Idiazabal (also known as Idiazabel and Queso
Named after the village of Idiazabal, the cheese received Spanish D.O. (Denominacion de Origen) in 1987.
In summer, the sheep migrate to higher pastures to graze on the blossoming, new grass. During this time, the artisanal cheese makers milk the sheep, make the cheese, and leave it in the rafters to mature for a minimum ripening of two months. At the end of summer when the cheesemakers return back to the lowlands with their sheep, the cheese has ripened and is ready for sale.
Idiazabal is cylindrically shaped, with a smooth and hard natural rind that is pale yellow to amber in color. The cheese has a compact texture, with a few pinprick holes. It is dry, but not crumbly, and feels pleasantly oily in the mouth.
The rind carries the marks of the wooden molds in which it was drained. The characteristic, lightly smoky flavor is the result of the cheeses having been stored near fireplaces. There were no chimneys in the simple mountain huts, so the cheeses absorbed the sweet, aromatic smoke. The taste of the cheese is reminiscent of burnt caramel and bacon. It pairs well with red wine and cider. The D.O. also stipulates that the milk be curdled with natural rennet.