Friday, October 21, 2011

Petite Basque

P'Tit Basque is a French sheep milk cheese produced in the Pyrenees Mountains that form the border with Spain. This mountainous region is the home to both goat and sheep herders but it is the sheep cheeses that are the most noteworthy, namely Idiazabal and the famous Ossau-Iraty also produced in this area. 

The french word for sheep is brebis, and the cheeses are known as "fromage de brebis". Traditionally, shepherds made this small cheese from a little curd set aside after milking their ewes. It is still hand-made from pure ewe's milk, using the same traditional methods established by local shepherds centuries ago. 

P'Tit Basque was first produced commercially in 1997 and is a raw, semi-soft cheese. The curds are pressed into small round molds and dried. Aged for about seventy days then coated with a thin plastic skin that keeps them from drying out and prevents the appearance of mold on the natural rind. 

The paste is butter colored and smooth, with brown butter and caramel aromas reminiscent of creme brulee. The cheese is creamy on the tongue, and as it melts, sweet and salty flavors merge. Since P'Tit Basque is only aged for seventy days it has a mild flavor. P'tit Basque is perfect to start your sheep milk cheese adventures. From here you can move onto more aged sheep cheeses like the famous Ossau-Iraty, Manchego and Pecorino Toscanos which have more complex and sheepy flavors. This little cheese will not disappoint you with its mild flavor and aroma.

In France's Basque region, restaurants often serve sheep's milk cheese with black cherry preserves, an appealing juxtaposition of salty and sweet. 
P'Tit Basque pairs well with Beajolais, Grenache, Burgundy, Bordeaux, Madiran, or Tempranillo would be another good choice.

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