Overview of Ossau-Iraty Cheese
Like so many cheeses in France, the name of this unpasturized, pressed sheep’s milk cheese reflects the distinct area where it is made. Here, bounded by the Iraty forest and the Pic du Midi d’Ossau, Basque and Béarn shepherds still make cheese every summer.
Starting in mid-May, about 2,000 herds of sheep begin the climb into the higher elevations, called ‘les estives’. The rich and diverse grasses and flowers they munch during the summer months give Ossau-Iraty its nutty, fruité flavor. The shepherds work hard during this time milking and making the cheese that is then aged between 2.5 and 4 months.
Don’t miss a drive along the Route du Fromage Ossau-Iraty. The route extends from Gourette in Béarn to the Atlantic coast ending at St. Jean-de-Luz. Signs guide you to tastings and visits all along the way. You’ll find your breath taken away as you drive through this almost painfully picturesque landscape dotted with the distinctive Basque sheep.
Be on the lookout for the Manech Tête Noire sheep, pictured right. They are a diminishing breed but a few young Basque shepherds have banded together and are working to preserve them.