You’ve got to love that hubby of mine. He keeps bringing home fun cheeses to try. This week he brought home a bit of Istara P’Tit Basque, and we had this yummy sheep cheese with port (me) and tequila (him).
What struck me immediately (well, right after the cute size — even a whole wheel is about as big as a large beefsteak tomato) is that it had a clean smell that had a little bite to it, almost like fresh air. I thought: That’s it, The air of the Pyrenees has come in on this cheese, and I was transported and hooked.
The P’Tit Basque was instantly pleasing to bite into, its texture somewhere in that perfect mid-range between soft and hard. If I could smell the air, I could certainly taste the sheep. This was nuttier than a typical cow’s milk cheese. While somewhat creamy, it had a dry, salty finish and a slightly gamey undertone. In short, there was a lot going on. It also retained its interest long after the cheese was gone — indeed, it lingered on the palate an unusually long time. And yet, as wonderful as that quality was, we didn’t content ourselves with the lingering, but kept going back for more until our petite P’Tit was but a memory.
The earthy taste of P’Tit Basque makes it a natural for pairing with strong foods such as a truffle salami (should you be lucky enough to have one of those), or anything else in the mushroom or cured-meat families. Hearty red wine (or port – I had a 20 year Warre’s Otima tawny) will complement this pastoral cheese, as will a great crusty wheat bread (I like La Brea Bakery’s Whole Grain Loaf, which is widely available) or, of course, a bunch of grapes.
So now we can thank the Basques, a hearty ancient people who have endured a tumultuous history in their small, mountainous region between the often-dueling Spain and France, for one more thing: It’s the Cheese.
The wonderful, near-herringbone rind of the P’Tit Basque:
Photos by Susan Sachs Lipman