Tag: Basque cheese

James Beard Award goes to The Oxford Companion to Cheese

We are proud to announce that The Oxford Companion to Cheese has received the James Beard Award for “Reference and Scholarship” this year. You may ask, are Basques just that obsessed with cheese to write a post about it? Well yes, we are, and I  am definitely the definition of a cheese eater: “A person who eats cheese; a person who appreciates or routinely consumes cheese.” However, the reason we are sharing this news is because Professor Sandra Ott was among the 325 contributors to the book (a whopping 888 pages), hailing from over 35 countries! Zorionak Sandy!

For those of you who are familiar with Dr. Ott’s work, you may not be surprised that she was asked by the editorial board member Heather Paxson, author of The Life of Cheese: Crafting Food and Value in America and professor of anthropology at MIT, to contribute. Ott’s The Circle of Mountains: A Basque Shepherding Community, an ethnography of Santazi (Zuberoa) and its people, is a Basque Studies classic. Part Four of the book comprises three chapters on cheese and cheese-making: 1. The Olha: A Pastoral Institution; 2. Rotation and Serial Replacement in the Olha: Past and Present; 3. Shepherding and Cheese-making. Perhaps the most striking chapter, however, is Part Five: The Concept of Conception. After years living in Santazi, and now decades returning to do fieldwork and maintain lifelong friendships, Professor Ott participated in the town’s traditions and work. It was through this labor, as well as talking to residents, that Ott learned much about Santazi’s cheese-making, the significance of the olha (the sheepherding syndicate’s hut high in the mountains where cheese is made exclusively by men during summer transhumance), and finally the connections between human and cheese conception. Here are Ott’s own words:

Santazi, Zuberoa

These examples show the historical depth and spatial distribution of an analogy that is central to the Sainte-Engrâce notion of human conception–namely, that rennet : cheese : : semen : infant. The modern existence of the cheese analogy of conception in one French Basque community is itself an interesting phenomenon … an attempt by men … to fulfil symbolically the female procreative role and to re-enact symbolically the physical creation of children in a male domain from which women are excluded. In Sainte-Engrâce, this also involves a reversal of male and female sociological roles, i.e. the cheese-making shepherd performs the socio-domestic role of the female head of household and recreates the ideologically female domain of the house in the male domain of the mountain herding hut.

The Circle of Mountains, pg. 212

Professor Ott’s contribution to The Oxford Companion to Cheese deals with the significance of the olha and cultural theories of cheese curdling. Paxson also includes this anecdote in her own book:

When I first visited Major Farm and was explaining to David my early thoughts about an anthropological research project, he asked, “Oh, you mean like Sandra Ott?” and pulled down from a bookcase in the kitchen, shelved next to the Moosewood Cookbook, a copy of Ott’s ethnographic monograph, The Circle of Mountains.

The Life of Cheese: Crafting Food and Value in America, pg. 52

Although Professor Ott’s new book Living with the Enemy (Cambridge University Press) is set to be released very soon, we can gather that her interests are wide in scope, and who wouldn’t love cheese! As a matter of fact, she has presented numerous times at the American Cheese Society Conference! She sets an example for students like myself in her ability to balance many topics in-depth, while still having time to think about gazta!

We leave you with a review, in case you want to know more. This is what The New York Times had  to say about this doorstopper:

For the Cheese Lover, the Ultimate Reference Book

This new guide to cheese from Oxford University Press is authoritative, but what is surprising is how local it gets. Calandra’s Cheese on Arthur Avenue in the Bronx is listed, along with such revered fromageries as Androuet in Paris. And just to show how American cheesemakers are at the forefront of the artisanal resurgence, the book was edited by Catherine Donnelly, a professor of nutrition and food science at the University of Vermont, with a foreword by Mateo Kehler, a founder of Jasper Hill Farm in Vermont. Hundreds of writers from 35 countries contributed to this 888-page doorstop of a reference book, with entries arranged alphabetically and covering topics like regulations, techniques, history, cuisines, types of rinds, Mexican cheeses (there are some 60 varieties), Chinese cheeses and cheese museums: “The Oxford Companion to Cheese,” edited by Catherine Donnelly (Oxford, $65).

Say Cheese!

The prestigious International Cheese Festival starts tomorrow, November 16,  in Donostia-San Sebastián and runs until November 18. The Artzai Gazta association, an organization comprised of 110 local small-scale craft producers, played a central role in bringing the festival to the Basque Country. The festival is seen as both a platform to showcase Basque products and a forum to exchange knowledge with other small-scale cheese producers from all over the world. Moreover, at the festival the World Cheese Awards organization will be awarding prizes to its 2016 winners. You can even follow the prize-giving via live online steaming. Check out the details here.

Check out the full program for the festival here.

Three Basque producers make 2016 Winners List in Great Taste Awards

The Great Taste Awards, organized by the Guild of Fine Food, is the acknowledged benchmark for fine food and drink and has been described as the ‘Oscars’ of the food world. In 2016 over 400 judges, including specially trained food writers inputting judges’ comments, came together at 49 judging days from March through early July. The judges, from all corners of the food world, blind-taste in teams of 3 or 4 ensuring they get a balance of expertise, age, and gender.

Over 10,000 products were entered for the 2016 awards, with only 141 foods achieving the highest and most coveted rating, three stars; 878 foods received 2 stars and 2,520 were awarded a 1-star rating. That means only 35% of entries were accredited.The Golden Forks (the big winners) will be announced at a celebration dinner at the Royal Garden Hotel, London on the September 5.

In the sheep’s cheese category, there were 21 awards, 3 of which (including the only 3-star rating) went to Basque producers.

640px-Queso_Idiazábal

The famed Idiazabal cheese. Photo by Xavigivax, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

The coveted 3-star rating was awarded to the smoked Idiazabal sheeps’ milk cheese of the Mausitxa baserri in Elgoibar, Gipuzkoa.  This means that it made the prestigious top 50 foods list, which for the organizers “quite simply are the best fifty foods in the world each year.” As regards the Mausitxa smoked Idiazabal, in the judges opinion, “Although smoky on the nose and in the mouth, the flavour of the cheese is never overpowered and those who try it will be rewarded with a fresh, crumbly and slightly sweet finish.” Mausitxa also received a 2-star rating for its regular Idiazabal sheeps’ milk cheese.

The La Leze baserri in Ilarduia, Araba, received 2-star ratings for both its normal and its smoked Idiazabal sheeps’ milk cheeses, while the Etxetxipia baserri in Elizondo, Nafarroa was awarded a 2-star rating for its regular sheeps’ milk cheese.

Check out the Basque sheeps’ milk association here. What’s more, if you haven’t yet done so, you can download Hasier Etxeberria’s great introduction to Basque gastronomy, On Basque Cuisine, free here.