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Ossau-Iraty cheese

Ossau-Iraty is a French hard cheese made from ewe milk. It is produced in a rigourously defined geographical area within the Pyrénées-Atlantique Department of the South-Western region of France. The name Ossau refers to a mountain peak called Le Pic du Midi d’Ossau which overlooks the Ossau valley and the whole of Béarn. This spectacular mountain hosts the Iraty forest, the largest beech forest in Europe.

Alternating periods of intense sunshine and heavy rainfall in the Ossau valley explain the lush pastures on which the ewes feed. Not any ewes: only three types are traditionally bred and milked for the making of Ossau-Iraty cheese. They are the haughty long-horned black-headed Manech, symbol of the Basque Mountains, her cousin the red-headed Manech found on the Basque hills and the imposing short-nosed, long-horned Basco-Béarnaise of the Béarn Mountains.

The making of Ossau-Iraty involves six different steps:
• Curding: The ewe milk is heated to around 30°C (63°F) to obtain the curd. It is during this stage that the cheesemaker adds rennet.
• Cutting: The curd is then cut-up in small even-sized bits to facilitate staining.
• Stirring & Heating: The curd is now stirred to extract the grains of curd from the liquid.
• Moulding & Pressing: The curd is ready to be set in perforated moulds to be pressed and drained to obtain the definite shape of the cheese.
• Salting: At this point, the cheese is salted with coarse salt or put in brine in order to insure its preservation and allow slow maturing.
• Maturing: Ossau-Iraty is kept to mature for a minimum of three months under the care of local dairy farmers according to a centuries-old tradition. At the end of the maturing process, Ossau-Iraty tommes have developed a crust which varies in colour from orangey yellow to ash-grey and covers a beautiful ivory coloured firm cheese of exceptional flavour.

For an exotic food experience, enjoy this cheese as a dessert as we do in Basque country and Béarn, with black cherry jam (we use Itxassou cherries) and why not add a wedge of the famous gâteau basque (see www.legateaubasque.com).

Ossau-Iraty should be kept cool, in the veggie drawer of your refrigerator.

Human translation: Cooking2000 thanks Louise S. for this translation.
Original document in French: Ossau-Iraty.
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