Mamia: Basque Dessert Recipe

The state of Basque and Spanish desserts? Lamentable. Out in a restaurant, you often get premade, frozen industrial versions of French style puff pastry type sweets.  The worst of the worst.  If you're lucky, you may find a decent homemade arroz con leche, but let's face it: that's old rice, milk, and cinnamon. Wah-wah.

The Basque dessert par excellence is a lesson in simplicity itself. Mamia, known in Spanish as cuajada, and in English as 'Basque sheep's curd dessert' (the typical horrible translation found on menus here), is nothing more and nothing less than sheep's milk, heated and curdled with rennet, then served with the local bounty of the earth: honey and walnuts. Ingredients all found in your surrounding hills.  Traditionally made in the ancient receptacle, the kaiku, it used to have a burned wood taste to it. Nowadays, that taste is often chemically added if you purchase the more industrial versions of mamia.

This is an acquired taste, but it's a beautiful, beautiful example of a local dessert. Of eating like your ancestors ate, using only ingredients that are easily available.  In summer, sheep's milk is available in bags from larger farms, but the best time to make this is in season, when sheep are producing milk naturally and Idiazabal cheese is being made.

I almost held off on this post, which I've been meaning to put up for a while, because I've got another mamia-related item coming up next week. But then I thought, hey, since when is there such a thing as too much mamia?


1 liter sheep’s milk

20 grams rennet (cuajo)

Distribute the rennet equally between 4 bowls. Bring the milk to a boil then remove from the heat. Allow to cool to 37ºC / 98ºF and pour into the bowls. Stir quickly and leave to stand and cool, without moving or stirring.  Serve with