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raving about Ossau-Iraty cheese

in a word - YUM.
this is the best cheese i've ever tasted.

I bought some Ossau-Iraty, made in France from sheep's milk (pasteurized). The mouthfeel is really fine and creamy for a firm cheese, and the flavour is beautiful - not sublte, but not overpowering either. What I love most, though, is the aftertaste. It almost feels like peanut butter... Not sure exactly how to identify the flavour, but it's really nice.

I've heard that unpasteurized Iraty is even better. Can't wait to try it!

Just sharing.

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  1. My understanding is that it's from Spain, and the Pyrennes. I saw it on the menu tonight at Press restaurant in St. Helena and remembered your post. Can't wait to try it.

    2 Replies
    1. re: maria lorraine

      It's an ancient Basque cheese with a 400 year history (some claim 2,000 years), though its AOC status is much more recent. I love it too. Istara is a good brand.

      1. re: maria lorraine

        It's from the French Pyrenees not Spain and it's a wonderful cheese similar to Ptit Basque and Abbaye de Belloc - all have similar textures and are all sheep's milk cheeses from the same region.

        If you like Ossau, you really should check out Abbaye - it's made by Benedictine Monks (in the Abbey of Belloc) and I've only seen it with raw milk. It's not as rich and nutty as the Ossau, but it makes up for it with delicate, sweet flavors and a great finish. Yum! The Ptit Basque is pretty widely available and is definitely is worth trying if it's the only one available, but try to find the Ossau and Abbaye if you can.

        I actually prefer the pasteurized version of the Ossau Istara to the fermier - raw version. The lush, semi-firm textureof the pasteurized one seems to work better with the nutty butter flavors of the cheese than the raw one which I found to be a tad sharp and the texture a bit too dry. To me, the best part of the sheep cheeses from this area is the rich and luscious texture and the raw version didn't deliver.

      2. I just had to register on "CHOW" to make a comment re this most delicious cheese which I have recently tasted for the first time. It was bought at Marks & Spencer stating that it's a sheep's milk cheese from the Larceveau dairy on the French side of the Pyrenees.

        It's so moorish though that it requires more self discipline than I have, so am just a tad concerned about the calories!!.

        6 Replies
        1. re: Jo Rowe

          Moreish. Moorish is something entirely different. (In this case, the distinction might be helpful for those unfamiliar with the term.)

          1. re: Jo Rowe

            Moorish. Confused here as well. Fairly well-versed in Moorish Iberian history, and I can't figure out how the word is being used here, Jo Rowe. Please explain, and...

            ...welcome to Chowhound.

            1. re: maria lorraine

              As noted, Jo Rowe likely meant 'moreish', which means something quite good and tempting to continue consuming, i.e. 'This crack is moreish'.

              1. re: Lizard

                Yes, duly noted earlier. Thanks.

                But isn't it ironic, even so, that the misspelling is moorish, given it's Iberia.
                And truth be told, to call something "moorish" is, in many Mediterranean areas, an insult.

                I'd like to believe you're right, Lizard, that it's more-ish. Certainly a word I'm
                not hip to, even though I try to keep up.

                And no clarification yet from JR from just above .

                Best,
                M.

                1. re: maria lorraine

                  Then you're not reading enough British lit, usage would be as Lizard explained and matches the context.

                  1. re: Melanie Wong

                    Silly me. I just checked a couple of British dictionaries, and there the word is as a common descriptor for food you can't get enough of. Call me edified.

          2. Well it's official - Taleggio and I will be taking a break. I met Ossau-Iraty yesterday and I have fallen hard. You too, Champagne cheddar and fruitcake - see you two next Christmas!
            But seriously now - this cheese is lovely - buttery and nutty. I was looking to taste a couple of blues yesterday while shopping, and there was a couple at the cheese counter tasting the Ossau-Iraty. Based on their enthusiastic reaction, I asked for a taste from the cheesemonger. SOLD! I’ve been nibbling on it all day. I just love when I find a new favorite cheese.
            If anyone is interested, I found it at Fairway in New York where it is labeled as “Pyrenees Agour”. WTF Fairway?

