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Basque in the Glory


ossau iraty

With a mold-dappled rind resembling a moon rock, you might not be immediately drawn to Ossau-Iraty (pronounced OH-so ear-AH-tee) in the cheese case. Allow us to introduce you properly.

Ossau-Iraty originates in the Basque country, the mountainous land that hugs the border between Spain and France. The sheep’s milk cheese draws its name from the Irati beech forest in the Northern Basque Country and the neighboring Ossau Valley. Local legend claims that people have been enjoying this cheese since 3,000 BCE.

Beneath its coarse and funky rind, Ossau-Iraty yields a smooth ivory paste that boasts notes of figs, hazelnuts, and fresh grass. You can almost taste the towering Pyrenees mountains and lush pastures where the Black Head Manech sheep graze. In 1980, Ossau-Iraty was granted Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée (AOC) status and Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) in 1996. These geographical indications ensure that any cheese labeled “Ossau-Iraty” is made in the Basque region while observing strict guidelines.

A bite of this cheese coats your tongue in a luxurious way. Buttery without losing its complexity, Py Black Head Manech Ossau-Iraty is made by hand and aged on wooden boards for six months, developing protein crystals that add a delicate crunch. Pairing possibilities are endless with this versatile cheese. We love a thick piece on a cracker spread with blackberry jam. Or bring it along on a mountain picnic to enjoy with a crusty baguette and a dry Basque cider.

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