Jan 14, 2014

Knowing the Source: Tomme de Brebis Fermier Arbeletchea


It's clearly labeled Tomme de Brebis Arbeletchea, but upon further research, it often goes by the name Tomme de Brebis Arbeletche, or even Arbela. It's a Pays-Basque sheep cheese related to the more famous Ossau Iraty in almost every way and appears to be made by just one farmer: Jacques Laby in the town of Sehuscun. The raw sheep milk's cheese is aged a minimum of three months, in which time the crust gets too hard to eat easily (though you could eat it, if you wanted to) and the interior flavors deepen nicely.

You can see that it looks crumbly -- almost exactly the texture of a good Parmigiano Reggiano. And it's delicious, with a fragrance of sheep but not so strong that you'd call it gamey. You feel like you can taste the fields where they graze.


It sounds like I'm being subjective when I write that something's an artisanal cheese (good) and industrial (bad). But that's not my meaning at all.

You'll see these terms over and over when reading about, buying, and tasting these cheeses. So we might as well define and understand them.


Fermier: meaning "farmer" -- and means the milk is all gathered from animals on the farm where the cheese is made

Artisanal: Milk may be gathered from local dairy farms by the farmer then made into cheese in small batches

Cooperative: Milk is pooled from a cooperative association of dairy farms and/or cheesemakers

Industrial: Milk can be gathered from anywhere (although depending on AOC, AOP status, it may need to be gathered from dairies within specific regions) and the cheese is made in factories
The Tomme de Brebis Arbeletchea that I buy from Laurent Dubois is marked "fermière" (which would be the feminine form of "fermier", to agree with the feminine word "tomme"). And now we all know what that means. Because my local cheese shop is so high-end, many of the cheeses I buy there are labeled artisanal or fermier. Makes sense, right?



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