My Favorite Fancy Cheese Is Half the Price at Costco
I’ve worked in plenty of gourmet food shops as a chef and cheesemonger, from little indie stores to big groceries like Whole Foods, so I’m very persnickety about cheese — more so now that I don’t get an employee discount! That’s why I gasped when I first found wheels of P’tit Basque at Costco for $16.49 per pound about a year ago.
It’s one of my favorite gourmet cheeses ever, and it’s often sold in specialty stores for twice that price. At 1.3 pounds, the diminutive wheels (for Costco, that is!) look tiny-cute, but don’t be mistaken — P’tit Basque is a heavy hitter in the kitchen.
What’s So Great About Istara P’tit Basque?
P’tit Basque (sometimes labeled Petite Basque) is handmade from grass-fed sheep’s milk cheese in the Pyrenees mountains, the area that straddles France and Spain. It’s relatively young, aged just 70 days, so it is sliceable and has a buttery, melt-in-your mouth texture.
It’s always the first to get gobbled up when I put out a cheese board because it’s mild and sweet enough to appeal to kids and cheese board novices, while the tangy finish will keep curd nerds coming back for more. Oh, and it’s awesome for cooking, too.
What’s the Best Way to Use Istara P’tit Basque?
P’tit Basque is a great cheese to serve on a cheese board where its mild flavor won’t compete with more assertive cheeses. It’s also great on a grazing board with sliced Spanish chorizo, stone fruits, and marcona almonds. In the Basque region, it’s often served with rustic bread and fresh dark cherries or cherry jam. The cheese is a great pairing for big red wines like Rioja, Cabernet Sauvignon, or Tannant. I’ve also served it with a dry, yeasty Basque cider with great results.
The rind of P’tit Basque is inedible, as it is dipped in a thin layer of wax or plastic to keep the cheese moist and mold-free. Before serving, it’s easiest to cut the wheel of cheese vertically into quarters. From there, thinly slice only what you’ll use immediately. I usually flick off the loose wax and serve the sliced cheese with the rind on because it acts as a nice little handle while nibbling. You can trim off the rind if you’re so inclined. Be sure to keep the unused portions tightly wrapped in plastic in the fridge and use them within a month or so.
P’tit Basque cheese is a bit of a chameleon. It melts well and adds its nutty-salty vibe to any dish it touches. I love it in place of Gruyere or Swiss in grilled sandwiches, like croque monsieur and patty melts. You can also grate it and use it in place of cheddar in homemade macaroni and cheese. And because it’s semi-firm, it can be made into luxurious ruffles with a sharp vegetable peeler, the perfect garnish to a green salad with sliced pears. The real question is, what can’t this little wheel of cheese do?
Find it in stores: Istara P’tit Basque, $16.49 per pound at Costco
Spot any gasp-worthy buys at Costco lately? Tell us about it in the comments.