The Ossau Iraty cheese : introduction
The Ossau Iraty cheese, made from ewe's milk, best represents the Basque Region. For many years, the cheeses of the ewes of Béarnais were known under the name of Laruns (the name of a village situated in the Valley of Ossau). The Ossau Iraty cheese is a cheese made from pure ewe's milk, a whole milk, where the cheese is pressed and has a hard texture. The Ossau Iraty cheese has been an AOC since 1980. This cheese is often fabricated by hand. The cheese Ossau Iraty is the only AOC cheese-maker of the Pyrénées. There are 150 farms and a dozen dairies who also produce this cheese.
The Ossau Iraty cheese is in the shape of a small millstone with a convex heel. There are two sizes, the first has a diameter of 25cm and a thickness of 13cm, the second has a diameter of 20cm and a thickness of 11cm. These cheeses weigh from 4kg to 5kg and from 2kg to 3kg respectively. The Ossau Iraty farm cheese can weigh up to 7kg. The cheese is fabricated during winter and spring in the fields and on the hillsides, and for some of the cheese-makers this can be followed by the fabrication in summer on the mountain summer pasture. The Ossau Iraty cheese is ripened for at least 3 months in a cool cellar (12°C).
Exterior appearance of the Ossau Iraty cheese: a pinkish to light grey rind.
Interior appearance of the Ossau Iraty cheese: compact with no holes.
Texture of the Ossau Iraty cheese: slightly elastic.
Taste of the Ossau Iraty cheese: nutty and milky.
How to enjoy the Ossau Iraty cheese
Due to its unctuous consistency and its firmness, the Ossau Iraty cheese can be enjoyed in many ways:
* with cherry jam, or a red berry jam (strawberry, redcurrant...)
* for amuse-bouches (canapés, mini tarts or pastries, fritters...)
* as a condiment: dry, the cheese is easy to grate and use as as condiment for soups, gratins, salads: as slivers or diced with curly endives, with endives or mixed with diced ham, gizzards and walnuts.
Thanks to its maturity, the Ossau Iraty cheese can be enjoyed all year round.
History of the Ossau Iraty cheese
As early as the 1st century, the latin writer Martial mentions the presence of cheeses from the Pyrénées at the markets of Toulouse. In the 14th century ewes milk cheese became a recognised value of exchange in return for rent or goods and it constituted the main souce of the revenue for the shepherds.
This ancestral production has developed and still endures today. In the 1970s, the milk of the ewes collected in Béarn and the Basque Region were transformed into Roquefort cheese. This export had a major influence on the development of the ovine dairy production in the region, in which its volumes increased by an important amount.
Since the 1970s, the local production of Roquefort has fallen and been replaced by the dairy fabrication of traditional, local ewes milk cheese. From 1975, faced with the risk of seeing the traditional ewes milk cheese become a product of the diversification of the AOC Roquefort, the producers of Béarn and the Basque Region as well as the other producers of the same field created a syndicate to protect and obtain the acknowledgement of the Ossau Iraty cheese as AOC.