Capitoul Ossau-Iraty, PDO is made in Lons, in the heart of the Pyrénées-Atlantiques, France. It is a traditional, semi-soft cheese made from sheep's milk. It comes from a very specific area in the Pyrénées-Atlantiques department, usually wheel shaped, with natural rind. Full of a delicious, nutty, robust taste, it is produced from the milk of Manech ewes during the period from June to September, when the herds move up to the high mountain meadows. The cheese's grassy sweetness is heightened by a smoky Pouilly-Fumé or a silky château Margeaux.
Ossau Iraty’s fragrance is reminiscent of toasted hazelnuts, and its taste encapsulates the sweet, buttery flavors that a great sheep's milk cheese can deliver. The pâte is supple and creamy when young and becomes firmer as the cheese ripens. Ossau Iraty is creamy and buttery in the mouth with flavors of nuts, fruits and herbs. The thick, buff rind is dappled with rust and gray molds; beneath, the ivory paste is a slightly grainy interior Nicknamed the "farmer's dessert", it is delightful on its own but the traditional companion is black cherry jam.
Ossau-Iraty also falls into the Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) category. This title pertains to a product whose quality or characteristics are due to its geographical environment, including natural and human factors.
“With passion and the greatest respect for our traditions, we are developing the production of authentic cheeses in our three regions: Auvergne, Roquefort and Pyrenees.” Coming from the long cooperative history of south-western France, the Fromageries Occitanes are rooted in their land, where they are developing a complete range of products adapted to modern consumer tastes.
Every PDO (or AOC– Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée translated as Protected Designation of Origin) cheese is produced in a carefully defined geographical region where the climate, the nature of the soil, the exposure and the flora give milk and cheese specific properties – promises of quality and renown. Of course these natural gifts must be combined with an indispensable human factor: know-how. Today, PDO cheeses are still made according to ancestral methods. Over the years, science has helped improve manufacturing techniques, but authenticity and typicality have always been strictly preserved.
Legend has it that Aristee, the shepherd son of Apollo, created this sheep’s milk cheese. The Ossau-Iraty name is evocative of its two provinces of origin: the Béarn and the Basque Country, where the mountain occupies a large portion of the territory. Some of the region is marked by deep valleys; some is covered with thick forests.
Manech and Basco-Béarnaises sheep have always lived in this verdant and often rainy landscape, and their milk used to make cheese. The production of sheep’s milk cheese has always played an important economic and social role in this area, and evidence of this activity can be traced back to Neolithic times. Today, Ossau-Iraty is still made in the traditional way.
In the 14th century, sheep’s milk cheese became a recognized exchange value. This ancestral production grew and continues until this day. In the 1970s, dairy manufacturing of the area’s traditional sheep’s milk cheese became more important. Since 1975, the Béarn and Basque Country producers, as well as other participants, formed a union to gain AOC recognition, which they earned in 1980 for AOC Ossau-Iraty.
Following the curdling, cutting and molding, the cheese is then salted with coarse salt or brine and sent to the caves where it will be watched over with great care.
The cheeses are left to rest in the cave at a temperature that does not exceed 54°F and at a moisture level of approximately 80%. Here receive daily attention that entails numerous rubbings and turnings. Aging cheese takes place over a period of at least 90 days.