Idiazabal (EE-dee-ah-ZAH-bahl) is an unpasteurized sheep cheese from the Basque region originally, but also more recently from the Navarre region of Spain. These regions are at the northernmost-central locale of the country with Basque fronting the Atlantic Ocean and Navarre abutting France. If the cheese is made in Basque it may be smoked; if in Navarre, by tradition it is unsmoked. These regions are directly north of La Rioja, the most famous wine region of Spain; northwest of Pamplona, where the bulls run; and well north of La Mancha, of Don Quixote fame and home of Manchego, the most famous cheese of Spain.
Idiazabol may be aged just two months in which case it retains a distinct butteriness along with its characteristic sheep cheese flavor. If it is aged two years the cheese is dry, firm, and sharp. More specifically this cheese is piquant, acidic, and strong, yet buttery and nutty. If the cheese is smoked, as you might expect, it is drier and stronger, but interestingly enough, some would still describe Idiazabal as having a smoky taste even when it is not smoked.
Spain's cheesemaking history, of course, is historic, but it was largely unregulated until recent times and much of that codification resulted from the formation of the European Union. Spain gave Idiazabol its D.O. (denomination of origin) in 1987 and the European Union bestowed its PDO (protected designation of origin) in 1992. This legislation protected the historic cheese from non-genuine, perhaps unscrupulous pretenders, guaranteeing quality and value for the authentic product. Perhaps as a result of all of this, modern cheese factories have emerged within the historic D.O.s, making the great Spanish cheeses in volume for the world market.
Much of Idiazabal's production value involves the treatment of the cheese rind which is salted using a dry rub or immersion in brine. Toward the end of production the rind is smoked if it is smoked at all. If Idiazabal is smoked, the rind is a brownish color; if unsmoked, yellow-beige. Either way, the interior remains a pale yellow with no air pockets. The rind is finally "engraved" with distinctive Basque symbols before going to market and, yes, the rind is inedible.
This Friday from 5 to 7pm Dave Klepinger of Northeast Sales will be here tasting out an assortment from his fine wine portfolio. Dave is a true professional in the field and always offers best-of-kind examples and complementary expert commentary. Please join us for the wine tasting and ask to taste the Idiazabal. Then of course take home a wedge and a bottle of red for Father's Day!