#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:

  1. The Brebis must be made with milk produced in the Bearn and Pays Basque regions.

  2. 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!

  3. 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!

  4. 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!

  5. 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.

  6. 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, 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. 

#003 – Cheese Matching (a mini series)

You’ll see that in this third of our blog posts we have taken a slightly different direction in our quest to explore the foods of both the UK and abroad, and in our equally important mission to bring you some continental sunshine. You will undoubtedly also notice that we are entitling this as a ‘mini-series’. That’s due to the fact that in this week’s blog we are exploring the matching of cheeses to natural accompaniments and/or where appropriate drinks. We have along list of cheeses to get through over the coming months and we have therefore broken up the list into more, you could say, bite size pieces (excuse the pun) allowing you to continue the journey with us as we discover a wide variety of products, tastes and geography. This week we start the journey in Spain, and we end in France. We hope you enjoy this slightly different angle and by all means please give us you feedback in the comments section. Happy reading!

Introduction to Cheese Tasting

The most common cheese tasting revolves around Cheese and Wine and there’s nothing wrong with that, unless of course you start mixing produce from different countries and then it becomes more of a hit and miss. Interestingly small artisan cheese manufacturers of say Italy, produce wines which best complement Italian wines. French produce cheeses that complement French produced wines and Spanish Cheeses, Spanish wines and so on. That’s not to say that other cheeses and wines don’t match, but purists may tell you that it’s best to start with cheese and wines from the same country if not the same region.  Here we are breaking with some of that tradition because we are intending to sample not only wines, but different accompaniments, although some of the principles we attach to wines can be associated with accompaniments.

Manchego & Membrillo

Cheese aficionados will be very familiar with this combination of Spanish cheese and its natural accompaniment, ‘Membrillo’ the Spanish term for Quince cheese…but let’s tell you a little more about where this originates, and perhaps the finer details of the products. 

‘Queso manchego’, pronounced Keso man-chego, (Manchego Cheese) is a firm Spanish cheese from the La Mancha region of Spain, and is made of sheep’s milk from the Manchega breed. La Mancha is of course Don Quixote country (and for football fans the home town of Andres Iniesta of Barcelona FC fame), but as the largest plain in Spain it is important for its agriculture as much as anything else. 

This zone of land is used for grazing sheep and goats, but as the windmills depict grain – along with other crops – is also an important commodity grown in the area. Of course these wonderful windmills feature heavily in the Don Quixote novel by Miguel de Cervantes and they really are a sight to behold as you drive through the region. 

As Spain’s most popular cheese it has a firm and compact consistency and a buttery texture, and often contains tiny, unevenly distributed air pockets. The colour of the cheese varies from white to ivory-yellow, and the inedible rind from yellow to brownish-beige (the rind may be inedible but I know many who eat it all the same!). Manchego has a distinctive flavour, well developed but not too strong, creamy with a slight piquancy, and leaves an after-taste that is characteristic of sheep’s milk. It’s generally aged between 60 days and 2 years.

As for Membrillo – i.e. quince – this fruit is grown in abundance in Spain….as are many fruits. It isn’t unusual to drive through areas of southern Spain and see fruits growing almost wild in the campo landscape. The temptation to the tourist to ‘scrump’ is strong, as it isn’t such a sight to be found in the UK. This quince fruit was the original marmalade and when it is cooked it forms a firm-ish jelly which can be sliced. The fruit is peeled and cored, and cooked with a teaspoon of water and from 500–1000g sugar per kg of quince pulp. Preferably cooked in a pressure cooker, but it can also be left for longer (40 min–1 hr) in a regular pot, in this case with a little more water (which will then evaporate). It turns a light brick colour in the pressure cooker and on a regular pot, after a long cooking time, dark brick colour. After leaving it to set for a few days on earthenware/clay bowls (preferable), topped with parchment paper rounds, it becomes a relatively firm quince paste/cheese, dense enough to hold its shape. 

At a local bar I have regularly frequented, the cook Beatriz produces her own oven trays of membrillo which gets sliced up each time a customer requests Manchego tapa or raciones (a plate slightly more substantial than a tapa). It’s sweet taste complements well the buttery texture of the Manchego cheese. This really is a winning combination, and no wonder the Spanish love it so much.  


And so we have a short hop over the border, north, and off to the Nouvelle-Aquitaine region of western France. 

As you can see from the map, this takes in such famous towns and cities as Poitiers, La Rochelle, Limoges, Biarritz, Pau in the Pyrenees, and of course the most famous of France’s wine regions, Bordeaux. Nouvelle-Aquitaine is ranked as the largest of France’s administrative regions. But we aren’t here to sample the wines (we’ll leave that to a later date). We here to sample Fromage Chabis, with a really delicious fig confit accompaniment.

