Idiazabal is a DOC ( Denomination de Origen) certified Spanish cheese from the Basque and Navarre regions. As with all Spanish DOC certified cheeses the quality and production methods are strictly regulated.
Idiazabal is a pressed cheese made from the unpasteurized milk of the Latxa and Carranzana breeds of sheep. It has long been a staple in the diet of the traditional shepherds whose sheep graze in the lush Pyrenees mountains during the spring and summer.
Idiazabal is a handmade cheese that has a hard inedible outer rind. Being made from sheep milk this cheese has a moderate fat content of about 45%-50%. The cheese is usually aged for about 3 months but can also be aged for much longer. During production, the wheels were traditionally smoked over beechwood, hawthorn, or cherry for 10 days, imparting a slight smoky quality that would add depth to the rich, nutty flavour of this sheep’s milk cheese.
The younger aged cheese has a firm pale yellow paste that may have small pinholes in it. When it is cut it reveals its smokey scent and its flavour is mildly sheepy, nutty and buttery. The longer aged version is harder in texture and much sharper in flavour and aroma. This harder texture makes it a great grating cheese. The smoky flavour and aroma makes Idiazabal an interesting alternative to the well known Manchego.
Serve Idiazabal with most any type of fruit or melted over rice and potatoes. It also pairs well with most grilled or barbecued pork entrees. As a table cheese serve it with membrillo (quince paste) and crusty bread. It is best matched with a full bodied wine.