Cheese of the Week: Ossau-Iraty

This Basque beauty is a little bit funky, but undoubtedly delicious
Raymond Hook

Ossay-Iraty is a great French mountain cheese.

Cheese of The Week is a weekly feature on The Daily Meal, drawing on the expertise of internationally renowned cheese expert and consultant Raymond Hook. What follows is based on an interview with Hook. 

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Ossau-Iraty is a firm mountain cheese made with raw sheep’s milk. It’s aged about four to six months, has just the right amount of firmness, and is one of the most complex cheeses out there, flavor-wise.

This cheese shop mainstay comes from southwestern France’s Pyrenees region, and it traces its history back more than 2,000 years. Shepherds traditionally made the cheese from Manech and Basco-Bearnaise ewes’ milk between June and September, when their herds grazed in the high mountain meadows. Today, it’s made by several producers, but if you can find one made by the family-run Agour, widely regarded to be the best, grab it.

It still has "a whiff of the tail," as the Portuguese say, according to Hook, but it’s not overwhelmingly barnyard-y, as that’s kept in check by the aging process. Still, it’s for people who like a robust, rounded flavor in their cheese. The smell has hazelnut notes, and the flavor is sweet, buttery, and slightly nutty.

"There’s a lot going on in this cheese," Hook said. "It’s not hard and crumbly, but not fudgy, and has a great overall texture. It can be a great table cheese, but is also great in salads, sandwiches, and omelettes, because it melts well."

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The cheese pairs well with pinot noir, and Hook likes to eat it with one particular Oregon Pinot, the 2010 from Foris.