World Cheese Encyclopaedia - Each Sunday learn all about a new cheese.
This week Idiazabal from Spain.
Country: Spain 🇪🇸
Region: Basque Country
Made from: Sheep’s milk
Texture: Compact, oily, firm
Taste: Nutty, buttery, smoky
Certification: Spanish D.O. (Denominacion de Origen)
Aging: minimum 2 months
Idiazabal (also known as Idiazabel) is a traditional, farmhouse, hard cheese made in the Basque and Navarra regions of northern Spain. Named after the village of Idiazabal, the cheese received Spanish D.O. (Denominacion de Origen) in 1987.
Idiazabal is made with sheep's milk from the Lacha (Latxa) and Carranzana breeds. It is cylindrical in shape, the rind is hard and even in colour, from pale yellow to whitish grey and in the smoked variety dark. Its aroma is intense and penetrating and its flavour is a bit spicy, balanced and intense, buttery and consistent, with a characteristic sheep milk flavour.
The cheese has a compact texture, with a few pinprick holes. It is dry and smooth and feels pleasantly oily in the mouth. The rind shows the marks of the wooden moulds used for draining, and sometimes is engraved with drawings or symbols characteristic of the Basque culture.
Idiazabal is produced using milk that must be unpasteurized, with a minimum of 6% fat. The milk coagulates at a temperature of 77 to 95 °F (25 to 35 °C), with the addition of natural lamb curd. The curdle is cut in order to obtain rice-size grains, and then reheated to 34 to 38 °C (93 to 100 °F). The reheated and shrunken paste dehydrates and is then placed in moulds where it may or may not be seasoned before pressing. Salting of the cheese is performed by rubbing the rind with dry salt or immersing the cheese in highly salted water for 24 hours. Finally, the cheeses are aged under cold and humid conditions for at least two months. At the end of the aging process, if desired the cheese is smoked using beech, cherry, birch or white pine.
The size of every cheese ranges from small to medium, with weights between 2 and 4 lb (0.91 and 1.81 kg).
PDO Idiazabal smoked cheese won a Super Gold medal at the 2014 World Cheese Awards. It has been named as one of the world's 62 best cheeses.
Traditionally Basque shepherds would keep their flocks of sheep high in the Pyrenees Mountains during the spring and summer. They would make cheese from the ewe’s milk during the summer and bring it down to the villages below in the early autumn, right after the first snows. In order to preserve the cheeses in the highlands they stored them by the fireplaces of their mountain shelters. There were no chimneys in the simple mountain huts, so the cheeses absorbed the sweet, aromatic smoke giving them their characteristic flavour.
How to Enjoy It
Idiazabal goes well with dry white wines aged in wood as well as Crianza reds, because their strength goes well with the cheese's intense aroma. Cider is also a good option.
Sources: Spain.info, Spain-recipes.com, cheese.com, Wikipedia.com, totalwine.com