Wednesday, March 26, 2014

A Gourmet Cheese Tasting in the Middle Atlas

A selection of goats cheese produced by Domaine de la Pommeraie

Last weekend saw an assortment of riad and restaurant owners take a break from the busy season in Fez and trek out towards Immouzer on a quest for goat's and sheep's cheese, writes Vanessa Bonnin

We had been invited to taste a range of artisanal produce at Domaine de la Pommeraie, a 12.5 hectare farm in the Middle Atlas, which produces cheese made from goat's and sheep's milk, as well as honey, apples, plums, peaches, apricots and cherries. The cheese is produced using an ancient Amazigh (Berber) method of fermentation.

We had rather foolishly arrived on time for the event, somehow forgetting we were in Morocco where nothing ever starts on time. Our second elementary error was not eating lunch beforehand, optimistically believing that bread and the much anticipated cheese tasting would suffice.

So you can imagine that after two hours on a very empty stomach, gazing at a buffet of cheeses arranged enticingly that we were not allowed to touch, we were feeling rather, well, cheesed off.

The only explanation we could get was that we couldn't start until everyone had arrived so in desperation we sat at a table and started eating some dried fruit and olives that was obviously meant to go with the cheese but by this stage - 4pm - we were so ravenous we didn't care.

Finally, at 4.30pm, the big cheese arrived - the Wali of Fez himself - and we suddenly understood why we had been made to wait so long. We felt rather 'sheepish', but delighted as platters of cheese held by white-coated waiters began to make their way towards our table.

Accompanied by thyme honey and olive oil from the farm, plus an array of breads and fruit, the first few cheeses came and went in a flash as we began to quell the tummy rumbles.

The Jben du Douar was slightly acidic, so went particularly well with the honey. This was followed by Le Berbére, a very fresh and buttery tasting cheese that would have benefited from a little more aging. The creamy Tomme Mimoun was very popular with the table, bringing comparisons with Camembert.

The Kandri had a more distinct goat flavour and was sticky on the palate. Our youngest taster, Francesca, described it as "a bit fizzy"! We then went off the menu (which had listed a ten-course tasting extravaganza) and tried a sheep's cheese. This new product had a great nutty flavour and a long finish and quickly made the top of the list so far.

The herd of 180 goats at the farm feast on lush foliage and herbs

The emergence of a dish of hand-churned butter also went down well, particularly after being described by a waiter as 'Beurre Berbere' (try saying it quickly) which for some reason caused us to dissolve into fits of giggles. I think we were all a bit giddy after finally getting food in our bellies, but our raucous table undoubtedly caused some to think that we'd spiked our home-made ginger juice with vodka. Tsk, tsk, all those foreigners are alcoholics...

La Buchette de Cedre was up next and despite being rolled in cedar this smooth, soft cheese didn't have a strong flavour. The final installment was La Mousse au Chevre, a lovely mousse served in a glass with strawberries - light and fluffy with a touch of sweetness, this was pronounced "a splendid dessert".

In the end we tried six of the ten cheeses on the menu, plus one surprise sheep's cheese, and all were noteworthy. What really got our goat however, was the star cheese - a special goat's cheese with a mould added that makes it green rather than blue - was nowhere to be seen! This had been anticipated as a highlight but we didn't get to try it. Fortunately my husband had purchased one earlier on (as he had to leave before the event got underway due to work commitments) and I got to try it later at home. I can confirm that this cheese has the most depth of flavour of all and a wonderful smoothness. It's a shame not everyone got to try it as this is definitely their best product.

Domaine de la Pommeraie
Ain Chiffa, Imouzer Kandar
Tel: 21265385248

Domaine de la Pommeraie owner, Tariq Lechkar

Words: Vanessa Bonnin
Photos: Suzanna Clarke

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falconhouse said...

I always wondered why sheep and goat milk weren't being used very much to make cheese, yogurt and other products. Especially when you consider
the wonderful variety of sheep and goat milk products in European Mediterranean countries.

Does one have to go to the Domaine de la Pommeraie in order to buy these cheeses? Where in Fes might one find a serious selection of locally produced goat and sheep cheese?

Jearld Moldenhauer

Anonymous said...

Lovely to know there are some yummy cheeses out there in this Kingdom of Morocco!!!

Tess Quadra said...

The writer was very witty & pictures lovely.What were those flowers? and the silvery bushes?

Aycha said...

Il n y a pas très longtemps, ces produits fermiers et ces fromages de chèvre de la Pommeraie étaient vendus dans un petit magasin situé avenue des Far à Fès. J'étais un client fidèle car j'adore le fromage de chèvre.
Malheureusement, ce magasin a vite fermé ses portes. Il y a donc un problème de distribution à régler.
Bonne fin de soirée!

Karima said...

Nice to know there are yummy cheeses out there, lovely fotos too.

Unknown said...

الله يوفق أسي طارق