The road to the Beaskin hut, in the hills of the Aralar montain range is hazy. Full of details, ins and outs and surprises all of which are reflected in the cheese made by Jon and Martina. They are shepherds from Zerain, a small town in the heart of Goierri (literally highland in the Basque language) region. From May to October, Jon confines himself to the remote wilderness of the mountain to make a unique cheese full of distinctive features.
The Mugaritz team paid a visit to spend a day with him. Observing the landscape around the hut and watching Jon work with his flock of Latxa sheep is the best way to comprehend the reasons why his cheese is so rich in flavour and texture. We brought him a basket of food and supplies since we know he will not come down off the mountain for another month.
Jon is 37 years old and he knows that in order to make the best product, he must sacrifice much of his time taking the sheep to graze on the best grass only found on the higher plains of the mountains. It can be said to be the best because the diversity of aromas from the wild herbs found near the peaks are condensed in the milk and, subsequently, in the cheese he makes.
The Aralar mountain range is a territory shared by the regions of Gipuzkoa and Navarra. At a height of 1,200 m the grass flourishes in this natural ecosystem where shepherds have carved out a living for centuries. There are more than 70 individual huts where shepherds make cheese. Every single one of these cheese-makers has his idiosyncratic style and methods. For Jon the protocol is strict: a flock of 160 sheep milked twice a day by hand. After letting the milk sit for a few hours, a batch of new cheese is made. The cheese is then aged for 6 to 18 months. The result is sublime!
The only problem when dealing with Jon, is that his own high standards exceed even our own. It has been more than 3 months since Jon has sold us any cheese. “It is not my best work”, he insists. We can’t wait to sample what he deems to be truly exceptional.