Europe, France

Ossau-Iraty: 1,000 Years of Cheesemaking

Europe France

Living in the Ossau Vallee, France brings continued joy of the simpler things in life.  Apart from the sheer beauty of this part of the Pyrenees-Atlantique, (the mountains, the climate, the cycling), you will find the most glorious local produce.

Ossau-Iraty is an age old method of local producers, working together with the land and the Brebis. Every year, from May to October, the sheep form part of the “transhumance” where the animals are taken to the mountains to feed over the summer months on the Alpine slopes.  This shows that the Shepherd and their herds help contribute to the preservation of the environment of our Basque and Béarnaise region 64.

Experiencing several regular visits to local producers, I have the wonderful opportunity to experiment with the different varieties and flavours. On visiting the local markets, you will discover when engaging with the locals that everyone has their own personal favourites.  This can be verified by the enormous gatherings at various cheese stalls. The art of tasting has to be participated in.

The producers I tend to favour are the ones I discovered during one of my cycling rides in the Ossau Vallee.  The flavours do vary from valley to valley and between the villages. It is quite an experience watching the milking process, the new spring lambs arriving and of course, the twice daily routine of the shepherds taking their flocks to and from their grazing pastures.

If you are a foodie and enjoy tasting new and exciting foods from around the world, I can highly recommend Ossau-Iraty cheese. It has wonderful sweet, caramel, grassy and nut undertones and is delicious with a cherry “confit “ jam as an accompaniment. They also vary in texture.

While visiting the farms, I learnt that some of the lambs get rejected by their mothers and are bottle fed in order to survive. We had the opportunity to feed this little lamb with a bottle. It was an incredible experience watching the lamb eager to drink from the bottle.  It is sad to see a rejected lamb compared to the others snuggling up with their mothers, but at least the farmers take the time to ensure that all the lambs are given the best possible start in life.

I find great pleasure in photographing the animals in this region and understanding the process and challenges that go into farming.  In a world where supermarkets are just about everywhere, it is humbling to see the hard work that the independent farmers put in daily and yearly. It makes you appreciate local produce for more than just it’s unique flavour and occasional treat.


Contributed by Debbie Kennedy