Caillé de brebis is a classic Bearnaise and Basque dessert. It’s made with the same sheep’s milk that’s used to make the famous AOP Brebis cheese, also produced within the Béarn and Pays Basque regions. I often buy Caillé from the farmer’s market, but the best I’ve ever tried is made by Jean-Luc from our local Auberge de la Fontaine; it’s creamy, yet delicately silken and laden with the sweet scent of vanilla. Jean-Luc’s Caillé de brebis is served in little ceramic pots, and the last few mouthfuls always contain a faint crunch of tiny black vanilla seeds, which for me, is the perfect ending for this deliciously simple indulgence.
The key to the perfect Caillé de brebis is sheep’s milk. Jean-Luc and I are lucky enough to source ours from a local shepherd, who hand milks his flock each day in a village just a stone’s throw from Montfort and the Auberge de la Fountaine in Laás. If you don’t have access to sheep’s milk, try un-homogenised full-fat organic cow or goat’s milk.Like anything made from just a few ingredients, quality is everything.
Armed with Jean-Luc’s expert tips I made my first batch and it was superb. Here’s what he recommends:
- It’s important to bring raw milk to the boil to kill off any unwanted bacteria, but it’s equally important to wait till the milk temperature is exactly 36 degrees before pouring it into the serving glasses that contain the rennet. If it’s too hot the rennet will be destroyed by the heat of the milk and it won’t set.
- Serve with a little pot of local mountain honey for extra sweeness.
And here’s a few ways to break the rules, from me!
- Jean-Luc flavours his Caillé de brebis with a little sugar and vanilla seeds scraped straight from the pod (the traditional way of making caillé), however, you could also use cinnamon, nutmeg, star anise or cardamom pods to flavour the milk (or a combination). If using other spices, less is more; you don’t want to lose the flavour of the milk. Strain the milk through a sieve before pouring into the serving glasses if you’re using added spices to avoid unwanted debris in the milk.
- Honey or maple syrup could be substituted for the sugar if you prefer.
- A pot of homemade seasonal fruit compote served alongside Caillé de brebis is also a lovely accompaniment.
Caillé de brebis is essentially the same thing as English Junket and perhaps that’s why I love it so much. My other would often make Junket for me as a child, although she made hers using a rennet tablet, which from memory, had a pinkish tinge to it. The smell of vanilla, combined with a wobbly silken spoonful of white creamy curds will forever remain one of the most nurturing tastes of my childhood. I hope you enjoy it too.