& 1st raw milk AOP/ PDO Ossau-Iraty producer
A family story
Back to 1981, Jean Exteleku and 5 partners decided to create the AGOUR company at Hélette, in the heart of the Northern Basque Country. Thirty shepherds took part in the project and created a Basque industry focused on cheese.
Peio Exteleku joined his father in 2001 and led the family business to a revival by improving the milk and cheese quality, boosting the local economy and creating sustainable jobs. Since then, its objectives remain the same: make AGOUR cheeses a Basque must-have.
Progressively appeared the most emblematic products of the territory with the acquisition of the Caza Eceiza Spanish house and its sweets, the investment in the Iraty ecological cheese dairy to widen AGOUR’s soft cheeses offer and create a range of ice creams and, finally, the purchase of the former Baillet company, in particular the IGP/ PGI Bayonne Ham which joined the ranks of what is today the widest range of gastronomic specialties of the Basque Country and Gascony.
3 houses, 3 crafts, 1 unique brand
Each product family has its own expertise:
- The cheeses branch: 80% come from sheep’s milk, including the renowned AOP/PDO Ossau-Iraty and more than 40 other references produced and matured in the Basque Country.
- Cured and cold meats: IGP/ PGI Bayonne Ham, sausages, sow specialties, pork belly (ventresca), lomo, filet mignon…
- Desserts and Caza Eceiza delicacies: ice creams, fresh and frozen pastries (including the famous Basque cake), biscuits/cookies, nougats…
AGOUR AOP/ PDO Ossau-Iraty, World Best Cheese
The international World Cheese Award twice awarded AGOUR AOP/ PDO Ossau-Iraty “Best Cheese in the World” in 2006 and 2011, among three thousand competitor cheeses. This is the greatest distinction a cheese can receive, the assurance of an exceptional savoir-faire.
Ossau-Iraty is a traditional cheese of 2.5kg / 5.5lb or 4.5kg / 10lb, exclusively made with whole raw or pasteurized sheep’s milk. Its name comes from the Iraty Basque valley and the Ossau Bearn valley. The cheese has been recognized as an AOP/ PDO since 1996. It is the only AOP/ PDO cheese from the south western part of France and it represents half of AGOUR’s cheese production.
The milk of 3 local sheep breeds from Bearn and the Basque Country can be used for the production: Black Head Manech, Red Head Manech and Basco Béarnaise ones. While the minimum maturation period required by the AOP/ PDO label is 4 months, AGOUR made the choice of excellence with an AOP/ PDO Ossau-Iraty up to 17 months matured, branded as the « Old Reserve ». The more the cheese is matured, the more its flavor become complex.
AGOUR is the only cheese dairy to mature all its AOP/ PDO Ossau-Iraty on a spruce board, in order to enrich their gustatory typicity. To go even further into the terroir, Espelette pepper is brush on the rind of some of the wheels as being the only non-cheese additive allowed on the rind by the AOP/ PDO specifications.
Shepherds and cheese makers, closely linked
« A project for the Basque people, with the Basque people ». Originally, Jean Etxeleku proposed to nearly thirty shepherds around the Helette village, to become AGOUR ‘s “bankers” for the first three years. They agreed to supply their sheep’s milk and to be paid six to nine months later, when the cheeses would be sold… The risk-taking was rewarded!
Historically, AGOUR is the dairy who pays the most expensively its sheep’s milk, in order to fairly remunerate their producers. Moreover, an AGOUR bonus is also rewarding the dairy producers working with the Black Head Manech sheeps, the most rustic and emblematic breed of the Basque Country which gives a more concentrated milk but whose the number of individuals is unfortunately decreasing due to their low milk productivity. Via the bonus, AGOUR once again supports farmers and encourages them to reintroduce this sheep breed more massively.
There are no fine products without good raw materials. AGOUR’s concept is that breeders are involved in the cheese production from the outset. This involvement has led the company to go hand in hand with many farmers into the organic farming transition, the next major step for Maison AGOUR.