Dec 6, 2013

Robust Bouquet of Snobbery: Brebis des Aldudes

When we are smelling the Marco Polo sample at the fabulous, famous Mariage Frères tea store in the Marais, Gigi says -- and this is word for word -- "Buy this one, Mommy! It's got hints of chocolate and raspberry!" And darn it if she isn't right.

I know, I know: You don't think of France when you think of tea. But then perhaps you haven't tried Mariage or Dammann Frères.
Both sets of brothers trace their claim to be the best tea in France to the 17th century. Mariage Frères claim to have been sent to seek out great teas from the Orient around 1660, by King Louis XIV (though they place their business founding date in 1854). Dammann Frères claim their ancestor Monsieur Damame was granted an exclusive right to sell tea in 1692 by, also, King Louis XIV. Evidently, during his 72 year reign, the Sun King had quite a thing for tea.

The Marco Polo box (13€ for 100g) describes it as a "marvellous {sic} fruity & flowery black tea," so Gigi didn't get "hints of chocolate and raspberry" from anything she read off the box. I'm afraid that, like most things that come out of kids' mouths, it originates with the parents. Oh no! Are we those Bay Area people that the rest of the US mocks? The kind who swirl our wine and talk about its legs and bouquet? I don't think we are, yet Gigi got it from somewhere.

But at least we're not such snobs that we have a preference for one of the high-end teas over the other, thereby proving (to ourselves at least) that we are not complete and total wankers. I must admit, however, to having a preference for one of the stores itself -- the Dammann Frères store on the Place des Vosges -- simply because they've made all the samples easier to sniff. The store has an old-fashioned apothecary feel (much like Mariage Frères, frankly) but with a huge table of wooden boxes filled with the various teas. This would be a great use of smellovision, if only somebody would invent it, because the aroma of some of these teas is too, too delicious for words.

Once we buy these teas, I am torn between wanting to use them slowly and make them last (especially at that price point) versus wanting to drink them up quickly so that I will have an excuse and room in the pantry to go buy more flavors.

THE CHEESE: Brebis des Aldudes

Brebis des Aldudes is a hard, dry, crumbly sheep cheese very similar in texture to fresh Parmesan. It's salty but, like a Parmesan, has a hint of nuttiness, with a sweet aftertaste. It's one of the best hard brebis tommes (big wheels of cheese) we've tried. Our five year old American guest, Talia, loves it and pops it in her mouth like bits of candy for dessert.

This aged cheese comes from, as you would expect, Aldudes, a village commune in the Pyrénées on the Atlantic side of France. Sheep love the Pyrénées, and many of France's best hard sheep cheeses hail from somewhere in the mountain range between France and Spain. Like most cheeses from this region, this brebis is made from raw whole milk, with a long affinage (or ripening/maturing process) of at least several months.


At the Laurent Dubois cheese shop, Alex the salesman-par-excellence tells me that this Brebis des Aldudes would be a good cheese to buy because "it has strawberry overtones." It's a cheese, not a fruit salad, but darn if he isn't right. Besides its robust bouquet of sheep, it has hints of fruit. Perhaps the sheep eat wild strawberries?


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