Friday, May 13, 2011

Cheese: Ossau-Iraty (Basque Shepherd's)

Ossau-Iraty is produced in southwestern France in two neighboring provinces: the Ossau Valley in the Bearn and the forests of the Pays Basque. The traditional label is below.
I got mine through Trader Joe's which provides its own packaging.
It took me awhile to figure out that the name of the cheese was Ossau-Iraty and not Basque Shepherd's Cheese. It is an AOC product (appellation d'origine controlee), a French certification for products with special characteristics in a geographical area. It, along with Roquefort, are the only two sheep milk cheeses with AOC status in France. It is an uncooked, pressed cheese made with raw, unpasteurized milk from Manech (primarily) and Basco-Bearnaise sheep and aged at least 90 days. It is a traditional cheese made by shepherds in that region. The Di Bruno Bros. website says that it is the "grandfather of Basque cheeses [and] has been made in the same style for millenia, and can best be described as the highest quality sheep milk cheese made by people who clearly know what they are doing." 
And it is one of the 1001 Foods You Must Taste Before You Die which describes the taste as "fatty, sweet, and nutty." Wikipedia describes it as "light in color and very complex yet delicately smooth flavors...creamy, not bitter, not overly sweet, perhaps slightly nutty...with a gentleness and ability to please." I found that the flavor had the unique taste of sheep's milk that jumped out immediately and then got stronger in the mouth. It is an easy, satisfying, comfort cheese. 
With quite a few cheeses in our refrigerator right now, I find that I keep going back to it. I also had some Idiazabal cheese in the refrigerator, a similar type of cheese made in the Pyrenees of northern Spain, and I found that I like the Ossau-Iraty much more. We had too much cheese on hand so I gave a friend some. The Idiazabal went to my friend, but I couldn't part with the Ossau-Iraty. After my friend left, I went back to the refrigerator and cut off a few more slices. 


  1. Wikipedia says, "According to AOC regulations this cheese must be made with raw, unpasteurized milk." But as you can see in the picture above, Trader Joes is claiming this is "Ossau Iraty AOC" but also "pasteurized." So what gives? Are they lying their a$$es off? Or just confused?

  2. Same for the cheese I just got from an excellent natural food co-op. I came to this page because the cheese is so extraordinarily beautiful, I had to go look it up.

    Either Wikipedia is confused or the regulations have been loosened a bit, at least for exported cheese.

    Doesn't matter to me. This cheese is just divine.

  3. "What is this wonderful cheese" I asked myself last night

    Thanks for enlightening us

  4. Could anyone tell me please where we can get Basque Shepherd's Cheese? Here in Los Angeles, Trader Joes has recently discontinued their Basque Shepherd's Cheese--all the members of our family were buying and eating about a wedge a day altogether--it was that good!
    We dislike Trader Joes immensely, as EVERY well made and delicious product (which I might add, they encouraged us to initially buy) is ALWAYS discontinued--fresh, packaged, bottled, boxed--you name it. We are finding ourselves more and more shopping at Whole Foods, as they also never lie on their labeling. Trader Joes has received hundreds of thousands of dollars ($200,000 was one) in fines by government agencies according to our doctor, for misslabeling their products. The worst was selling some of their shrink-wrapped fish as wild caught when it was discovered to be farm-raised, thus full of antibiotics, bacteria and toxins.
    When manufacturers don't want their products labelled by TJ's, or no longer want to sell in bulk at extremely low prices, TJ's drops their product.