I recently had the serious pleasure of tasting some pretty special French cheese. They're the style of cheese with the oldest cheesemaking history in the world: mountain varieties from the French Pyrenees, made with raw sheep milk. And thanks to Formaggio Kitchen, you can taste them, too.
Have you been to Formaggio Kitchen? They're a Cambridge specialty cheese shop that's been around for over 30 years. With added locations in Boston and one in Manhattan's Essex Street Market, they've grown over the years, as has their dedication to providing interesting products and delicious cheese. And because they have buyers who source directly from cheesemakers and affineurs (cheese agers), they get in some items that you can't find anywhere else.
I was super interested in tasting some of these exclusive cheeses, since sometimes, you just want to try something new.
And that I did.
I tried a few of their exclusive French offerings, all of which I recommend trying yourself, should you live in the Boston or New York area, or enjoy ordering cheese online. But the two really stand out are the Pardou Ardi Gasna and the Brebis du Haut-Bearne.
Let's begin with their Ardi Gasna, which in the Basque language means "sheep cheese." It comes from the Pardou aging facilities in the French Pyrenees, a multi-generational family business from whom Formaggio Kitchen has been carrying cheeses for many years. Only recently did they begin importing from them directly and working with Christian Pardou, the third generation in this line of talented affineurs. He works with 55 cheesemakers, and ages their cheeses to tip-top shape. Business trips that the Formaggio team has taken over the years have given Christian a sense of what suits their tastes best, which makes this offering all the more custom.
His Pardou Ardi Gasna (wheels of which are pictured at the top of this post) is made in Laruns, in the French Pyrenees. It's a farmhouse production, meaning that the cheese is made on the same farm where the sheep graze. This equals less transportation from source of milk to cheesemaking room and a more careful, vigilant production overall. In short, the cheesemaker is also the farmer.
At eight months of age, the cheese is smooth, sweet, and ever-so-slightly sheepy, and tastes pleasantly of baked french bread with butter. But most of all, it's refined. It's totally, satisfyingly balanced: at once salty, fatty, and toasty. With a lingering, sultry finish, there's something truly unique about this cheese, indeed.
The Brebis du Haut-Bearne
Next, the Brebis du Haut-Bearne. It's downright righteous, having the perception of a melted, gooey, toasty, nutty grilled cheese sandwich. It tastes of crispy, slightly burnt, caramelized cheese edges on a griddle pan. Lingering, sweet, and just a bit funky. Special stuff. If you've ever had Ossau Iraty, Petit Basque, or Pyrennes Brebis, this is of the same style. But while those cheeses can be mass-produced, factory style, the Brebis du Haut-Bearne is anything but. Which is why, in all its exclusivity, you deserve to take a taste.
(Image credits: Formaggio Kitchen)