Unpasteurised French Chabis Goats Cheese – Corsican Fig Confit (for Cheese) & Peters Yard Sourdough Crackers.

Chabis is a French cheese with a delicate flavour and a texture that becomes firmer as it matures. A soft cheese at the start it is produced without heating or pressing, using goat’s milk. It has a coating of soft white mould reminiscent of other cheeses such as Camembert and this rind or mould is known as a “croûte fleurie”.

Generally best time of year for Chabis is between April and August, though it can be enjoyed through from March until December. Like many goats cheeses it’s a soft flavours with a hint of grass, reminiscent of the pastures in which the goats dine. For a more indulgent palate, herbs and spices can be added to the cheese for additional taste. That said, we prefer the accompaniment of Corsican Fig Confit by Charles Antona.

Of course, Corsica (Corse – to the locals) a French enclave is slap-bang in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea, the island being a fraction north of  Italy’s Sardina. Here the weather is ideal for the growing of fruit, and the figures of Corsica are renowned. In the 1500’s the island was under the power of the Tuscans and a decree was introduced ordered that each landowner and tenant had to plant at least a chestnut, a mulberry, an olive, and a fig tree each year, under the fine of three lire for each tree not planted.

Whilst we know Corsica for it’s glittering coastal waters, not many people realise that it is quite mountainous, with the mountains climbing to and elevation of 8,900ft  – by comparison Snowdon in Wales is 3,560 ft – and is the home to rare animal and plant species which it protects.

In the UK we eat little in the way of figs in comparison with our continental neighbours – probably because we don’t grow figs here. This typical Mediterranean fruit is loved by all continental gourmands and it’s known for its naturally sweet and fruity taste. Fig confit goes wonderfully with salty flavours such as goat cheese or with liver pate, and therefore is the perfect accompaniment to the soft grassy goats cheese of Chabis

And when it comes to cheese biscuits, we prefer the crispiness and the wholesome taste of Peter’s Yard Soughdough Crackers (you can try the charcoal soughdough if you prefer – either go well with the Chabis and Corsican fig confit). These small-batch sourdough crackers are fermented for 16 hrs, have no artificial colours, flavours or preservatives unlike many other alternatives and are the perfect biscuit accompaniment to most cheeses.

Whatever your choice of biscuits, cheeses and accompaniments – there’s nothing better than curling up in front of a warm fire and breaking open the cheese, biscuits and lashings of sweet membrillo or fig confit. Go on try it – you know you want to!   

#002 – Balsamic Vinegars

Those of our website visitors who have clicked on the Oils & Vinegars menu tab in our online shop, can’t help notice but we have a passion for olive oils and great balsamic vinegars. But few will understand quite why we are so passionate about such products.

Well, it starts with the fact that here in the UK, and particularly in Wales, we don’t produce either of these natural products ourselves and therefore the romance of continental products is just that…’romance’. So where ever possible we try and source products that are not only the best but are pretty much unique to the UK, and certainly to the South Wales shoppers. And so it is with our range of Giuseppe Giusti Balsamic Vinegars. Let us tell you about balsamic vinegars and our suppliers from Modena, northern Italy…

But before we start our journey, we hear some of you ask – What exactly is balsamic vinegar and from what is it produced? Balsamic vinegar is a very dark, concentrated and intensely flavoured vinegar made wholly or partially from ‘grape must’. ‘Grape must’ is freshly crushed grape juice with all the skins, seeds and stems.

Like many specialist products throughout Europe, the national food agencies of each country have taken to protecting the origin of source. That’s no exception when it comes to Balsamic Vinegar. Consequently there a three distinct types of balsamic vinegar and they are as follows: Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Modena DOP, Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Reggio Emilia DOP, and Aceto Balsamico di Modena IGP…the latter being introduced with a Protected Geographical Indication tag more recently, in 2009.

As you can see from the three types, they originate from two distinct areas of Italy…that of Modena and that of neighbouring Reggio Emilia.

Those who know their Italian geography will be aware that this area is within Italy’s Emilia-Romagna region, not only home of both Ferrari and Lamborghini sports cars, but more so, was the birth place of the late Opera star Luciano Pavarotti, hence it has a revered operatic history.

So what’s the difference between the different types of balsamic vinegar?

Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Modena DOP/Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Reggio Emilia DOP – True balsamic vinegar is made from a reduction of pressed Trebbiano and Lambrusco grapes. The resulting thick syrup, called mosto cotto in Italian, is subsequently aged for a minimum of 12 years in a battery of several barrels of successively smaller sizes. The casks are made of different woods like, chestnut, cherry, oak, mulberry, ash and juniper. True balsamic vinegar is rich, glossy, deep brown in colour, and has a complex flavour that balances the natural sweet and sour elements of the cooked grape juice with hints of wood from the casks.

Reggio Emilia designates the different ages of their balsamic vinegar (Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Reggio Emilia) by label colour. A red label means the vinegar has been aged for at least 12 years, a silver label that the vinegar has aged for at least 18 years, and a gold label designates that the vinegar has aged for 25 years or more.

Modena uses a different system to that of to indicate the age of its balsamic vinegars (Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Modena). A white-coloured cap means the vinegar has aged for at least 12 years and a gold cap bearing the designation extravecchio (extra-old) shows the vinegar has aged for 25 years or more.

Aceto Balsamico di Modena IGP – These are more commercial-grade products which imitate the traditional products. As they are made of as little as 20% grape must (and not necessarily from Modena or Reggio Emilia), with the addition of wine vinegar, colouring, caramel, they sometimes use thickeners like guar gum or cornflour to artificially imitate the sweetness and thickness of the aged Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Modena. IGP status requires a minimum ageing period of two months, but not necessarily in wooden barrels, rising anything up to three years and when labelled they are named invecchiato (aged). The manufacturing process is highly industrialized, and consequently the output of a medium-sized producer may be hundreds of litres per day. Naturally they are cheaper but inferior in quality.

Giuseppe Giusti brand of Balsamic Vinegars

And now that you understand the basics of balsamic vinegar you’ll appreciate why, when we tell you that we’ve have hand-chosen the Giuseppe Giusti brand, with a history dating back to 1605 (over 400 years), not only is it the oldest balsamic vinegar producer, but it is the best. Acetaia Giusti is the proud guardian of the largest collection of historical barrels: in the Giusti attics there are 600 barrels from the 1700s and 1800s which are still producing Balsamic Vinegar. The older the barrel, the better the product will be, as the essences from the wood and the balsamic aromas that have matured together over the centuries are united.

Represented today by Claudio, Francesca and Luciano who lead the company today, the history of the Giusti family is inextricably linked to the local area. Naturally over the centuries the Giusti vinegars have been recognised all over the world and have been presented at the various International Exhibitions of the Belle Epoque. The most important of the Giusti Balsamic vinegars, of 30, 50 and even 100 years, have won numerous prestigious accolades, including 14 gold medals. It isn’t just because of this pedigree, incredible quality and dedication over 400 plus years that we chose Giusti to become our leading brand of vinegar offerings…it’s because they are really great people with whom to do business. They made us feel like one of the family, and that reflects in the service we have been offered, and we like to think we can offer this great service to you through our knowledge and recommendations. Of course if you wish to sample the quality yourselves, then you can see our full range of Giusti vinegars here

In the Kitchen with Balsamic Vinegar

Meanwhile, it’s all very well us telling you about the history, the suppliers and how great the product is, but what do you do with balsamic vinegar apart from scattering it on your salads?

Well, you’d probably be surprised to know that it is regularly used in desserts, with fruit, with figs, strawberries, on cheesecakes, obviously on cheese, but even on ice cream – yes, ice cream! And more obviously on a wide variety of sandwiches and meat or fish combinations. Try monkfish wrapped in Parma ham, baked and drizzled with balsamic vinegar.

And if you are still struggling to look for ideas here are forty, simple but inspiring dishes using balsamic vinegar. Let’s us know how you get on…

Finally, we did promise to try and transport you to the continent assuming you were still tied to the house, and that we’d try and bring some of the continental experience to you, so if you’d like to take a short 10 minute food tour around Modena, then go ahead and join the tour here.

Stay safe and we hope to see you in the shop soon… don’t forget you can also order online for local or national delivery.

Happy tasting…

#001 – Welcome to the O&O Blog!

With travel relatively curtailed in 2020 and maybe this year too, many people will be missing their regular trips abroad or merely their annual break. For a growing number of travellers their destinations are determined by their love of food, and of course sunshine. Brits would generally head to European countries to find continual sunshine and a variety of food experiences and cuisines which are a little more alien to us. Indeed, some will enrol into cookery schools and/or attend local food tours, and visit markets to generally experience ingredients or dishes that we would rarely bother to cook for ourselves at home.

