A wheel of high fat, firm sheep’s milk cheese from the Pays Basque. Brebis is French for the Ewe sheep, the female, from which the cheese, Brebis le Cayolar is traditionally made. Sheep’s milk cheeses can be found throughout France from soft, mild, and creamy to hard, crumbly, and pungent. However, Brebis from the Pyrenees, considered by many to be the best, is made from unpasteurized milk and is pressed into a mold, has a natural rind, and often has sweet pepper, Piment d’Espellette, added. A bleu or blue form of Brebis le Cayolar, while not as prevalent, also exists. Made high up in the Pyrenees mountains, typically in the small and spare shepherd’s cabins called cayolar or cujala, Brebis le Cayolar is made from the milk of 3 indigenous sheep breeds: the Manech Tête Noire, the Manech Tête rousse, and the Basco-Béarnaise. Since the mountain pastures are often found in highly inaccessible locales and the milking period did not historically allow for the milk to be returned down the mountains, Brebis le Cayolar had to be produced in small batches in the cayolars.
Mountain sheep farmers use old traditional family recipes handed down from generation to generation, the terroir, affecting the tastes and flavors depending on where the sheep graze, from which pasture, and what time of year, as well as how long the aging, affecting the intensity of flavor, the texture, and the aroma. The cheese can be pure sheep’s milk, or a mixture, such as Brebis Mixte-a mix of milks, Brebis de Chevre-goats milk, or Vache-cow’s milk.