#004 – Cheese Matching continued, Plus A Unique Trip To Southern Spain.
As the cheese matching mini-series continues we take on a trip to France for our cheese, to Corsica (yes I know we’ve been here before but…) for our accompaniment and to Spaghetti Western country (yes, you read that right) in Spain to check out some cracking products. So let’s get started with the first of our trips this week…
Tomme de Brebis Ossau-Iraty AOP Cheese with Corsican Black Cherry & Thyme Confit.
Ok, let’s start by clearing up a few myths here. Firstly the word ‘Tomme’ is the generic name for a soft or semi-soft cheese made in the Alps region and in Switzerland, from cow, sheep or goat milk, and it’s typically low fat content. That said, Tommes are normally produced from the skimmed milk left over after the cream has been removed to produce butter and richer cheeses, or when there is too little milk to produce a full cheese. There are many varieties of Tommes, which are usually identified by their place of origin. The most famous of these is Tomme de Savoie. Other Tommes include Tomme Boudane, Tomme au Fenouil, Tomme de Crayeuse, Tomme d’Aydius, Tomme de Grandmère, Tomme Affinée and Tomme du Revard. Tomme de Montagne is a collective term for the upland varieties.
And whilst Tomme refers to soft cheese the word “Brebis” is French for “ewe”…and this is where the similarities end, because our Tomme de Brebis Ossau-Iraty AOP is a semi hard ewe’s cheese from another mountainous region i.e. the French Pyrenees!
Made in the Basque country and the Bearn region of France’s Pyrenees Mountains, this small-scale pasteurized cheese is produced from floral sheep milk and given a half year to deepen in flavour. The ivory paste is firm but smooth with butterfat. With sweet, nearly caramel, grassy, and nutty undertones, Brebis can handle full bodied reds. This is one strong-willed sheep’s wheel.
To show the patience and passion the farmers have in making their cheese here are some of the requirements they have to meet to get AOC status:
The Brebis must be made with milk produced in the Bearn and Pays Basque regions.
The milk can come only from 3 local breeds of sheep – Manech Tête Noire, la Manech Tête rousse et la Basco-Béarnaise. The healthiest looking sheep I have ever seen BTW!
The sheep can only be fed on pastures, eat local fodder and cereal without additives. The result is lower production of better quality. Hence good looking sheep!
Ewes “rest” between late summer and late autumn. Depending on the herds, the milking period may last only six months (January to June), and a maximum of 9 months (December to August). Happy, good looking sheep!
Traditional methods must be respected. The method is to curdle milk with rennet and starter, cut and stir the curd then put the cheese into moulds of a specific size (height and diameter) by pressing and salting. The formats are “regulated” because they account for much of the taste and texture of the cheese at the end of ripening.
Ageing for a minimum of 80 days to 120 days for a smooth texture. It takes at least 2½ months of maturing Ossau-Iraty 2-3 Kg and 4 months for 4-5 kg. 6-8 months of ripening is even better. If one or more of the above are not met then the product cannot be called AOC Brebis but simply Fromage de Brebis, which is a category that most producers around here fall under.
Semi hard sheep milk from the villages of Ossau-Iraty in the French Pyrenees. Mild smooth yet firm texture and a lightly sheep flavour.
Our Tomme de Brebis is a classic Pyrenean classic, firm but ever so slightly chalky with very fine tiny holes, a delicate gentle flavour with a lingering sweet note. Serve with cherries if in season or a good black cherry confit.
Corsican Black Cherry Confit with Thyme…
(Photo: Corsica more as we know it!) As we stated in the previous blog Corsica is the ideal location for fruit growing and the cherry is no exception. It’s little wonder therefore that we have returned to Corsica for our black cherry confit. That said, there’s not much written about Coriscan Black cherries other than the fact that they were often used for blending to make red wine. Our product is, of course, another of the Charles Antona family and we’ll never tire of eating these wonderful products. That said we do have some interesting new alternative accompaniments so read on.
And for a Few Dollars More…you could have a very special something or two from Spaghetti Western country…
As direct alternatives to the Corsican Black Cherries Confit, we have lined up two new products from deep in southern Spain. Papaya Jam, and Confitura Tomate Raf Rojo (Red Tomato RAF Jam) both by La Gergaleña. Let’s tell you a little bit of background of this fabulous producer.
La Gergaleña (pronounced La Herg-al-enia)
This company, located in Gergal southern Spain, lies just a kilometer or two from the borders of Europe’s only official desert…the Tabernas Desert (Desierto de Tabernas).
It’s where Serge Leone filmed the highly successful spaghetti westerns trilogy, A Fist Full of Dollars, For A Few Dollars More and The Good The Bad and The Ugly, featuring Clint Eastwood, Lee Van Cleef and other Hollywood stars. For those wishing to visit the area (when travelling permits) then the old western towns still stand and films continue to be made there and within the desert along with guided tours. It was also the film location for Indiana Jones, Lawrence of Arabia, Exodus (Kings & Gods), Dr Who and very many more.
La Gergaleña is the brainchild of successful local chef Antonio Gazquez and was established in 2001 to showcase the fabulous (and totally unique) RAF Tomatoes. But RAF Tomatoes are only part of the story.
Now as Almeria Province is the largest producer of fresh fruit and vegetables in Europe, our friends at La Gergaleña produce a wide range of jarred and packaged produce, including aubergines, courgettes, mangoes, papayas, strawberries and raspberries alongside onions and other vegetables. However, it’s RAF tomatoes which steal the show, and their Confitura Tomate Raf Rojo (Red Tomato RAF Jam) is exquisite, (Don’t forget the Spanish use the term jam or confiture for chutney) and is made to complement cheeses, fish and meats as well as to be used as a breakfast jam. So what’s so special about RAF tomatoes? RAF Tomatoes are primarily a green/red variety with a sweet taste, and are often eaten with only extra virgin olive oil and rock/sea salt flakes. Garlic is an optional extra which you’ll find most Spanish adding….and what’s more is that this variety of tomatoes are unique to Almeria Province only. No-where else in Spain nor Europe can claim to grow true RAF Tomatoes.
As for the taste, well it’s like savouring the smell of your grandfather’s greenhouse when in full bloom of summer…you really have to try it….you can find the Confitura Tomate Raf Rojo here.
However if you are looking for something more sweet as an alternative to the Corsican Black Cherries then I’d go for the Papaya Jam by La Gergaleña. Exquisite with cheeses and especially a semi hard cheese such as Tomme de Brebis.
Originally from Mexico and northern South America papaya is generally known as an exotic fruit. Of course in warmer climes like southern Spain it can be cultivated under plastic cloches/greenhouses for which Almeria Province is so well known. Delicious and loaded with nutrients papaya is the fruit of the Carica papaya plant. It is also (allegedly) known for its nutritional benefits, such as powerful antioxidant effects, its anticancer properties, improvement in heart health, fighting inflammation, improvement in digestion and protection against skin damage. And of course apart from all that it tastes damned good….with 60% fruit in the La Gergaleña product. You’ll find La Gergaleña products on this link.
Whatever your taste in cheese these above accompaniments really complement semi and firm cheeses… go on give them a go.