On a recent trip to Paris I was surprised to find that piment d'Espelette had made its way into the kitchens at Taillevent, Le Bristol and Alain Ducasse au Plaza. France's only homegrown chile pepper had been virtually unknown outside the Pyrenees, but its reputation has evidently spread since it won an appellation d'origine contrôlée last year, announcing that it is unique and worth protecting.
Piment d'Espelette has a fiery kick, but its heat is less fearsome than that of many other chiles, and its sweetness reminds you that peppers are first a vegetable, then a spice. The name is taken from the Basque village of Espelette, where the peppers have been grown, the legend goes, since Columbus brought them back from Haiti. In late summer, garlands of them hang on every whitewashed house in town, drying in the sun. Ground to a powder, piment d'Espelette replaces black pepper in local cooking.