Ossau-Iraty – fabulous cheese fashioned by gods

“Manchego’s most delicious cousin is “a little bit softer and more mild”…. Definitely pair this sheep’s milk cheese with some wine, because it’s got “enough creamy flavor to cut through” and because drinking wine alone in the bathtub is not a good look. Drinking it alone in the bathtub WITH CHEESE? Perfect.”

Rachel Freeman, writing on Thrillist blog

A friend took me out for lunch recently at the Rochelle canteen at the ICA and I noticed an exotic-sounding item on the menu…. Ossau-Iraty with oatcakes. It could have been anything, but, with a name like that I had to have it, and when it came I was very glad I did.

Ossau-Iraty is a 100% ewes’ milk cheese, first made at the beginning of time by a shepherd son of the Greek god, Apollo.

what is ossau iraty
Ossau-Iraty is said to have been first made by Aristee (or Aristaeus) – son of Apollo and patron, not just of cheese, but all kinds of dairy, all kinds of booze, and bees.

Apollo obviously spread his seed wide, because Ossau Iraty is made in the Ossau valley in Béarn, and the neighbouring Iraty beech forest in the the Basque country. There are claims that, if not the beginning of time exactly, it may have first been made some three thousand years ago… and it may, indeed, be one of the first cheeses ever to have been fashioned by man.

Recognition for it has been a long time coming however, as this cheese only gained its AOC status in 1980 (one of only two French sheep cheeses to be recognised in this way, the other being Roquefort). Traditions remain, with the sheep (AOC specified breeds being Basco-Béarnaise, and red and black-faced Manechs) being moved up to high pastures in the summer, and only raw, unpasteurised milk being used to make the cheese. Like the Tête de Moine, it was made by monks, and used sometimes as a currency.

what is ossau iraty
A black-faced manech – fabulous curvy horns

This is a wonderful cheese, and a good one, aged to about 10 months (younger cheeses are also available… softer and with a less developed flavour) which tastes of the flower-filled mountain meadows where the sheep graze, with a toasty, caramelly, nuttiness.

The older cheese has crunchy, calcium particles to add to its intrigue.

This is a terrifically versatile cheese which pairs well with fruit (or the local black cherry jam); and also a hearty Bordeaux or port, or a hoppy beer.

It is also melt well, and is very good grated into a salad, for example, A Cheese and Tomato Good For You Salad For Newly-Weds.

It’s available from supermarkets.

This post is dedicated to Adrian Patterson who was very taken by this cheese.
what is ossau-iraty
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