Cheese is the eternity of milk
-Ramón Gómez de la Serna
How to recognise Idiazabal cheese
The cheese is cylindrical in shape -ivory colour or pale yellow- with a lingering aftertaste, a balanced, yet intense, flavour and light spicy, acid and smoky notes -the latter in the case of smoked cheese-. Before being ready to eat, an aging process of two months at least takes place. It is very useful as a cooking ingredient, being a great option in salads, cakes or souflé, as well as grated or melted.
Authentic Idiazabal cheese always includes the next elements that guarantee the designation of origin:
– A label, with a red stripe, the name ‘Idiazabal’ and logo attached.
– A back label, with a number and a series, coded according to size and type of cheese.
– A casein label, affixed during manufacture, gives an ID number to the cheese.
Idiazabal cheese is one of the core dairy products in Europe: in 1992, it was nominated Product of the European Gastronomic Heritage by the French Ministry of Agriculture; in 1995, it was awarded Best European Sheep Cheese in Parma, Italy.
Idiazabal cheese has been made in the Basque Country and Navarre for more than 8,000 years now. Both cheese and shepherds were highly acclaimed at the end of the 19th century, in the competitions of local Basque Fairs. They were also awarded in national competitions. Our shepherds won 30 out of the 40 prizes given between 1886 and 1903. Nowadays they keep collecting awards not just national but international.
Latxa sheep are native to Euskal Herria -Navarra and the Basque Country- and they are fed with the fresh grass of Goierri’s pastures during spring, summer and half autumn. During winter, they go down to the barn and are fed with mown grass and extra feed. Only from latxa sheep or carranzana -a local variety from Las Encartaciones, a region in Bizkaia- you can get the best milk to produce Idiazabal cheese. Raw, unpasteurised milk. Also their lambs’ rennet is an essential ingredient in the process of making Idiazabal cheese!
Do you want to meet the big star of Goierri?
You can get your visit to a dairy -quesería- organised through the Cheese Tasting and Interpretation Centre, which is also a great place to visit with kids and let them know the story of our cheese.
These are the cheese houses you can visit:
– Ondarre cheese house. 13,050€ were paid at auction for just half of their cheese at the Idiazabal Cheese Competition held annually in Ordizia! If you visit this dairy, you will meet Goiburu family and they will show you their facilities and the sheep! You can also spend the night at their 500-year-old caserío, because it is also an farmhouse accommodation!
– Ondramuño cheese house. Brothers Aranburu -Javier, Juanjo y Jesús- will guide you through the cheese-making process, having the chance to taste different varieties of Idiazabal: white, smoked, young and aged. Their cheese was awarded the international ‘Super Gold’ at 2015 World Cheese Awards!
– Gaztañaditxulo cheese house. They have around 350 latxa sheeps. If you come visit them, you will see the shepherd dog working, you will have the chance to feed the lambs, see the milking… also see the process of making cheese and -of course- taste it with some natural cider!
– Garoa cheese house. Martina and Jon are passionate about heir job. You can visit them in their farm at the entrance to Zerain from approximately September to May because this family makes the transhumance and spends their summers in the Aralar Natural Park.
– Basazabal cheese house. Javier Muñoa is the shepherd of this traditional cheese factory located in a beautiful enclave and where, in addition to knowing the production process, you can see his flock.
– Baztarrika cheese house. Amelia and her family offer us the possibility of making Idiazabal cheese as well as seeing a photo exhibition about the life of the shepherd. You can buy local products in their little store.
– Otatza cheese house. Joseba Insausti is shepherd from Ordizia and he spent the year living between his hut in Aralar Natural Park and the family farmhouse located in Ordizia, one of the few remaining in the town. This is one of the shepherds who knows what is to get a prize in the famous Ordizia contest.
The Champions of Idiazabal!
The Wednesday of September closest to 9th of September, the day of the Virgin, it takes place in Ordizia one of the most relevant competitions in the country: the annual competitions of latxa sheep cheese made by shepherds. From 1904 until the present day, this event is considered the Idiazabal Champions League. World-famous Basque chefs never miss the date, since it’s also a part of Basque culture. Participation ranges between 50-60 shepherds, though one year 109 of them competed. The auction of the winners is one-of-a-kind: in 1980, Juan Mari Arzak bid 12,000 pesetas (72€) and took home the winner cheese.
Now, numbers got bigger and cheese is almost as valued as any Sotheby’s piece of fine art: 13,050€ were paid in 2014 for half of the winner cheese (approximately 550 grams) from Quesería Ondarre!
Introduction of new cheese
For more than 20 years, Ordizia helds in April the presentation of the young cheese of the season, on Easter Wednesday. That day, a prestigious cook slices the cheese and shepherds are honoured. They walk through the town with their flocks of sheep, representing the start of summer and the climb to the mountains to eat the pastureland.