I grew up in the Basque Country between the green landscape of the Pyrenees and the cold Atlantic Ocean. A land of rolling hills, plenty of rain, wildflowers, and the softest grass that becomes a grazing feast for sheep when springtime rolls in.
Nothing would make me happier as a child than to visit my uncle’s sheep and watch the newborn lambs feed on their mothers’ milk. “Come sit next to me,” my uncle would say. “We are going to milk the sheep this morning to make "mamia.'" We proceeded in silence. The sound of the milk squirting into the metal milk container is still one that brings me back to those days. Mamia is an almost cheese-like product: a curd made with fresh ewe's milk and rennet that is sometimes sweetened with honey -- the most delightful, naturally sweet, and creamy dessert.
I brought my mom some of the milk from that morning and together we cooked. I poured the ewe’s milk into a large cast-iron pot. It simmered slowly until the first bubbles appeared on the surface. “It’s ready,” she said, “now it must cool before we add the rennet.” “But for how long must we wait?” I asked with curiosity. “Not sure, but we shall see. As long as it needs,” she said. In my family there were never cooking times, it was all about waiting and gauging -- about understanding. This is how I learned to cook. Standing on a step stool next to my grandmother and my mother who cooked and baked all day long. Waiting.
Now a mother myself, I think about the sheep that grazed in the pasture next to my home. These days, I travel to the Basque Country with my young children, Jon and Miren, to visit my uncle’s baby lambs. Jon and Miren make mamia with their "amama" (grandmother) just like I used to.
This sheep’s milk yogurt and honey tart is inspired by those childhood memories of sheep and simmering milk. Jon scoops the thick yogurt into a bowl. I let Miren sit on the counter in front of me while she whisks the eggs with a fork. “You need to whisk some more,” says Jon with confidence. He is learning to gauge -- to understand the process. We pour the silky yogurt custard into the tart shell and carefully bring it into the oven. “How long must we wait to eat this tart?” asks Jon impatiently. “Not sure,” I say, “as long as it needs.” Just like that I realize that perhaps I resemble my mom a bit more than I had thought. I smile.