Quotes

Feb 25, 2014

Cherry on Top: Tomme de Brebis du Tarn

THE STORY:
 
Condiments for fine cheese? Pretty please, with a cherry on top. Whether you're eating 365 cheeses or even just 3, sometimes you want even more variety than just "plain" cheese has to offer. Enter delicious toppings that not only enhance the cheese experience, they also make your cheese platter much more beautiful and inviting.
 
 

#1) If you've been reading this blog regularly, you won't be surprised by my first choice: honey. This is especially good on mild, creamy goat cheeses, and I'm not the only one who thinks so. In the Dordogne, they regularly serve Rocamadour this way in restaurants. Between the variety of honeys and the variety of goat cheeses, this alone can give you a huge array of possibilities.

 

 #2 & 3) Dried fruit and nuts (salted or candied). These can be sprinkled around a platter with any sort of cheeses, and seem especially fitting in the winter. The fruit and nuts are good for to eat between cheese nibbles but also to eat with the cheeses.


#4 & 5) Fresh fruit & raw vegetables. For fruit choices, it's best to avoid anything too acidic, like citrus or pineapple. The two best fruits for the cheese platter have to pears (especially with blue cheese) and apples (especially with hard, nutty cow cheeses like a Comté or Beaufort). Berries also work well with softer goat cheeses, and fresh cherries are nice with softer sheep cheeses. For vegetables, I find that radish and red pepper taste especially nice with more spreadable cheeses, but I must tell you that red peppers are distinctly not-very-French of me. French people eat peppers roasted/cooked, but almost never raw. I think they're crazy. Pippa loves them and eats them like candy, in front of French children, who are beyond shocked (partly because they mistakenly believe all peppers are chilis). Vegetables on the platter has the added benefit of cutting down the dairy/bread factor.

 

#6: Jam and preserves. The most famous combination is black cherry jam (called "griotte" in French) and hard sheep cheeses. But berries, figs, and frankly nearly all fruits go well with both fresh cheeses (served with a spoon) or mild, creamy goat (or sheep) cheeses. Apple jams go well with creamy, cow cheeses (think Camembert coming from apple country). Plum (mirabelles) can be used for a combination you might not think of on your own: pungent cow cheeses like Maroilles or Langres. But you can definitely mix and match and experiment. The one rule of thumb is that these need to be authentic preserves, made with lots of real fruit. Don't insult your cheese with sugary, fake jellies.


#7: Or you can go one step further than jam, and buy (or make -- ha, ha, ha!) a fruit gelée -- gel, basically. Pâte de coings is the most famous of these -- quince gel -- and goes extremely well with both blue cheeses and sheep cheeses. Frankly, it's so delicious, it goes with any cheese, in my mind.



More exciting (to me, at least) is that I have recently discovered that some of the high-end cheese shops here sell more creative gelée flavors. At the Quatrehomme store, I agonize between pear/white wine/cumin or green apple/lemon/cinnamon or fig/walnuts or peaches in wine/white pepper/cranberries or black cherries/chocolate/Espelette chili or raspberry/herbes de Provence. Maybe I should do A Year in Fruit Gels. Yum!



#8 & 9) A slightly unusual idea: Herbs (especially with soft cheeses) and -- even more unusual -- flower petals (edible, of course). This works especially well for cheeses that are soft enough so that the herbs will actually stick.


THE CHEESE: Tomme de Brebis du Tarn

Tomme de Brebis du Tarn is, as the name pretty much says, a big sheep cheese from Tarn. It comes from raw sheep milk, and it's not so much a specific cheese as it is a generic sheep cheese, but from Tarn. The region of Tarn is in south-central France, far inland from Ossau Iraty and other famous-sheep-cheese territory, crossing the river called, of course, the Tarn.


It's riddled with holes and covered with a tough rind due to the aging process which is usually several months. Though it's a hard cheese, and one that crumbles easily (might be all those holes -- it's like perforation), it's got some moisture in it, along with a medium-strength flavor of sheep and farms.

THE CONNECTION:

We bring black cherry jam back from a trip to London. Turns out British and French can get together: On this plate of Tomme de Brebis du Tarn and Wilkin & Sons Black Cherry Conserve, the marriage of flavors is perfect.

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