Given the travel curtailment Olives&Oils have decided to bring the culinary continent to you, our customers. We’ll transport your mind to some beautiful locations from where our ‘foreign’ products are sourced or grown and we’ll introduce you to just some of the people behind those products and give you a feel for their lives and the surrounding areas. We hope you enjoy this series of blog posts, and if there are any Olives&Oils products about you’d like to know more and about which you’d like us to write or advise further, or perhaps you’d merely like to give us your feedback, then by all means please just drop us a line via the ‘Contact Us’ message facility within this website. Many thanks and please enjoy the blog.

For the first Blog post we are going to transport you off to Northern Italy…home to the most flavoursome Basil Pesto…and our supplier Sapori D’Italia.


A symbol of agricultural activity suspended between the mountains and the sea Basil is at the heart of Italian pesto, and in particular Basilico Genovese.

Introduced by the Romans but cultivated in both protected environments and open fields Basilico Genovese is a product of Protected Designation of Origin (DOP) by the European Union, and it’s production centres around the Liguria region of Northern Italy. It is on these Ligurian hills that the aromatic basil has found the ideal conditions to grow. The microclimate of the area combined with the sun and the salty air give its leaves the ultimate balance of aroma and flavour – characteristics difficult to obtain anywhere else.

Liguria is a crescent-shaped region in northwest Italy where the locals can enjoy an average of 2,200 hours of sunshine and blue skies each year. Its Mediterranean coastline is known as the Italian Riviera. The five colourful fishing villages of the Cinque Terre, as well as stylish Portofino and Santa Margherita Ligure, are on the eastern coast or Riviera di Levante. Portofino of course is well known as the playground of the rich and famous including Hollywood stars, famous actors and singers who used to spend their holidays in Portofino: among them were Rex Harrison, Rita Hayworth, Liz Taylor, Richard Burton, Clark Gable, Humphrey Bogart, Ava Gardner, Vittorio Gassman, Marcello Mastroianni, Robert De Niro, Liza Minnelli and more.

Whilst the western coast, the Riviera di Ponente, is both home to Sanremo, a vintage resort with a turn-of-the-century casino and a flower-filled promenade it is also located relatively close to the French/Monaco border. Liguria’s capital is the port city of Genoa, and it’s in this region that the best basil pesto is produced. 

Our supplier, Salvatore Contino originally from Sicily, is now based with his wife Tiziana at a new processing factory in Brugnato, within the La Spezia province adjacent to D.O.P. Genovese Basil fields. It all began in 1982 in Sicily when Salvatore was lucky enough to spend more than eight years with the king of olives and vegetables marination, “U ‘zzi Totò” (Corsican for Uncle Toto), who gave him the passion and dedication for these products called “antipasti”. In 1992 he settled in the UK and established his business in Hertfordshire, but soon recognised that there was a greater opportunity worldwide, hence the Brugnato factory was born.

The ‘king of marinade’ from which Salvatore was inspired and from whom he learned the art that today is the true hallmark of the company’s superior quality, is depicted now as an effigy within the company logo, and hence the official 1937 establishment of the business.

Like many great artisans of many foods, the recipes are kept dear to the hearts of the producers, but we know that Salvatore’s Sapori D’Italia Pesto Ligure is made with a paste blend combined of fresh basil, cheese, pine kernels, extra virgin olive oil, garlic and spices. 

Cooking with Basil Pesto

Of course we all know the usual method of adding pesto to pasta to create a delicious sauce, but there are so many other ways to enjoy this unique product.

Indeed, when you google ‘ways to use pesto’ the results are staggering…from treating it as a substitute ‘tapenade’ by spreading it on warm toast, to using it as a drizzle dressing on any number of ingredients from salads – especially caprese, cheeses, meats (lamb cutlet as shown) poultry to fish (as a crust to a salmon fillet), in a baked sweet potato with tahini and pine nuts, as an addition to crushed garden peas, on pizzas (especially vegetarian), in Ciabatta stuffed with garlic, mushrooms and taleggio, to one of my favourites, ‘Potato, Green Beans and Pesto Lasagne’ or if you fancy an alternative lasagne, how about Spinach, Ricotta, and Pesto Lasagne?

The simple fact is that Basil Pesto is so versatile…that its uses are almost limitless. The beauty of the product is that you can always rustle up something delicious in only a few minutes if you are caught short by unexpected guests providing your store cupboard has dry pasta and your fridge has a tub of fresh basil pesto. And, what’s more you can serve it hot or cold, yes even on salads! If you wish to discover more wonderful recipes and things to do with basil pesto then here are ten fabulous ways to use your basil pesto but don’t check it out until you have bought your supply of Salvatore’s genuine Sapori D’Italia basil pesto from Olives&Oils online deli!

As the Italians say “ti auguro ogni bene!” (I wish you every good thing!)