When we talk about Idiazabal cheese, we are talking about a unique cheese. It is made with latxa and carranzanas sheep milk, which has to its credit countless awards. And that to this day, it is still one of the most reputable.

We will tell you all the secrets of Idiazabal cheese: Its history, its preparation, its characteristics, its identification ... Everything you want to know about Idiazabal, here. Let’s start!

1. History of Idiazabal cheese

Idiazabal cheese is one of the most characteristic hallmarks of the Basque Country and Navarra. This unique and appreciated cheese is with latxa and carranzana sheep milk. With black faces and long fleeces, these breeds have always been indigenous to the Basque mountainous landscape.

Throughout its history, its breeding has varied minimally. Even today, the shepherds use the old routes defined by the changes of seasons to take advantage of the food of their flocks. During spring, summer and autumn, mountain pastures. During winter, they descend into the valleys.

This respect for the ancestral way of life contribute to the manufacturing of this cheese. It is respectful with the environment, helping to maintain it and employing hundreds of families that still live in rural and mountain areas.

The differences in the pasture, the climate and the special touch of the cheesemakers, lead to the different aromatic nuances, which are characteristic of Idiazabal: a cheese respectfl with its traditions and history.

As a curiosity, the Idiazabal cheese receives its name from the small town near the Aralar Range. Nowadays, the Interpretation and Tasting Center is located. Everything about this cheese is taught there.

2. Idiazabal cheese elaboration

To make a kilo of Idiazábal cheese, you need around seven liters of whole sheep's milk, raw and unpasteurized, which will be gently heated in stainless steel tanks up to 30ºC.

 

The natural rennet will be added to the milk, and it will take about 30 minutes to obtain a compact curd. It will be cutted into pieces the size of a corn kernel.

To make it easier to evaporate, and to preserve the fat and proteins. The temperature of the tank will be raised to approximately 37º C.

 

Once the compact curd and the cheese have hardened enough, the heating will be stopped and the resulting curd will be put into molds, where it will be pressed to extract the whey that still remains.

Once the extraction is finished, it will be brined for 24 hours. Once there, the cheeses are marked with their distinctive number.

 

As a result, we will obtain a hard pressed cheese. It usually has an average size of three kilos per piece, which will be refined at a temperature of 10º C in ripening chambers where the humidity rises up to 90%.

 

Throughout this process the acidity will increase and will help its conservation. Maturation period lasts around two months. Although usually it lasts between 4 and 8 months. (This may vary depending on the cheese maker).

The smoking of the Idiazabal cheese is the final touch, it is optional and takes place at the end of maturation. This practice is characteristic of Urbasa and Entzia, not found in other localities. The wood used and the smoking time will rise to different organoleptic characteristics.

  

Once the cheese production has finished, it is collected in the factories, and it will be verified that its composition corresponds to that of an Idiazabal. Likewise, it will be verified that it accomplishes  hygienic-sanitary regulations and that it exceeds the rigorous analysis carried out by the Official Tasting Committee of the Denomination of Origin Idiazabal.

 

Once all the tests have been done, it will be ready for the purchase. We can find it in whole pieces or pieces, and in its two versions: the smoked one and the normal one.

Herstellung von Idiazabal-Käse

3. Characteristics of Idiazabal cheese

The rind of Idiazabal cheese is hard and varies in color, from yellow to dark brown (in the case of smoked ones).

The pasta will be dense, compact and firm, and may vary between white to ivory. In case of having eyes (the small holes in some cheeses), they should be very small.

Its flavor is intense, with a marked character of matured sheep's milk, with a spicy touch and medium salinity. 

 

We highlight its high calcium content, which makes Idiazábal cheeses suitable to prevent osteoporosis.

 

Another curiosity of the exclusivity of this cheese, is given by the low milk production of the producing sheep breeds (latxa and carranzana). Though certain producers maintain a pulse to introduce other species, the administration is firmabout the type of sheep that should be used to produce this cheese.

Eigenschaften von Idiazabal-Käse

4. DO Idiazabal, the cheese from Euskadi and Navarra

The Idiazábal Designation of Origin was born in October 1987. Its purpose is defending and promoting Idiazábal cheese. Combining its production under a quality seal, an easily recognizable distinctive that will also guarantee its origin.

The initial work is to control the origin of the milk, the quality of the cheese,and compliance with the taste requirements for which they have a Tasting Committee. Only when the Regulatory Council ratifies the fulfillment of all these requirements, the product is certified through its characteristic red band and the seal of its label.

The main guarantees certified by the Idiazábal Designation of Origin, in addition to the sanitary and organoleptic ones, are:

· Both the production and the elaboration of milk in the Basque Country and Navarra, with the exception of the municipalities that make up the Roncal Valley, which have their own D.O.

· The exclusive use of Latxa and Carranzana sheep's milk is fresh (unpasteurized) and without any mixture.

· Its minimum fat content is 45%.

· Its maturation may not be less than two months.

· The cheeses that have the D.O Idiazábal will always have the numbered rind.

 

How do they do it?

Carrying out periodic inspections, both to the participating farms, as well as to the collection routes, and to the cheese factories. To guarantee excellence at the health, taste and sensory levels.

Idiazabal-Käse Euskadi Navarra

5. Identification of Idiazabal cheese

Through the complex and rigorous system, the Idiazabal Designation of Origin protects the work of all producers and processors, guaranteeing the properties that authentic Idiazabal cheeses must meet.

The hallmarks that we can find in each piece are:



Holographic Back Label

Each Idiazabal cheese will carry a numbered holographic back label that ensures it has D.O. and will make it difficult to fake.



