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Going Local in Spain…Making Traditional Cheese

Going Local in Spain…Making Traditional Cheese

My daughter and I wondered deeper into the Basque County in Northern Spain to get the flavor of local farm life. It is through agritourism that travelers and agriculture can both benefit from sharing in the agricultural life and boosting the economy of the farms. You may have been to vineyards, pick-your-own or farm stands, or a bed and breakfasts where you gather your breakfast eggs. These are all agritourism!

I have always felt that you will have more of a connection to a place, when you share in the local agriculture. So I want to share our travel adventure to visit Adarrazpi Farm off a little country road in the foothills of Mount Adarra just outside of the village of Urnieta.

Mikel Beldarrain with his herding staff and dog, Argi, walked us down the country road to the field to bring the sheared sheep back to the milking barn. With two Basque words, his herding dog rounded up the sheep and through the gate to the road. I would guess those speeding down the road would be aware that a sheep herd would be in the road just up around the curve. Mikel was in no hurry, as cars stopped to wait for the herd to turn down the farm drive.

 

Many of the sheep ranchers are over 65 years old, however, young Mikel aspired to be a rancher in 2010. He learned from the older generation, who helped him get a starter herd with a piece of a farm. He and his family (sister and sister-in-law included) had enough sheep milk to start making the famous Idiazabal Cheese in 2012.

 

On the farm is the milking barn and the creamery where yogurt, curds, semi-soft cheese (feta like) and the raw sheep milk Idiazabal cheese is handcrafted on site. We only saw a third of the ewes and one ram, as the rest of the ewes were in the mountains for the summer. In the mountains, there are 25,000 ewes from other farms left to mingle and free range. Melki showed us the tag and two slits in his sheep ears so they could be separated out when time to come back to the valley. Coming from the land of fencing, it seems shocking, until it was explained that there was an official Designation of Origin to help preserve the centuries of artisan tradition of raising the dairy sheep and cheese making.

 

Making the cheese was the best part of the afternoon as we got to know Inma, who single-handedly crafts all the cheese and sells twice a week at the local farmers market in San Sebastian. She showed us how to press the curds with a few drops of rennet into molds while the whey ran out through our fingers. The Idiazabal Cheese has a distinguishable cheese cloth grid on the rind, so the final step was to wrap the cheese for the presses.

 

Oh yes, we did have a tasting of all the different sheep milk cheeses with crusty bread and the traditional cider poured three feet from the glass. What a pastoral setting at the long family table overlooking the green valley from the window. In the back of my mind, is also the herding, shearing, lambing, milking, repairing equipment, tending to the sick animals, the monthly inspections from the Designation of Origin and so much more work that this life entails!

Texas Sheep Milk Cheese at Veldhuizen Farm

Tour Resource: Basque Cool Tours