Thursday, May 12, 2011

Cheese: Idiazabal

Idiazabal cheese is Designation of Origen cheese, a label recognized by the European Union, when grown in certain Basque areas of Spain in the Pyrenees (Urbia, Entzia, Gorbea, Orduna, Urbasa and Aralar) and following certain regulations. 
The name Idiazabal comes from a village in the Goierri Valley where high quality cheese is produced. It is a traditional handmade cheese made by local farmers, so there are more producers than usual. The milk must be unpasteurized sheep milk from Latxa or Carranzana sheep, and it must be curdled with natural lamb rennet (an enzyme from the stomach that coagulates the milk, causing it to separate into curds (solids) and whey (liquid)). If salted (some is, some isn't), the rind is rubbed with dry salt, or the cheese is immersed in highly salted water for 24 hours. Then the cheese is aged under cold and humid conditions for two months. Then it is often smoked for ten days, using beech, birch, cherry or white pine, although it does not have to be. The unsmoked cheeses are yellow-beige while the smoked cheeses are brownish. 
The taste is supposed to be "strong and pronounced, slightly acidic and piquant, buttery and consistent, with a characteristic sheep milk flavor." When smoked it is drier and stronger. The Idiazabal I got from Trader Joe's was aged for six months. 
The longer aged version is harder in texture and sharper in flavor and aroma. I do not believe it was smoked. My experience with the cheese was that the smell was distinct, but muted. It was very dry and the taste was not real strong. It had a vegetabley taste, like matted grain. It was almost like it had a deeper taste you couldn't get to, you were restricted to the surface. This was another unique cheese that I did not care a lot for. I normally love cheese made out of sheep's milk, but this is not one. I just did an after-the-fact look and find that this is one of the 1001 Foods You Must Taste Before You Die

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