In the mountains of Irati, in the French Basque Country, transhumance is an ancestral tradition. In late Spring, in the month of June, the flocks would leave the valley floor and be moved up to the mountains until September, to collectively managed pastures where their milk would be processed in the mountain huts known as etxola or cayolar in Basque.
These highlands are where the traditional Basque sheep's milk chefs or arid gasna (“sheep's cheese” in Basque) are produced. The pressed, uncooked-curd cheeses, of varying weight and size, are made from raw, full-fat sheep's milk. Irati is the name of a river, a splendid plateau more or less in the centre of the French Basque cheese production area and also a forest carpeting these mountains between France and Spain.
Semi-aged and with a very distinctive flavor, the cheeses are cylindrical in shape. Their rind varies in color from yellow-orange to ash grey.
The minimum aging period is from 80 to 120 days or more, when the cheese's flavor starts to become more distinctive.
The Presidium for Irati mountain cheeses was created to promote cheese making from the milk of three local sheep breeds. Thanks to this production, the mountain landscape and the livelihoods of the shepherds are being revitalized.
Many producers are also members of Idoki, a brand created in the particular context of the Basque Country to safeguard local productions, direct sales and local small-scale family productions.
Learn more about Basque Pyrenees Mountain Cheese and its producers in the following video (in French, English and Italian).
Photos — Archivio Slow Food
Presidium supported by — the Leader and Feader European projects, by the Aquitaine Region, by the department of Pyrenees Atlantique and the Arrapitz associations