Oct 19, 2020

It's a Date: Lossaba au Lait Cru


Honestly, it's been a long time (too long) since I posted. I have lots of half-formed ideas and loads of cheeses in my files, but between the pandemic, wildfires, crazy politics, social protests, and the height of high school and college application season (both for clients I advise and for Gigi heading off to university!), making myself sit down and concentrate to write a post has been rough. When I have been writing, I've been working on a book proposal (yes, cheese!) and an article for a publication (yes, cheese!) that shall remain nameless because the date keeps getting pushed back due to insane, more-pressing news that keeps emerging. You'd think with all this extra time stuck at home, it would be easier for me to work on A Year in Fromage, but I bet that all of you living through 2020 can sympathize. 2020 brain is real, and it's fuzzy.

Because of all the heavy issues in the US, France, and globally, I just can't bring myself to write about something heavy in this space. But Gigi's various university application essays have given me an idea: she's been writing about her passion for French history, international relations, and the Arabic language, and how these intersect when looking at French colonial history in the Maghreb.

While living in Paris, we were able to visit the Maghreb once: Morocco. I desperately wanted to visit other countries in the area as well, but our plans were stymied by the horrible June 2015 terrorist attack at the tourist resort of Port El Kantaoui on the beach, near Sousse in Tunisia. That kept us away from the region; we are so excited for the day when we can explore it, safe from global pandemic, terrorism, etc. 

The relationship between France and the Maghreb, the northern Africa area which also includes Mauritania and Libya as well as Morocco, Tunisia, and Algeria, is a remnant of the Second French Colonial Empire, which started in 1830 with the conquest of Algeria (though the so-called First French Colonial Empire started in the 16th century, much of the initial territory was lost by the early 1800s). Other African colonies/territories from this time include parts of Togo, Cameroon, Madagascar, the Comoros, Djibouti, and Senegal. Further afield, French territories have included Indochine (Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos), Canada, parts of the United States (New Orleans comes by its Creole French and beignets honestly), French Guiana in South America, and still (to this day) Tahiti, French Polynesia, and Reunion. As with the British Empire, the end of World War II led to a push for independence in many of the colonies, and the Empire, as it was, crumbled and shrank, and not always peacefully.

This history definitely has some long-lasting, very serious ramifications, both in those former colonies and in the treatment in France of citizens with those origins. But honestly, in the wake of 2020 Disaster Fatigue, I just want to talk about one tiny, happy aspect of this long relationship between France and, especially, the Maghreb: the treats (My current motto: Keeping it Light to Preserve the Shreds that Remain of my Sanity in 2020).

There are couscous restaurants scattered throughout Paris and all of France, but my favorite are the little jewel-like bakeries with north African and middle-Eastern sugary delights. To me, there are a few flavors that immediately bring me to the region: rose water, orange blossom, pistachio, dates. It's not just the bakeries that are jewel-like; the pastries themselves often look like little gems.

According to the founder of Laouz, one of the most beautiful Parisian bakers of Maghreb treats, one in two French people have some tie with Algeria - whether it's a parent or grandparent. This statistic seems unrealistically high to me, even if you expand the claim to include the possibility of ties with other countries in the Maghreb. In fact, quickly looking it up on my own, the Insititut Montaigne says that around 6 million people living in France are of dual French-Maghrebi descent out of a national population of around 67 million, and that nearly 900,000 have dual descent currently living in the Maghreb. Or perhaps, the Laouz founder is broadly expanding the definition of "ties" to include as little as a vacation there. This, in fact, is how our family feels our ties to the region: through our trip to Morocco. Here are some photos (mostly of treats in the market) from that memorable trip:

In Paris, one of my favorite spots for these treats is Laouz, and my favorite Laouz (there are several) is this branch in the 5th arrondissement on Rue Mouffetard.

The little desserts so clearly harken back to the ones we saw and tasted in Morocco: still lots of rose petal and orange blossom, still the honey, pistachio, and lots of dates. Still the vibrant -- almost electric -- colors.

It's not just how they look that makes them so special. The ones made in France also have that unmistakable Parisian flair and sophistication, mixed with other cross-cultural flavors: matcha, lychee, yuzu, and chili. They are, as a whole, very sweet and, therefore, especially delicious when enjoyed with a little bitter tea.

For the atmosphere -- if not the actual best pastries -- the Great Mosque of Paris is also a spectacular destination and reminder of this historical and cultural relationship. Not only is this a place with history, including that it sheltered and save Jews in World War II, it's also got a hammam/spa and a lovely courtyard with Maghreb (particularly Moroccan) food. 

Besides the Great Mosque in the heart of the 5th arrondissement at the center of Paris, you can find these bakeries and treats in most other arrondissements around the city. Besides Laouz, the bakery whose treats I've photographed above, check out La Rose de TunisLa Bague de KenzaMasmoudi PatisserieLe P'tit Souk, and so many more. Many of these shops do also offer savory foods, snacks, and entire meals for pick up and even sometimes delivery. But let's admit it: it's the colorful little pastries that catch our eye.

THE CHEESE: Lossaba au Lait Cru

Lossaba -- or as it's called here, Lossaba ua Lait Cru, meaning Lossaba with Raw Milk -- is, as the name suggests made from raw milk. In this case, it's pure sheep milk, made in the Pyrénées-Atlantiques, which is in the southwestern corner of the hexagon (that is to say, mainland France). 

It's aged over two months, giving it a lovely, nutty flavor with hints of sweet caramel. The texture is that delightful middle ground between crumbly and creamy. It's a rustic cheese that comes in smallish wheels (think kid's tricycle instead of monster truck). Being a sheep cheese from the same part of the country as Ossau Iraty means it just begs to be eaten with some tangy-sweet cherry preserves. 


Do I have a great connection for this cheese? Not really. But since the moment I saw and tasted it, at a cheese stall at an outdoor Christmas market in Paris, I've always thought of it as my "African-themed" cheese. It is not, in fact, in any way, African. It's just the name: Lossaba. It reminds me so much of Lusaka, in Zambia. And there are other towns and cities in the Maghreb whose names are reminiscent of the word Lossaba: Tebessa, Annaba, Larbaa in Algeria; Vassinassa, Manouba,Tebourba, Tazerka, in Tunisia; Temara, Laayoune, Lamkansa in Morocco; Sebha, Tarhounah, Farzougha in Libya; Selibabi, Bababe, Kobenni in Mauritania. 

As for the cheese itself, adding some cherry preserves on its already caramel-tinged flavor makes it distinctly more dessert-like than your average savory cheese. And, finally, I photographed my slice of Lossaba on jewel-like colors, reminiscent of the lovely Magrhebi treats.


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