Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Ferme Agerria

This section represents the details I gathered on each of the individual farms we visited and their cheese and cheesemaking process. Other than me, there are probably few people who are actually interested in what temperature the cheese curd was cooked to or for how long the wheels were pressed, but this section is for them (and me). I'll try to include lots of photos and amusing anecdotes to keep it interesting, though.

Bernadette & Jean-Claude Pochelu
St. Martin d'Aberoue
06 32 62 10 64

Ferme Agerria was our first visit and they provided us with a significant amount of information about the cheesemaking process and their farm. As they were our first stop and we bought a whole wheel of cheese from them, we never came up with any whimsical nickname for them. I would have to say that, to me, the Agerria cheese most resembled the Ossau-Iraty I have had before (Abbaye d'Bellocq and Panache d'Aramits) and it's one of my favorites. It is AOC certified.

The Make
At Agerria they make cheese every other day, using the milk from four milkings. The batches range from about 300 to 600 litres, depending on the stage of the season. On the cheesemaking day, the morning milk is added to the previous three milkings at 22 C and they are all raised to 30 C. At this point they add the rennet and wait about 45 minutes. The curds are heated to 40 C. When the curd has formed it is cut. The set curd is then cut into blocks and put into the cheese molds lined with nylon film. The cheese is then pressed at 2.5 bars for 30 minutes, turned and then pressed at 3 bars until mid-afternoon. The cheese is then rested overnight. The next day it is brined for 20 hours. The two kilo cheese wheels are aged at 12 C, 75% humidity on beech wood, brushed and turned daily. After 20 days the cheese is aged at 11 C, 85%, brushed and turned weekly. The cheese is then sold at three months of aging.

The Farm
Ferme Agerria is 25 hectacres (about 50 acres) in size, with 3/4 in pasture and hay. They have 300 red-headed Manex sheep, and do use some artificial insemination. They lamb from November to February and ween the lambs at 10-11 kg. Other than pasture, the sheep are fed cereal and chopped hay. The whey from the cheesemaking process is fed to pigs. The cheese to milk ratio in December is 1 kg/6 L and by July it is 1 kg/4.5 L. The "white cheese" (before being aged) yield per year is 4.5 tonnes but they plan to grow to 6 tonnes in the coming year.

The Cheese
rind: sticky orange rind
pate: many small holes
flavor: buttery, slightly tart
mouth feel: dry, faintly chalky


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