Wednesday, February 26, 2014

petit basque & mac

petit basque & mac, originally uploaded by michele wynne.
This is the latest from Melt: The Art of Macaroni and Cheese. This bowl of creamy, swirly, sweetly roasty, cheesiness is called Petit Basque with Roasted Garlic, Shallots & Gemelli. I was super excited to try this because it just looked so damn good (as the I-just-wanna-jump-into-the-page-headfirst photography inspires) and in my pursuit of furthering my cheesey gourmandese, I wanted to get my mitts on some Petit Basque, a sheep milk cheese we sell at the market.
Until yesterday, I knew absolutely nothing about sheep milk cheese. I suspect I've tasted it at the market but I don't recall ever eating in any kind of quantity.
A little Cheese 101 I got from The Cheese Chronicles an educational and entertaining adventure through the world of American made cheese:
Sheep milk has a higher fat content than cow or goat milk making it a little richer and creamier. Fresh sheep milk is also very fragile, if handled roughly those big fat globules burst, resulting in a cheese that's sheepier and more barnyardy and unappealingly oily...quoting a quote that was quoted in the book: You should taste the milk, not the animal. Thusly, quality is definitely the key because there are apparently some bad sheep milk cheeses out there.
The Petit Basque comes from the French Pyrenees Mountains where fat little sheep roam around munching on fresh mountain grasses and wild herbs. It's a medium-hard, aged (70 days), small format cheese. Sheep are small, well... smaller than a cow, and produce about 4 pounds of milk a day verses the 40-50 pounds of milk a Holstein produces.
Insert small rant<  scary thing from the book: industrial dairies that produce some those big bricks of cheap supermarket cheese (not to mention the milk), come from cows that are given growth hormones that push the daily milk production of ONE cow up toward 130 pounds. A day!! That's insane!!! Now I get it. Now I understand why you gotta pay for good cheese.  The 10 ounces of  Petit Basque this recipe calls for runs just shy of $16.00. It's definitely worth the occasional indulgence> end rant

This recipe rocks on so many levels. It's a great introduction to sheep milk cheese because the Petit Basque is relatively mild, beautifully creamy, boasting flavor notes of light caramel and subtle fruit. Enhancing the cheeses inherent sweetness is the slightly burnt and sweet caramelized element of roasting 2 heads of garlic plus some lightly caramelized shallots. So needless to say, but I'm saying it anyway...savory sweetness shines.
Here's a link to the recipe.
It's worth noting that when salting, I like to wait until after the cheese is melted into the sauce. This isn't a very salty cheese, but I like to taste the nuances that the salt begins to bring out, so taste, then add a little salt, stir, wait a minute, taste, repeat. The garlic will start to sing a little and the sweetness will enhance. Stop salting when you feel the flavors are optimal...or as they say, salt to taste.
I am now committing to explore sheepy cheeses in more depth. Whilst researching Petit Basque I came upon this article  by Stephanie Stiavetti, one of the authors of Melt. It got me all on a tear to make a gratin using it, seeing as I'm bouncing around between macaroni and grains. This gratin from Smitten Kitchen is just the perfect jumping off point. Farro? Mustard greens?