Vallee d’Aspe: Rich and Rewarding

July 9, 2010

Vallee d’Aspe comes from the Pyrenees region in Southern France.  It belongs to a cheese family called Ossau-Iraty Brebis that groups several cheeses of similar style produced in this region (Abbaye de Bel’loc is also in this cheese family).  This is a firm cheese made from raw sheep’s milk.  Its name translates as “Snake Valley,” which encouraged visions of a snake-filled, dry and rugged climate for its production.  (Note:  Our cheesemonger could not confirm if the Vallee d’Aspe was actually filled with snakes, but we did ask).

Vallee d'Aspe

Vallee d’Aspe’s interior is yellowish-beige and darkens to deep golden near its rind.  The surface has some fissures.  Its inedible rind has the color of toasted sesames and is smooth.  The interior of Vallee d’Aspe has a strong, musty odor.  Its outer rind has a faint scent of roasted grain.

To the touch, Vallee d’Aspe is moist and solid like cold butter.  On the tongue, Vallee d’Aspe has a smooth texture with an underlying richness.  Perhaps its the raw sheep’s milk that gives this cheese its rich mouth feel; it is very rewarding.

Vallee d’Aspe tastes nutty and salty, yet is quite mild.  The flavors are rich and linger on the tongue.  This is a very yummy and memorable cheese.  Jacob likened this cheese to an Aged Gouda, but this cheese is milder and is not as salty.  It has stronger flavor than the Abbaye de Bel’loc, which is a good gateway cheese to the Ossau-Iraty Brebis family.

We all liked this cheese.  This is the kind of cheese that begs a return visit.  It seems so direct and mild at first, but there is an underlying richness in flavor and mouth feel that belies its mild flavors.  I would buy this cheese again to share with family, friends, for a party plate, or a casual picnic.  This cheese has so much to offer: good flavor, beautiful appearance, and a great name that will spark interest and conversation.  How could anyone not like this cheese from Snake Valley?

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