Cheese University (XIX): Ossau-Iraty


Here’s to a fat guy in every respect: the entire cylindrical pieces weigh up to 6 kilograms and the ivory coloured pâte contains at least 50 percent of matière grasse, in other words: fat, and so I guess it’s what Americans would call a devilish sin (or even a threat to homeland security). To French people and other cheese lovers it’s one of the rare, expensive yet popular AOC products made of sheep’s milk, a native from the Béarn and Basque regions known as


The name simply combines the two regions of its origin, the valley of Ossau (in Béarn) and the mountain range of Iraty (in the Pays Basque). It got the AOC title back in 1980, the charter demanding that only raw milk would be used for production and only the milk of certain breeds like the manech à tête rousse/à tête noir, those are tough animals and skilled climbers.

The ever out-dated site of French Maison du Lait lists 154 farm-house producers (for the year of 2005) and a yearly output of around 3000 tons. Most people in France link the Ossau-Iraty to the Basque region, forgetting about Béarn, and they smear the cheese with a very sweet cherry jam or preserve. That’s the way Basque restaurants in Paris serve it (there aren’t many of them) but I’ve never been sure whether this is authentic or just fancy.

Anyway, the cheese with its enchantingly old-fashioned website is an excellent product displaying a hearty, southern mountain taste (if anything alike really exists). Well-aged it can develop spicy soapy flavours, in earlier stages it’s still pale and may lack a bit of character. In other words: you have to find the right piece at the right time at a real cheese-shop to really appreciate it.

I could imagine drinking a dark-red Cahors wine with it but, as so often, a soft, even sweet white wine, say, a Jurançon, could be a nice companion, too. To be sure, have both at hand. And have in mind: this is a cheese to be savoured best in its home region. On a mountain range, with a view. Did you know that the Pays Basque looks like Bavaria or Austria? Go there, if you don’t believe me!

The Ossau-Iraty-video I found might remind you of Shaun the Sheep. But these are real.


  1. Vincent

    At last, my favourite Cheese Master (the “a” of “master” is to be pronounced in the most British RP way : m “a:” ster ) is back… Greetings from Paris !

  2. I have been waiting impatiently for a new post in your university. I am glad you write about a cheese I have never tasted (though I often see it, I am really ashamed). I always thought it was a 100% basque and would have never guessed Béarn had anything to do with it. Ossau-Iraty is on my next cheese shopping list! Although I don’t think I’ll try it with sweet cherry jam… Oh, no, it makes me crave the sour black cherry jam I will never find where I live 😦 . Anyway, thank you for this interesting post!

  3. Thank you, Vincent, thank you Sissi, I’m glad you’re still here. To have somebody “waiting impatiently for a new post”, I mean, it can’t get much better than that, can it?

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