The Basque Cheeses That Shall Remain Nameless

20 05 2009

This may come as a shock, but I have no fromagerie in the immediate vicinity of my apartment.  (What?  In Paris?  Yes.  I do have about a dozen Pho places to choose from, though, so I guess it evens out.)  So if I want something more esoteric than the local Monoprix has to offer, I have to venture out to other neighborhoods.  This is how I ended up at the Fromagerie Secrétan, located on (here’s a shocker) Avenue Secrétan in the 19th arrondissement.  Secrétan is a laid-back  market street, with a handful of primeurs hawking fruits and vegetables, a couple poissonniers and boucheries for your flesh-consuming needs, not to mention bakeries, traiteurs, and a full covered market as well.  Heading over there after work one afternoon last week, I was pretty sure that I would find at least one cheese shop open.  And I did. 

I asked the cheerful owner if he had any Basque cheeses, and he eagerly pointed me to three very similar wheels.  The first, Ossau-Iraty, I know well.  It is a deliciously smooth sheep’s milk cheese which gets its firm texture from pressing and aging as opposed to cooking.  Ossau-Iraty is nearly always accompanied by black cherry jam, which is a great match for its salty, rich tang (though other applications are acceptable).  The cheese next to it had no label, but was described as a more aged Ossau-Iraty.  Ok, I’ll try a wedge of that.  Moving on down the shelf, there was a third wheel, much whiter in color, labeled simply, “Brebis-Chèvre.”  So this one is like Ossau-Iraty except made with both sheep’s and goat’s milk.  (Are you sensing a pattern here?)

Ossau-Iraty variations

Stéphane, the proprietor, wrapped my two non-Ossau-Iraty cheeses in paper printed with the shop’s silly logo and sent me on my merry way – across the street to the wine shop.  (The overstuffed mouse is thinking that he loves all the cheeses too much.  Kiffe is apparently an old-fashioned slang term that may be enjoying a revival – think “groovy” around the time the Brady Bunch Movie came out – and describes a sudden, intense, uncontrollable love.  Wait, that sounds dirty.)

But about the cheeses.  The aged one (creamy yellow in the photo) tasted as you might expect an older Ossau- to taste – similar, but mellower, nuttier, and more savory.  The goat one (lighter with small holes) surprised bothNick and me with its unusual flavor.  And I mean that in a good way.  It had a definite goaty tang rounded out by a slight pleasant mustiness.  I had purchased a wine that claimed to be good with cheeses from the Pyrenées, but once we started eating, the thought of wine didn’t even enter our heads.  That’s saying something.

Originally published on Croque-Camille.

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