Looking for a good alternative to Spanish Manchego? Add P’tit Basque to your cheeseboard! As its name implies, P’tit Basque is a small cheese, much smaller than most wheels of aged sheep’s milk cheese. The petite cylinder stands about 3 inches tall and weighs about 1 ¼ to a pound and a half. It’s made with pasteurized sheep’s milk and aged for approximately 70 days. A wheel of Manchego, weighing approximately 6 pounds, and is aged for six months to upwards of 18 months.
Before they’re released, wheels of P’tit Basque are coated in a thin plastic film to keep them from drying out and to keep mold from growing on the rind. Without the coating, the wheels might not retain the soft, moist texture that is part of their appeal. The paste is butter colored and smooth, with no eyes, and with brown butter and caramel aromas that make me think of crème brule. The cheese is creamy on the tongue, and as it melts, sweet and salty flavors merge.
P’tit Basque as great introduction to sheep’s milk cheese for those who find more mature sheep’s milk cheeses — like aged Pecorino Toscano, Ossau-Iraty, Manchego or Zamorano — too piquant or sheep-y in flavor. It’s an easy cheese to enjoy, but it lacks the complexity of aroma and flavor and the lengthy finish that characterize these older cheeses. What P’tit Basque offers is pleasant enough, but it doesn’t hold my attention for long.
In France’s Basque region, restaurants often serve sheep’s milk cheese with black cherry preserves, an appealing juxtaposition of salty and sweet. The pairing is hard on dry red wine, but the local red Irouleguy is rugged enough to deal with it. Vaydie also suggests Madiran with P’tit Basque, and Tempranillo would be another good choice.
- Made from pasteurized sheep’s milk
- Country of origin: France
- Region: Basque, Pyrenees Mountains
- Type: semi-hard, artisan
- Fat content: 45%
- Texture: creamy, dry and smooth
- Rind: natural
- Colour: ivory
- Flavour: earthy, mild, nutty, pungent, subtle, sweet
- Aroma: fresh, lactic, pleasant
- Alternative spellings: Petit Basque