In Provence every cheese shop worthy of its whey has an earthen-ware bowl (or several) with a big wooden spoon stuck in its mound of soft, fresh cheese. Some of this ‘fromage frais’ is plain, to be eaten with crème fraiche and honey or homemade jam, some is scented with fresh herbs, the most popular on the Côte d’Azur being a mixture of chives and chervil. If you are lucky, the fresh cheese will be made from goat’s milk, as it is at the Maison Agnèse. This is a simple home version using full cream cow’s milk.
Heat the milk and cream in a large pan until lukewarm. Stir the rennet into the mixture very thoroughly. Remove the pan from heat, cover with a clean cloth and let stand until the curd is fairly solid (3-5 hours). Place the curd in a sieve lined with a double thickness of damp muslin and leave to drain over a deep bowl for about 1½ hours in a cool place. Remove the cheese and gently work in the salt, pepper and herbs, leaving the chive flowers and a few chopped herbs for decoration later. Line the basket with muslin and press the cheese firmly into it. Leave to drain again for 24 hours - the longer you leave it the firmer it will set. Turn out on to a plate and press the chive flowers and more chopped herbs into the top. Serve instead of mayonnaise with a bowl of crudités & crusty bread. (The cheese will keep for about 3 days in a cold place. Alternatively, if you wish to use the cheese to thicken sauces, or with honey and cream, omit the herbs, salt and pepper.)
At the delightful Auberge Jarrière in Biot they serve the fromage frais separately, surrounded by little bowls of sugar, honey and chopped fresh herbs - a sort of do-it-yourself version of this recipe.
© 1987 Leslie Forbes estate. All rights reserved.