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Tomme Brulée: Blowtorches in the Cheese Cave

Tomme Brulée, bruléed. If you walk into a cheese shop and ask for Basque cheese, chances are you'll be led to Petit Agour or Petit Basque. Some wheels, made in small production batches, will be amazing. Others, made by larger companies in factories, are little more than pale interpretations of the real thing- like fat free cake with sugar free frosting, or roller blades instead of the four wheelers. But there's another sheep's milk that's escaped the Pyrenees that shouldn't be missed.

Tomme Brulée is Petit Basque burnt to another level.

Aged by Affineur Pascal Beillevaire, Tomme Brulée is a pint-sized sheep's milk cheese with a bruléed rind. But before it goes crispy, it starts out like many small Basque style cheeses.

First, the milk for Tomme Brulée (translates to burnt wheel) is cooked slowly so that the sugars caramelize a touch. Sheep's milk has its own characteristic sweetness, and cooking the milk at low temperatures brings out even more of the sugar inherit in it. Then, the curds are separated from the whey, the wheels are shaped, and drained. Next, the cheese is heavily pressed to create a rich, hole-free paste and left to age.

Then at some point in its aging process, it's burnt. I'm not exactly sure when it's bruléed, so if anyone knows, help a girl out. But at one point or another (I'm assuming a couple months after its left to mature) someone takes a blow torch to the rind and flambées it.

Now I don't know if you've ever have the opportunity to burn a brulée crust or handle a blow torch in a kitchen, but its pretty much one of the coolest thing one can do with a food product besides this. I mean, you have a blow torch. And you are turning sugars into a hard crust that someone will joyously break with a spoon or, a blistering a rind that transforms a shepherds cheese into a cheese oddity. Sometimes the blow torch is huge too and you feel amazing holding it. You probably look great too (wink wink).

And the flavor? Well, honestly, it's really similar to a Petit Agour or Petit Basque. But it has an extra little smokey, caramel kick. Like the cookies of my my ex-in-laws made with a cigarette between her lips at Christmas time (but, you know, a lot better).

I like this cheese with a Viognier or a creamier white with a touch of oak. It fares well on a cheeseboard, but its smooth paste is also great for melting.

Have you tried this burnt beauty before? What did you think?