Produced in the village of the same name, Bethmale, also sometimes known as Tomme de Couserans, is the best known of the traditional cow's milk cheeses from the Pyrénées.
The village of Bethmale is located in the Couserans region of the Comté de Foix in south western France, and some of the best known examples of this cheese come from the cheesemakers at Jean Faup.
Mention of Bethmale cheese dates back to the early 12th century, when Louis VI of France tasted it during a visit to the region. At the time, it was described as 'the fat cheese of Saint-Girons', a description that could still apply today since, when cut, the interior paste glows with fat and is distinctive for its horizontal slits.
Milk for production of Bethmale comes from a large number of small local dairies. Milk is heated to 86°F, renneted and left to ripen for 45 minutes before being stirred for ten minutes. The whey is drained off and the curd cut by hand, then transferred into molds lined with thick cheesecloth. The first pressing of the cheese is done by hand and they are turned once, still within their molds. They are then pressed again by placing a heavy plank on top to expel more whey, which is left in place until the evening when the plank and cloths are removed.
The next day, the wheels of Bethmale are salted on one side, followed by the other the day after. On the third day they are transferred to the maturing caves where they are aged for a minimum of four weeks, and usually eight. During this time they are regularly washed with a brine solution to encourage the growth of the Bacterium Linens mold that helps develop the cheese.
The texture of Bethmale is semisoft, supple and yielding, and cheeses are covered with a dense beige rind.
The interior paste varies from ivory-white through to buttery-yellow depending on the season, and is dotted with small holes and slits.
Aromas are pleasantly pungent, smelling of damp cellar and earth. Flavors are mild, very rich, milky and buttery with notes of grass, wood and mushrooms.