Sheep cheese and cherry jam

AOC Ossau Iraty and its perfect foil, sour cherry jam.
AOC Ossau Iraty and its perfect foil, sour cherry jam.

Orthez, France  January 10, 2014

Another case where a traditional combination proves to be right on the money:  Sheep’s milk cheese from the Pyrenees served with confiture made from the local sour black cherries.

It’s a combination that one sees so often in this part of  France that it is easy to forget to look for it.  When a cheese plate is available at a restaurant here, 8 times out or 10, it will be exactly this combination that will be on offer.  And, unfortunately, it is completely possible that what will be served will be young, flavorless, industrial cheese and and over-sweet factory jam.

Like a lot of traditional dishes, we have had them poorly made so often that it is easy to just dismiss them. However, when they are done right, they can restore your confidence in the value of tradition.

This beautiful specimen of AOC Ossau Iraty was purchased from an old man at the farmers market in Naverenx;  raw milk, hand made cheese, aged between 12 and 16 months.  Smelling of grass and barnyard, with a taste like very ripe English cheddar, only  less sharp and more gamey.

His farm table held only 3 wheels of cheese, each weighing about 15 pounds, a scale and a cash box.  When I inquired as to the difference between the wheels, he replied “Pas de difference, touts le meme”, which is roughly “no difference”.  His asking price was 15 euro the kilo – don’t do the math on that unless you want to be sad next time you visit the farmer’s market or cheese store in Seattle.

The jam was from the table next to the Monsieur with the cheese.  This table was minded by a grandmotherly woman selling eggs, butter and jam – I am not sure if she is the “Mamie” referred to on the label, but she assured me that this was her confiture “extra”, meaning it has a higher fruit content and that it is made only with cherries and cane sugar.

The combination reminds once again that the old timers who began these culinary traditions knew what they were on about.  Good grief its good!

cheese and cherry Jan 2014 #2

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3 thoughts on “Sheep cheese and cherry jam”

  1. Jim! I’m beyond jealous, reading this. It reminds me of the time Mac and I left Paris for Bordeaux and stopped along the way in a small village to check out their local market. We’re still talking about the confiture we got from Denise — an old woman in a babushka who also tried to sell us a chicken (if only we could!), and about the thick slice of Pyrenees cheese that tided us over when, later in the day, we failed to find overnight accommodations and drove beyond Bordeaux, fearful we’d spend the night in the car eating that jam and cheese with the last crumbs of our baguette. (Of course, that led to another fabulous adventure in dining, in a small nearly closed-up town, later that night.) Can you please send me a note with your email address ASAP? I’ve got something to ask you. Have fun!

  2. Another jealous reader of this post. Each time I see your pictures from visits to France it brings back such memories. I wish I were there.
    P.S. I did do the math, and you’re right; it does make me sad!

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