P’tit Basque

Although it seems like it’s been around forever, Petit Basque is a baby. In more ways than one! This little bundle of joy only appeared on the market just 15 years ago in 1997. And weighing in at around 1¼ pounds, it’s a baby in size as well…

Petit Basque, (sometimes called P’tit Basque), was created by the large French dairy corporation Lactalis. It hails from the French side of the Pyrenees Mountains that form a natural border between Spain and France.

It is made using the same techniques that have been used by local shepherds for hundreds of years. This “Fromage de Brebis” is made from sheep’s milk that was set aside while the farmers were milking their ewes.

There are a number of other sheep’s milk cheeses from the area, but a key difference with Petit Basque is that it is much milder than many sheep cheeses which can be a bit too pungent for some. This is surely no accident. The producers/creators were mindful that it needed to have broad appeal, and have it, it does! Almost half of the Petit Basque produced, (and that’s around 400,000 pounds, or 320,000 wheels a year), are exported to the United States. Now that’s broad appeal!

Petit Basque is made from the uncooked, pasteurized, curds of ewe’s milk. It is pressed into molds, (giving it its characteristic Basque-et weave design), and then dried. It is brined and then cold aged for 70 days, and then it gets either a wax or thin plastic outer coating to prevent it from molding.

This allows the cheese to retain its soft, moist, texture, one of its many endearing qualities. The cheese is smooth, and has none of the “eyes” found In Swiss cheese. It has a nutty quality with notes of brown butter and caramel. Melted, it takes on headier aromas.

It is a welcome addition to any cheese platter. If you’re lucky enough to possess a Girolle, (traditionally used for cutting, or scraping, Tete de Moine), you can have a good old time going round and round, shaving endless ribbons off the wheel.

Petit Basque works well with fruit, especially apricots, peaches, and cherries; in the Basque region, you would find it paired with black cherry preserves.

Feel free to experiment with any variety of red wine as well; to see which combination suits you best. Whatever the choices, this is an easy cheese to love.

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