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In rural Spain you live with the fear of the Chinese. The visitors of this nationality are the new man in the sack to fear. There are already many legends that tell us that one day he arrived at the factory X of the town and Mr. Lyn of Lyn Alimentation Group with the excuse of an investment promise, was invited to know the facilities, took note and copied, promoting in his land the ecosystem and the necessary conditions to offer a similar product at a lower cost.
Well, in the deep Guipúzcoa you don't have to worry . Anyone can put their hand in the fire and bet that there is no living being on Earth capable of emulating the environment, lifestyle, nature and the noble parsimony with which Idiazabal cheese is produced. Let's open the closet, stir the hangers and the shoemakers. It is time to look for txamarra and katiuskas because this is not a heel ride through the pintxos bars of Bilbao, Vitoria or San Sebastián .
Not much less, this is almost a small adventure with reward, only instead of treading an impossible peak you reach a tastier goal: the dish of this delicacy accompanied with red wine or cider . Of course, no one feels obliged to walk, although the fact of being able to smell the wet grass gives it a differentiating touch.
General view of the Sanctuary of Arantzazu © Gonzalo Azumendi
Perogrullada number one : this cheese is named for the town in which it established the association of shepherds that produces it . It is located at a crossroads, open to the interior valleys of the Basque Country and Navarra, whose pastures also cure this delicacy. And here they make it very clear from the beginning that this food is not only theirs, that it is a Denomination of Origin to which they lend the name but that encompasses both Basque and Navarrese cheese (except that of the Roncal Valley). However, they exploit it delighted with its interpretation center .
Go ahead that the concept 'interpretation center' causes a bit of hives to the common visitor, but that in certain cases it is necessary. As here, they explain with some grace how in 1987 they created this brand in order to promote and solidify this form of rural economy and how they preserved the Latxa sheep breed, which was on the way to disappearing. In addition, it has its old and youthful touch to teach what a txabola is like, the place where this dairy was once made. And if the visit (upon payment) ends with a small tasting that rewards the good time that has been invested in reading, observing, smelling (and drooling) then better than better .
It is time to turn towards the mountain to discover in situ the life of the shepherds . The herds and pastures of Aralar or Urbia form a landscape in which the mobile masses that form the flocks of sheep populate every corner at will. Since it has penetrated the countryside, it is a sin not to approach the sanctuary of Arantzazu where the school of shepherds is located. Nowadays it is difficult to find young vocations, but examples like Olympic medalist Maider Unda are a breath of hope. Just in case, here they have their little university.
The innovation center of flavors and ingredients of the Gipuzkoa region © D'elikatuz
Before returning to civilization, it is worth stopping at the Gomiztegi farmhouse. Getting to the point, it is the place that has best been known to ride in the Idiazabal fever, preparing a tourist complex where you can learn first-hand the different varieties while trying to understand the closed accent of the pastor who teaches it. Another hamlet in the immediate vicinity of Legazpi, the Erreizabal, has become a grazing museum that is worth more for its landscapes than because its interior offers something different.
Ok, it is true that from the beginning this Gastro Rally promised to be eminently rural, but you cannot leave these parts without making your deserved stop in Ordizia . This is the commercial door of Idiazabal and, therefore, it has been won that the trip ends here. And its gastronomic epicenter is the innovative center D'elikatuz, where you eat very well and discover new recipes for the intense ingredients of the region, which traditionally did not require much elaboration in the kitchen. In addition, on Wednesday of Easter Week the Cheese Fair is celebrated. Throughout the day the town is impregnated with the strong aroma of the products and the rural spirit of the shepherds. In addition, the bizarre point is provided by the Latxa breed contest where it exhibits the best of each house in terms of sheep beauty.
For the more adventurous who want to know in depth the area is the Idiazábal Cheese Route, a path that travels all these points along 100 kilometers and is divided into 6 stages . It is the version on foot (and obviously more complete) of this rally that has been guided by taste and smell while with sight you discover a way of life that is not so many miles from modern cities.
Euskal Herria Pastoral Ecomuseum © Qipuzkoakomuseoak