Latxa sheep are native to Euskal Herria -Navarra and the Basque Country-. There are two varieties: dark-faced and blonde, and they are small to medium sized, as well as thin and agile. They need to be in good shape to go up the mountain and get the fresh grass that grows there. When winter comes, they seek shelter in any of the 30 barns in Goierri. The milk they produce is known for its richness, fruitiness and aroma. Only the milk from Latxa and Carranzana (breed from Biscay) is used to produced the high quality Idiazabal cheese in the Basque Country and Navarre for 8,000 years.
Idiazabal Cheese has its own designation of origin. It is the local cheese of the region, Goierri, but Idiazabal is the village with the oldest known memories of the cheese. Shepherds have been making this cheese and receiving awards not only in Spain but internationally, as a very well-loved and unique product.
Among two natural parks
Each latxa sheep produces a reduced volume of milk but their milk is of great quality: 120 litres each season, only from March to July. Sometimes they’ll make 210 litres. From their raw milk we can make Idiazabal cheese. To get that particular flavour, shepherds and flocks follow the traditional routes determined by seasons: pastureland in spring, summer and autumn, and valleys during winter. Those pastures will be a defining feature on the taste and flavour of the milk. From the sheep we also get Zaldibia’s mondeju, an artisan sausage made in caseríos during September and October.
You will enjoy this cheese even more when you are familiar with its traditional fabrication process: by hand. It comes from the milk of latxa sheep, yes, but it also comes from fields, pastures, meadows, and the hands of shepherds.
These all kept alive the recipe of this cheese traditionally made so that we can enjoy it today. The location of Idiazabal, between the Natural Parks of Aizkorri-Aratz and Aralar, is key to this process.
Only by visiting Goierri and Idiazabal will you learn everything about this cheese. You may also learn some recipes to cook with it and give this extra delicious taste to any of your meals! In the centre of the town, next to the church, you will see the Shepherd’s Monument, and a verse inscribed reads the necessary elements in grazing: the shepherd dog, the sheep, and the kaiku -container to collect the milk-. Latxa sheeps are also honoured in Idiazabal: you can find a ceramic sculpture of them in Gernika Tree square, next to a cutting of this very famous tree -very special for the Basques!- planted right there!
Know the product and the process of making Idiazabal cheese
The cheese tasting and Interpretation Centre is the place where you should go to get info, try the cheese, or visit a dairy. There are guided tours, like Ondramuño Cheese House where the Aranburu family in charge of the business will explain how they make cheese everyday. If you go to Gaztañaditxulo Cheese House, you will see the actual work of the shepherd dog, feed the lambs, see how they behave… and after all this, you will be ready to try some delicious cheese and natural cider!
At Ondarre Cheese House in Segura, the family Goiburu has been working for more than 500 years and they can sure tell you what this is all about, as well as show you the stable, the milking parlour and the cheese-making room. Their cheese won the first prize in the annual Championship of Idiazabal Cheese in 2012, held in Ordizia, and it was sold in the next auction for 13,050€… half a cheese!
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