Produced in the Basque and Navarre regions of northern Spain, Idiazabal is a smoked cheese made from the raw milk of Latxa or Carranzana sheep. Idiazabal’s denomination of origin has been protected since 1987, making it one of the region’s best-known products.
Named for the village of Idiazabal, located in the Goierri valley, the production of the cheese originated in the high mountain pastures of the region, where it was made by the nomadic shepherds. For the duration of the summer, the shepherds would move their sheep up the mountain to graze on the lush, new grass. During this time they would milk the sheep and make cheese in mountain huts. The cheeses matured in the rafter, where fires inside the hut would impart a smoky flavor. At the end of September, the shepherds, sheep, and cheeses would all return to the lower slopes, and by this time, the cheeses were ready for sale.
Today, the artisan producers of Idiazabal cheese imitate these traditional methods. After production, cheeses mature for at least two months. As a final step, the cheese can be smoked using beech or alder wood.
At the time of sale, Idiazabal has a smooth, dark, yellow-brown rind and has a slightly burnt aroma. The rind carries the marks of the wooden molds in which the curd is drained. The cheese’s texture is compact, slightly waxy, and dotted with small holes. It is pleasantly supple and toothsome in the mouth.
Flavors are sweet and balanced, with notes of bacon and caramel. In smoked versions, the smoke should be noticeable but should not overpower the slight sweetness and hint of acidity.
Idiazabal pairs well with a simple red wine like tempranillo, dry cider, or saison.