The sheep's milk cheeses from France's Basque region are some of that country's most delicious and least known, even to the French.
If you visit the principal Pyrenees towns of Saint-Jean-de-Luz and Saint- Jean-Pied-de-Port, you will see these rustic mountain cheeses at the farmers' market, brought by their makers.
And as you drive Pyrenees country roads, you'll see many signs announcing Ardi Gasna-Basque for sheep's milk cheese -- for sale at the next farmhouse or even at unattended roadside stands.
The lovely Pyrenees Ossau-Iraty is an AOC, or appellation-controlled, cheese, one of only two AOC sheep's milk cheeses in France (The other is Roquefort).
The name Ossau-Iraty -- a combination of two place names -- dates only from 1980, when the appellation was established. But the cheese is ancient, traditionally made by shepherds in mountain huts as they worked their way up the mountains with their flocks in spring and back down in autumn.
Today, much Ossau-Iraty is made industrially, and although it is excellent, most authorities agree that the artisan versions are better.
"They're a little spicier, not as sweet, and you can taste more of the flavor of grass," says Peggy Smith, proprietor of Artisan Cheese in San Francisco, which carries an artisanal Ossau-Iraty from renowned French affineur (cheese ager) Jean d'Alos.
Janet Fletcher is a Chronicle staff writer. E-mail her at email@example.com.