            Hey Bellywizard - great name:)

            9 Replies
            1. re: EM23

              It's one of my favorite cheeses as well -- and the genesis of my love affair with sheep's milk cheeses. The Istara brand is pretty widely distributed (my local Costco usually has it).

              If there's a higher-end (raw milk, small producer) version I'd love to hear about it.

              1. re: Ruth Lafler

                It's a fave of mine, too. As you note, Istara is widely available. Etorki is similar, but is made from pasteurized milk and so doesn't carry the DOP designation. Ossau-Iraty is a generic term, referring to sheep's millk cheeses made by a large number of cheesemakers in two adjoining regions of the French Basque country.

                The Ossau-Iraty from Agour is reliably very good, as is their small format cheese sold under the name Petit Agour or sometimes Petit Ardi Gasna. It is similar to P'tit Basque, but is of better quality. The Ossau-Iraty from Fromagerie Pardou, sold by Artisanal in NYC is also excellent quality, but it's a bit far for you to go to get cheese! Have you checked with the various cheese shops in San Francisco and surrounding cities? I would bet that at least one of them has a great raw-milk version of this cheese.

                1. re: Ruth Lafler

                  I love Ossau Iraty too - it's so fun to introduce people to this cheese and see them blown away when they find out it's a sheep's milk cheese. Without a doubt this is always the favorite on my beginner cheese plate classes.

                  1. re: Ruth Lafler

                    Thanks for the Costco tip Ruth:) What other sheep's milk cheeses do you enjoy?

                    1. re: EM23

                      I love them all! But off the top of my head, Brebis Rousse is a delicious soft-ripened cheese; manouri is an addictively delicious semi-soft cheese similar to a ricotta salata; zamorano, which is similar to manchego but better; ewephoria is a sheep's milk gouda.

                      Most people don't think about the fact that feta, Roquefort and Romano are all common and popular cheeses that are (at least in their traditional form) made from sheep's milk.

                      And today I bought a new-to-me sheep's milk cheese (from Spain) at Costco. Will report back once I've tried it. It's "Canarejal cremoso" and I couldn't find any pages in English. Who knows how it ended up at Costco at half the price I saw it for on a Spanish website!

                      1. re: Ruth Lafler

                        Im waiting for Petit Basque to come back in at Costco. Theyve had it in two separate years, so there is grounds for hope.

                        1. re: jen kalb

                          They have it currently at Bay Area Costcos (both the Ossau Iraty and the P'tit Basqu from Istara).

                        2. re: Ruth Lafler

                          Looks like you have given me some tasty homework to nibble on:) Thanks again Ruth.

                      2. re: Ruth Lafler

                        Here's a photo of a wheel of Istara that my friend was prepping for a cheese plate. He used a vegetable peeler to shave off the rind around the upper half, then to shave off thin slices and piling them on top for ease of service,as shown here.
                        http://www.flickr.com/photos/melaniew...

                        And we tend to leave the original labels on the plate with the cheese whenever practical.

                    2. When l used to sell product, Istara was a no fail cheese, everyone liked and came back for more. As others have mentioned Istara, Etorki, P'tit Basque, Agour, and my favorite Capitoul are all factory made and from pasteurized milk. l agree with Mimosa in that l also enjoy these factory ones more than the farm made products as they have more flavor and and are less dry than the farm ones.
                      If you get to the basque region they sell these factory cheese for $ 13 euros/kilo or $8/lb, one of the best cheese deals anywhere.

                      4 Replies
                      1. re: Delucacheesemonger

                        I believe that the Agour cheeses are made with raw milk.

                        1. re: cheesemaestro

                          When last at their creamery in September, they told me they made both with the thermalized primarily for export. YMMV

                          1. re: Delucacheesemonger

                            A visit to Agour's website confirms what you were told. For the small format cheeses (those similar to P'tit Basque), the Petit Ardi Gasna is raw milk, but the Petit Agour is not. I had incorrectly assumed these were alternate names for the same cheese. Both have been sold in the US. I wonder why Agour thermalizes or pasteurizes for export. All of their cheeses are aged well beyond the 60 days needed for a raw milk cheese to be allowed into the US, and they are not soft cheeses either.

                            1. re: cheesemaestro

                              Ardi Gasna is a lot harder than Petit Agour.

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