Wine Wednesday- Old-Old Favorites for Modern Times

Ossau-Iraty is my favorite cheese to hand to people who are looking to branch off from their classic cow’s milk cheese plate players (I’m looking at you, brie-cheddar-&-blue). It’s a pleasant, un-intimidating sheep’s milk cheese that allows you to dip your toe into the next level of cheese-world without fully breaching the ‘funky/stinky zone’. Are you a Manchego devotee? Next time, reach over those Pyrenees Mountains & grab Ossau instead. Ossau Iraty is said to be one of the first cheeses ever made. The story goes that Greek god Apollo’s son Aristree was the first one making this cheese from the sheep’s milk of his herd. Mythological connection aside, we can trace the tradition of these wheels back about 3,000 years (!), but more recently – do we consider the first century recent in this case? – this cheese came from monks in their mountain monasteries. There was even a point where sheep’s milk cheese was considered currency, meaning you could pay your way with these curds.

Although you can’t pay your rent with it anymore, Ossau-Iraty still holds current-day value. With deeper and more caramelized flavors than its Spanish cousin, Manchego, Ossau has notes of toasted wheat, roasted nuts, fresh grasses and even wildflowers. The initial aroma of the rind sure can read a little gamey, sometimes expected of aged sheep’s cheese, but the semi-soft paste is bright and buoyant with layers of complex flavor. Because it is simultaneously complex while remaining pretty chill flavor-wise, Ossau is a darling for pairing. You can go in any direction you want to with it – tannic reds, zippy whites, even sour beers or ciders play well here, so don’t fret. The world is your ancient, mythical-adjacent oyster.

This lovely little cheese and it’s superb pairing ability is a great opportunity for me to dedicate several run-on sentences to some of our artisanal ciders, which just so happens to be one of my favorite things to do. At the very top of my list is Cidrerie Vulcain, helmed by Jacques Perritaz based in Fribourg, Switzerland. A biologist by trade, Jacques was working for the Swiss government when he found he was happening upon many an abandoned heirloom apple orchard in the countryside. Being that he was already dedicated to studying and preserving rare native plants, the transition to cider-making seemed to be a natural step in preserving and cherishing these forgotten varietals. Since 2000, the number of trees he harvests from has grown to over 200 that range up to 200 years old. Due to their age and the particular varietals he works with, the trees don’t produce a high yield fruit-wise, but the apples (and pears and quince) themselves are packed full of flavor and life.

At the moment we have two of Perritaz’s bottles here at the Farm – his Turgowy & Brute de Rue. Either is a good option for this pairing. Brute de Rue is made of over 50 varieties which hail from trees that Jacques grafted himself. In this particular blend he uses a perfect balanced selection of bitter, acidic, and bittersweet fruit to create something singing and bright. Turgowy is a demi-sec rendition made with fruit from high branched, old growth trees. Buoyant, pretty, and Alpine fresh with unadulterated crunchy apple notes. Either option makes for a friendly accompaniment to Ossau’s richness & depth of flavor. While we love this pairing for a lovely little picnic, these ciders can definitely hold their own in any scenario where you’d pour an Alpine white!

Written by Erin Hepinstall, Wine & Cheese, Bartlett’s Farm

edited by Leah Mojer, Wine, M&P