Petit Basque – Sheep’s Milk Cheese

June 24, 2009 15 Comments

Petit Basque - Sheep's Milk Cheese

Petit Basque (P’tit Basque)

Most visits to our local Ardmore Farmer’s Market, I stop by Cheeseman Jack’s booth to talk about cheese, learn by tasting some cheese I’ve never had before and purchasing some to bring home to my wife and family. Recently I had the opportunity to try Petit Basque, a wonderful sheep’s milk cheese that is mild enough even for my kids.

Petit Basque is an pasteurized, uncooked hard sheep’s milk cheese produced in the Pyrenees Mountains, the mountains that form the border between France and Spain.

In Short

Type:  Sheep milk
Origin:  Pyrenees Mountains, France
Process:  brined and ripened 70 days
Texture:  smooth and firm
Shape:  Cylindrical, weighing approximately 1.25 pounds
Color:  Butter yellow
Rind:  Thin and covered with thin plastic to prevent mold
Flavor:  Mild, nutty and slightly fruity

The Rest of the Story

A lot of the great cheeses of the world have been around for hundreds of years.  Interestingly, although Petit Basque (sometimes spelled P’tit Basque) is made using traditional methods, it is a new cheese, having first been produced in 1997 by the large French dairy corporation Lactalis.  If you think you’ve never heard of Lactalis, think again.  Ever heard of Sorrento, President or Rondele cheese brands?  All of these brands are under the Lactalis umbrella.

So, why this new sheep milk cheese when there are plenty of well known sheep milk cheeses on the market (Spanish Manchego comes to mind immediately)?  Often, sheep milk cheese is a bit of an acquired taste.  It can be quite assertively “sheepy.”  Lactalis most likely wanted to produce a more accessible sheep milk cheese, one that would appeal to a broader segment of the American market””almost half of the Petit Basque produced is marketed in the United States.

A Little History

Petit Basque is made in the Pyrenees Mountains using the same techniques that local shepherds used hundreds of years ago. This “fromage de brebis” or sheep cheese was made from pure sheep’s milk the farmers put aside while milking their ewes. Two other famous sheep’s milk cheeses from the area are Ossau Iraty and Idiazabal.

Some Facts

Petit Basque is comprised of 45% fat and has a rich, buttery yellow color.  The cheese is made from curds from uncooked, pasteurized ewe’s milk.  Once pressed into molds and dried, it is brined for two hours and then cold aged for 70 days before being either waxed or covered in thin plastic to prevent mold. The small cylindrical shaped cheese each weigh about 1¼ to 1½ pounds.

What To Expect

When you look at the exterior of Petit Basque you will notice it is has a light yellow butter color appearance that is smooth and slightly oily. When you cut open a wheel of Petit Basque, you will notice that the interior is very smooth with no “eyes” (think Swiss cheese).  The aroma is slightly nutty with some caramel notes.  Biting into the cheese, some have described it as having a smooth taffy-like feel in the mouth.

What to Serve With

Since Petit Basque is a relatively mild sheep milk cheese, it is a good one to start with if you are unfamiliar with sheep milk cheeses.  The flavor is mildly “sheepy,” nutty and somewhat fruity.  It would be lovely on a fruit and cheese platter, especially with stone fruit such as peaches, apricots or even cherries.  It can also be served on some French bread with ham and tomato or on serving board with cured meats, olives and pâté.

I typically serve cheese with whatever wine I’m drinking but I have read Petit Basque goes well with most red wines including Beajolais, Merlot and Viogner.

Where To Find Petit Basque

Try your local supermarket or cheese shop and I think I’ve seen it at Costco too.

Last modified on Thu 12 December 2013 11:37 pm

Filed in: Hard Cheeses

Comments (15)

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  1. sammy says:

    What is the best method to store after cutting?

  2. RG says:

    Great question and one I’ve asked Cheeseman Jack. He said to wrap it up in plastic wrap or better yet, wrap it up in the paper it was sold in, that is if you purchase a chunk of cheese and not a whole piece, and then wrap that up in plastic wrap.

    I have been using a Food Savor system at home and find my cheeses last much longer. It is a little bit more effort to take out the appliance but I am not throwing out as much cheese.

  3. earl le tissier says:

    May the rind of the P’tit Basque cheese be eaten. Of course the wax coating has been removed. Thanks Earl

    Hi Earl, as we discussed in our emails, I don’t advise it and I don’t think it tastes very good. – RG

  4. Catherine says:

    I think the rind is FINE to eat.

  5. Lisa says:

    I always eat the rind. It doesn’t taste that different from the cheese itself. It certainly doesn’t taste like the icky rind on St. Andre et al.

  6. marc says:

    Am American born from a French family. I was always chastised for not eating the rind…until I asked my French cousins & a hotelier there… they don’t eat it either although a majority of French probably do eat it. If you like the taste of the rind, then eat it and if you don’t, then don’t. Hard core cheesies may say you have to but its OK to ignore them.

    Hi Marc, thanks for your input. Great advice! – RG

  7. rk says:

    Label on Costco Petit Basque states that milk was pasteurized.

    You are correct and thank you for pointing this out. I went back and did a little research and learned Petit Basque does come from pasteurized milk. – RG

  8. Rikke says:

    I just discovered this cheese today – it’s absolutely wonderful! My nine-year-old really likes it, too. Thank you for sharing your serving tips.

    You are very welcome Rikke – RG

  9. KP says:

    About a month ago I was told to avoid all cow’s milk products–very distressing as I LOVE cheese. I found one or two goat cheeses that were ok, but not great, I found this cheese yesterday at Costco and it is wonderful! Trying to pace myself but after a month without cheese it isn’t easy. Any other suggestions for good non-cow cheese would be most appreciated.

    Hi KP, I’ll post some more of my favorite non cow cheeses soon. Thanks for your interest. – RG

  10. Cheryl says:

    P’tit Basque is one of my all-time favorite cheeses! I usually buy it at Costco but recently found it at Fresh and Easy. Costco’s price is approx. $5 less per lb, but you have to buy a whole wheel. At Fresh and Easy it is packaged in smaller wedges which is good if you want to buy just a little to try it.

  11. Norm says:

    Love this cheese. Goes very well with roasted chicken, thin slices honey glazed ham as a grilled cheese sandwich. I have goats and sheep which I do milk and play with making cheese, any clue as to the culture used in the make for this cheese?

  12. Mary McLelland says:

    The best cheese I have ever had!

  13. Ken says:

    Having some now with a Louis Jadot Beaujolais Villages. Very nice.

  14. Sharon says:

    Best cheese ever!! $10.99/lb at trader joes; sold in small wedges. So mad they were out of stock as of this morning. Next best price is Costco at $12.99/lb sold as a whole wheel. I’ve been pairing it with my fave Cab wine of the week. Willing to try manchego and Comte next. Who knew I was a cheese snob?:)

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