For the past couple of days, I’ve been getting an unusual number of customers asking for smoked cheddar, or smoked gouda. Sorry, but the shop doesn’t have either at the moment! Instead, we’ve got this smoked sheep’s milk cheese called Idiazabal. I should have known from the strange name and the “z” that it is named after a Basque town. Thus, when customer X asked for a smoked cheese, I point her this way . . . .
Here’s what I gathered about Idiazabal:
Country of Origin: Basque Country! (OK, the Navarra region of Spain)
Milk: Primarily Latxa and Carranzana sheep (raw)
Age: 6 months
]How is this cheese prepared? Well it can be either semi-cooked, or uncooked, although the semi-cooking will draw out more moisture from the curd, making the eventual cheese harder. This particular Idiazabal is smoked using Hawthorn and Cherry wood.
I will be honest, my colleagues are often a bit wary of smoked cheeses. They prefer the cheese aged, plain and simple (or not really so simple). Thus, when I approached it, I was also a little hesitant. Luckily, this cheese does not bite.
Appearance: Idiazabal has a hard, waxy, shiny rind that resembles caramel in color. Like the other Spanish cheeses the shop carries, it has a sort of crosshatch pattern throughout the whole rind. The past is that of a hard cheese, and looks a little bit flaky. There are small, pin-prick eyes throughout. The color is a milky, pale yellow.
In the aroma field, boy, does this cheese smell smoky. I could barely smell the sweet clover-y, slightly woolly aroma characteristic of sheep cheese.
Of course, then I had to taste. The mouthfeel is rather flaky/flinty, yet oily, with a short finish. I highly recommend you have something to drink when you’re tasting this cheese, or else it will get stuck in your throat (speaking from experience here!). In terms of taste, this was really a well-balanced cheese, between the smokiness and sweet sheep’s milk flavor.
This is probably an ideal cheese for football games, since you can cut Idiazabal into long sticks or triangles fit for munching, and it would probably pair well with beer. As for the restaurant, they have been putting it in their special grilled cheeses served with fig jam, with much success.