Saturday, 2 November 2019

Basque Cheese and Ham


The Basque country, straddling the French-Spanish border, is famous for a number of traditional foods, dishes or ingredients that come from both the mountains and the sea. In my opinion the two absolute must not miss/must eat at every opportunity foods from the area are the cheese and the ham. And I am fairly take it or leave it with ham and cheese in general -- neither food is what floats my boat normally.

 Aged Basque cheese served with black cherry jam in a restaurant in Saint Jean de Luz.
Basque cheese, served with black cherry jam. Pyrenees-Atlantiques, France. Photographed by Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.

The cheese is made with ewes milk and there is an AOC called Ossau-Iraty. Then there are a bunch of cheeses with tricky to spell and pronounce Basque names. There are several local breeds of sheep in the mountains, with the red faced Manech being the one you will most commonly encounter.

Every restaurant offers a local cheese, served with black cherry jam, along with their dessert choices. The older, drier and saltier the cheese the better. I was interested to note that there wasn't much focus on whether the cheese was certified as AOC. You did sometimes get told which farm it had come from, and the Basque area is one of the top producers of farmhouse cheeses in France. As is so often the case, the AOC only matters to establish quality when it is sold outside its home area.

The tradition of making cheese in the Basque country may be the oldest in the world, and certainly dates back to prehistoric times.

 Kintoa ham and chorizo.
Kintoa ham and chorizo. Pyrenees-Atlantiques, France. Photographed by Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.

Basque, or Kintoa AOC ham is produced by salting and air drying the hind leg of the local breed of pig. The salt comes from Bearn, where it is produced in a centuries old method from a saline spring. The pigs are free range, raised at high altitude in pasture that includes patches of deciduous forest with hazelnut, oak, chestnut and beech. The stocking rate is between 25 and 35 pigs per hectare.


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2 comments:

Le Pré de la Forge said...

" Aged Basque cheese served with black cherry jam in a restaurant in Saint Jean de Luz."....
And they take the mick out of Wensleydale and rich fruitcake!!

Susan said...

Valid point I guess. And I've just eaten tome and aubergine pickle for lunch.

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