Buttery, creamy, with a hint of earthy nuttiness, Ossau Iraty is a traditional Basque cheese.

ossauitalicheeseI stumbled across a wedge of Ossau Iraty quite by accident and am completely smitten. It is delicious! I must confess, sheep’s cheese is beginning to hedge to the top of my favorites list. This particular cheese originates in the Pyrenees and is the only cheese from the Pyrenees with a controlled designation of origin, the AOC. The AOC, is a French designation recognizing that legally any cheese using the name Ossau Iraty must comply with the designated criteria and come from the designated area. The specific area being the Ossau Valley and Irati forest in Northern Basque country  of France.

Ossau Iraty is a cheese produced from sheep’s milk. It is typically made in small batch by hand during winter and spring months and then allowed to ripen for 3 months. It is a cheese with quite a rich history, with first mention found in records from the 1st century.

sheepFrom a culinary perspective, Ossau Iraty is a firm and mild cheese that can be used in a number of culinary endeavors. It is lovely as an opening or a finish to a meal with some lovely fruit jam or berries and it can also be easily used in main courses as an addition to soups, stews, or salads or other cheese based dishes.

From a health perspective, Sheep’s cheese is again a fantastic choice for a variety of reasons.  First, it supplies different nutrients than dairy, not only more protein but also an easier to assimilate protein. It also provides more nutrient density than cow’s milk being higher in iron, zinc, phosphorous and calcium as well as, vitamins A, D, E. It also is a significant source of Omega 3 fatty acid based mostly on the sheep’s diet of grass.