Milk: Raw sheep's milk
Animal breed: Maneche rousse and Maneche Noir
Size of cheese: 24cm
Location: Pyrénées-Atlantiques, Aquitaine
Season: Year round
Made in Helette, in the Basque region of the Pyrenees, Ossau Iraty is said to be one of the first cheese recipes ever made, dating back to around 3,000 years ago. The recipe unifies the farming traditions of two staunch adversaries of the Pyrenees, the Basques and Bearnais. The cheese takes its name from neighbouring valleys, the Val d'Ossau which lies in the Bearn region and the Val d'Iraty of the Northern Basque country. Whilst the inhabitants remain proudly independent of each other, this cheese conjoins their milks and production techniques to give a silken textured, long aged, hard cheese with toffee and butterscotch flavours. Sheep farming existed in these high peaks for many centuries, but the isolation and hardship of shepherding there saw the profession undergo a decline in the last 100 years. The Agour creamery, set up in the late 19th Century by the grandfather of the Peio family, are a local co-operative who collect the milks of the mountain farmers and make the cheese themselves, lightening the work load of the herdsmen and ensuring the on-going legacy of the recipe.