Casein Plate

In the rind of each cheese we will find a casein plate registered with a numbering. This will allow us to know the traceability of the product.



Idiazabal logo

The main characteristic of the Denomination of Origin is its logo with its red band. It will be numbered on the label. It is an element of issuance and authenticity.

idiazabal holografisches rückseitiges Etikett

Idiazabal-Kasein-Platte

idiazabal-Logo

6. Annual production of idiazabal cheese

Its annual production is around 1,350 tons of cheese among all the processors belonging to the DO Idiazábal. Even the pandemic did not affect this market, reaching the same numbers as in previous years.

As named previously, the exclusivity of this cheese lies in the milk production of the producing breeds (latxa and carranzana). The exclusivityis its distinctive feature.

7. Brotherhood of Idiazabal de Ordizia cheese

It was the year 1989, when at the initiative of a group of lovers of good cheese, the Brotherhood of Idiazabal de Ordizia Cheese was created.

Its purpose was to defend and promote the Idiazábal cheese. Joining production under a quality seal, an easily recognizable distinctive which guarantees provenance.

Its headquarters are in Ordizia, in the Gohierri of Gipuzkoa. Each year, one of the most important cheese competitions is held every year.

The Brotherhood is composed of a hundred members and associates, who selflessly promote Idiazabal cheese all over the world.

8. Ordizia Latxa Sheep Contest

And when we talk about one of the most important cheese competitions, we are indeed referring to the Ordizia Latxa Sheep Competition. It is celebrated every year on the first Wednesday in September in Ordizia, a small town in Gipuzkoa located by the Oria River. The idiazabal is a claim to the best palates, who after deliberations will award their prize to the perfect piece.

Before the contest begins, the cheeses are splitted in half. One half will be used for the tasting by the experts, and once the winner is chosen, the other half awarded will be auctioned.

Among the experts are the best-known Basque chefs: Arzak, Berasategui, Subijana, Arguiñano ... They have undoubtedly contributed to the prestige of the contest, and to make Idiazabal known by incorporating it into their dishes.

As a curious fact: In the contest held during 2020, the company with the highest bid was a motorcycle dealer in Donostia, which paid 9,200 euros for less than two kilos of idiazábal cheese. But this was not the highest price, which reached 13,050 euros in 2014.

The contest has changed since its early years. Once the trophy was won, it was taken to a restaurant and then turned into small pieces or slices for tasting in their living room.

Nowadays, we speak about a whim, the auction and therefore its winner will have media coverage for days.

And so will the shepherd graced with the award for the best Idiazabal cheese. He will not sell the batch of the award-winning cheese and the whole production in a few hours.

Latxa Ordizia Schafwettbewerb

9. Idiazabal cheese awards

The awards given to Idiazabal cheese are many, being recognized with numerous national and international awards and recognitions that have made it a referent of Spanish cheeses.

In 1992 it was awarded as a "European Culinary Heritage Product" by a group of more than 3,000 chefs from the European Community. In 1993, the International Academy of Gastronomy awarded it the Gold Medal for considering it one of the best European cheeses.

The list adds up and continues, being worthy of one or more awards since then.

 

GREAT TASTE 2019

  • 3 STARS (Natural cheese) +2 STARS (Smoked cheese): LA LEZE (Ilarduia - Araba)

 

WORLD CHEESE AWARDS 2019

  • 31 cheese factories achieve 63 medals,
  • 1 SUPER GOLD medal, 11 GOLD medals, 21 SILVER medals and 29 BRONZE medals

 

GOURMET CHEESES 2018

  • GOLD MEDAL Best smoked sheep cheese: AIZPEA (Olaberria - Gipuzkoa)
  • GOLD MEDAL Best cured sheep cheese: KORTARIA (Lekaroz - Navarra)
  • GOLD MEDAL Best semi-cured sheep cheese: JOSE LUIS ODRIOZOLA (Aia - Gipuzkoa)

 

WORLD CHEESE AWARDS 2018

  • 35 cheese factories achieve 62 medals,
  • 13 GOLD, 27 SILVER and 22 BRONZE medals

10. Recipes with Idiazabal cheese

The possibilities of incorporating Idiazabal cheese into your dishes are endless. Of course, a Basque will cut it into two halves and then make thin slices to easily taste it.

We give you a few suggestions to taste it:

As a tapa with walnuts. Added to your salads. Giving a twist to your typical croquettes. Creating creams that will delight your guests in winter. Including it in your desserts, as puddings or cheesecakes. Or simply, toasting bread and enjoying it with a slice with quince.

Do not forget that it pairs perfectly with ciderRioja wines or any other that you want that has body and character.

If all these ideas are not enough for you, we leave you a recipe that you provide, so you will have no excuse to try it.

Grilled sirloin with caramelized onion and Idiazabal cheese

Ingredients:

  • 6 slices of Idiazabal cheese, about 80 g each
  • 700 g of onions
  • 70g butter
  • 30 g oil
  • 1 beef stock cube
  • 30 g of liquid caramel
  • Pepper

 

Preparation

  • Chop the onion.
  • Sauté with butter and oil over low heat for about 15 minutes.
  • Afterwards when the onion is poached, add the liquid caramel, the pepper and the stock cube and stir for 3 minutes.
  • Grill the sirloins, round and round.
  • Finally, place the sirloins, on a baking tray and on each of them, your caramelized onion sauce and on top a slice of Idiazabal cheese. Gratin until the cheese is lightly browned.
  • Enjoy!