Ariège is, after the Pyrénées Atlantiques, Most important cheese production area in the Pyrenees mountains, reflection of the terroir and signature of agro pastoralism. The production derives its specificity and its richness from the breeding of three animal species: sheep, goats and cows. Here the cheeses take the name of the valleys, the villages, the peaks of the surrounding mountains: the Pic de la Calabasse, the Moulis, the Bethmale… In Ariège, you don't end a meal without a cheese platter! ?

a strong character ...

Today, professionals are organized around two categories: farm cheesemakers, that is to say, breeders who exclusively process the milk of their animals on their farm; and the artisanal, industrial or refiner cheese makers. In Ariège, the first category has more than 50 breeders producing a few 200 tons cheeses per year, compared to more than 2000 tons for the artisanal or industrial sector. Milk is the essential raw material for making cheese. Some cheese makers are helping farmers and breeders to set up shop, to switch to organic production for very high quality milk. Thefarmer becomes the main and fundamental actor again.

Trade secret ... bethmale

It is in the Bethmale valley, in the heart of Regional Natural Park of the Pyrenees Ariégeoises, that at the beginning of the 1950th century, the first fruit farms were installed for a higher yield. Until the XNUMXs, shepherds continued to make cheese in the summer pastures.

Bethmale is undoubtedly the most famous Pyrenean cheese. Originally from Couserans in the county of St Girons, it takes its name from the village where it is made. It is even said that he would have had the favors of Louis VI when the latter, in the XNUMXth century, crossed the region.

Fabrication d'une tomme de Bethmale en Ariège
Manufacture of a Tomme de Bethmale in Ariège © Ariège Pyrénées Tourisme / S.Meurisse

It is one of the rare cow cheeses from the Ariège Pyrenees.

The making : All types of milk are pasteurized and undergo the same manufacturing process, whether goat, sheep and mixtures. After the entire manufacturing process, the cheeses arrive in the cellars of Bethmale, to be artisanal ripened 4 to 16 weeks, before they are marketed?

Bread, wine and cheese, a trio not to be left under the cover ...

A cheese board, 100% Ariège is a journey of tastes, smells and characters. Before tasting, for the cheese to express its aroma much more, it must be left sweat in the open… The platter must include several varieties: cow's milk, sheep's milk, mixed milk, creations made with goat's milk… The tasting must begin with “young” cheeses with soft cheeses and a thin rind. Then comes the more mature pasta. They took the time to age in the cellar and develop more powerful aromas. The seasons, the milk, the ripening time modify the flavors and tomme de bethmale, does not look like another. Each cheese producer has his secret. Between each variety, we renew our palate by eating a little bread or quenching our thirst.

Fabrication d'une tomme de Bethmale en Ariège
Manufacture of a Tomme de Bethmale in Ariège © Ariège Pyrénées Tourisme / S.Meurisse

All in the kitchen with Tomme des Pyrenées from Ariège ...

In the kitchen, Ariège chefs are inspired by cheese and invent recipes: broussade pie, mountain trout puffed with cheese, duck breast rose on a fondant of Ariège goat… Recipes to find…

Where to buy your cheese?

Of the many markets "Full blast", many producers come to set up their stand and sell their production for the week directly. In Saint Girons, on Saturday morning, we can see that Ariège is the other country of cheese: tommes, crottins, pyramids, pucks ... 

Along the departmental roads, signs indicate the cheese producers. Often they have a small shop attached to the lab. You can buy your cheese and in addition you will have the story. And yes, each cheese has its history in Ariège

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