viña, San Sebastian, Basque Country, Spain

No one is a prophet in his land would be the biblical saying that best fits this famous Basque dessert. After achieving some international fame, in September 2015 La Viña obtained the “Más Gastronomía” Award from the Diario Vasco Group for being the best pintxo bar in San Sebastián. And it began this way his journey through the Basque and Spanish journalistic and television media. Meanwhile it also continued in the media in Japan, Turkey, the United Kingdom, the USA… Of course, social networks like Instagram, or other media like the Internet, TripAdvisor, Lonely Planet,… have also done their job as promoters of the success of this tasty Basque dessert.

In 2018, Burnt Basque cheesecake was already famous worldwide.

From 2017 to 2019, information about his success appeared in media such as the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Bon Apetit, Taste, The Guardian or The Sunday Times. The different versions of the original recipe are also disseminated in many ways: master classes, gastronomic recipe books, homemade recipes, among other ways. It flourished in new cities: Paris (France), Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia), Copenhagen (Denmark), Sydney (Australia), Singapore… A Malaysian blogger would claimed it as its favorite of the Malaysian dessert scene. And The New York Times qualified as flavor of the year 2021 to the Basque cheesecake; according to the journalist Kim Severso “its flavor can be perfect for a birthday cake”. In 2023, their versions of La Viña cheesecake are already being offered in Korea, China,… and many other countries. Even in tourism magazines they are recommended!

In the Basque Country and Spain, the cake was disseminated by the most important press and TV media, especially those specialized in gastronomy. In 2019 I learned from my fellow tour guides that Woody Allen visited La Viña in July, when he began filming his film dedicated to San Sebastián. However, even in Basque and Spanish society that success was not so overwhelming. Before the coronavirus pandemic, my visitors were surprised by the difficulty on tasting Basque cheesecakes when eating in other bars and restaurants in the Basque Country, even on those of San Sebastián. And they were surprised to hear from me that for Basques, baked cheesecake, like the one at Bar La Viña, is not considered something typical Basque at all. In any case, it’s only typical of that bar.

Aitor Delgado invites you to a Burnt Basque Cheesecake from La Viña

Aitor Delgado is waiting for you to taste a tasty Burnt Basque Cheesecake at La Viña

There are still many Donostiarras born and fed (as the citizens of San Sebastián are called) who still do not know that cake at all, and also many Basques. A few days ago, the clerk of a clothing store in Donostia told me about the surprise she had thanks to some American friends who came to visit her. Her friends told the Donostia born woman that there was a super-good cheesecake in the Old Town of San Sebastián (referring to La Viña) and the saleswoman told me that when she went, she actually loved it but only discovered it thanks to her friends! If you ask to a San Sebastian citizen what is the most typical San Sebastian dessert, except for those of us who work in tourism, very few will mention cheesecake. They will speak about the Pantxineta (which is a thousand leaves with cream and cream, with almonds on top).

Or maybe the Basque Cake, which, as the name itself indicates, is autochthonous, traditional and popular (it is also known as Gâteau Basque, Etxeko biskotxa or Euskal pastela). This last one, the Basque Cake was created in Lapurdi, French Basque Country, in the Middle Ages. Goxua, Cigarrillos Rellenos, Carolina… they may also come to that list as they are also traditional in the Basque Country in general. But the cheesecake would not be on that list made by a local of traditional Basque desserts, neither for the people of San Sebastian, nor for any Basque from the Spanish or French part.

It is a very interesting case. A foreign reference to the excellent quality of a local product makes us, the Basques, to begin to identify it as part of our culture. A very interesting phenomenon! A clear example of how tourism can modify the perception or valuation of a population of its local products, based on how foreign visitors or visitors from other regions value them.

Currently we find various versions of Bar La Viña cheesecake in many bars and restaurants of Basque and Spanish gastronomy. It was time! Burnt Basque cheesecake is an exquisite dessert. I have no doubt that soon he will be acknowledged as one of the traditional Basque sweets. Meanwhile, I will continue savoring them and recommending them to my clients.

Aitor Delgado invites you to a Burnt Basque Cheesecake

Aitor Delgado invites you to a Burnt Basque Cheesecake at La Viña

August 31, 2023