«A beautiful human adventure...»
“Live and work in the Basque Country!” This courageous statement in the 1970s, became a reality for Jean Etxeleku, founder of Maison Agour in 1981.
« A project for Basque people, with Basque people. » This idea enticed thirty shepherds of the Hélette area, in the heart of the Northern Basque Country to become "Bankers" for the company during its first three years of existence: they agreed to supply their sheep's milk and be paid six to nine months later for it, once the cheese was made, matured and sold... They took a risk that more than paid off! By 1984, the cheese factory was already too small.
A visionary entrepreneur, Jean Etxeleku also created a metal construction company on the adjoining plot of land. Well thought-out diversification, this "second branch" meant he could build new sheepfolds, and help the Basque cheese industry grow. He also sold milking equipment and milk tanks.
"... A commitment to the region"
In 2001, Peio Etxeleku joined his father, breathing new life into the company. The team introduced new ideas and a drive to develop a selection of new products "made in the Basque Country." The company evolved to further boost the local economy and create stable employment for the people. Efforts to improve the quality of cheeses increased massively (milk collection, research and development, ripening techniques, raw milk PDO Ossau-Iraty, organic cheeses, etc.) to make Agour " an iconic brand that could be found in premium meat and cheese shops, larger supermarkets and on the menus of the best restaurants in the world.
in 2009 The Hélette cheese plant grew too small and got iself a "little sister", the Irati ecological cheese factory, in Mendive. This smaller site helps Agour produce smaller series, create new cheeses, and launch a production of sheep’s milk ice creams. The two cheese factories employ around forty workers.
5 production sites in the Basque Country and Gascony
The Agour Cheese Factory, in Hélette, in the Basque Country
The Irati Ecological Cheese Factory, in Mendive, in the Basque Country
Bayonne ham and cured meat in Hagetmau, Gascony
Biscuits and dessert making in Tolosa, Basque Country
The Lizartza Cheese Factory, in the Basque Country
At Agour we do like challenges. In 2006 and 2011, we were voted Best Cheese in the World at the World Cheese Awards ceremony. Every year, this British-run contest brings over 4,000 cheeses together to be tasted by a jury of experts!
In addition, Agour’s cheeses have received over 30 awards at the Concours Général Agricole, in various cheese categories between 1994 and 2017.
Around the world !
Although regional specialties, our products are very popular around the world and can be found in the United States, the United Kingdom, South Korea, Germany, the Netherlands, Australia, the Philippines, Chile, Japan, Israel, Canada, and many more places.
Gascony and the Basque Country
The history of Gascony and the Basque Country goes back several centuries, in the lands we know today as Navarre. Called Vasconia by the Romans, the region was then called Gascogne. It is the cradle of the lingua navarrorum (Navarre language, or Basque). A language that, for centuries, was spoken all the way up to Bordeaux (Burdigala) in the north, and in the south, throughout the different Pyrenean valleys to the lands surrounding the Ebro River.
Little by little, Roman invaders spread Latin and Occitan languages throughout the area. Over the centuries, and due to the migration of the Basque, considered the oldest people in Europe, it lost speakers. In 1963, the first Ikastola was created, and Basque was once again taught, starting in kindergarten.
An authentic land
Far from tourist clichés, Basque traditions are deeply-rooted in this territory, dotted by white farmhouses with red shutters, from the coastline to the countryside. Etxea, “the house” in Basque, is the cornerstone of traditional social life. The name designates the family clan it housed, even more prominent than the official surname. For centuries, the house followed very specific rules for transfer. The pace of life is set by several traditional festivals that have survived the centuries: masquerades, popular festivals, Basque Christmas (Egun berriak), carnival, pastorals, parades, etc.
Culinary wealth, famous the world over.
Here, traditional recipes keep living, transferred from generation to generation, reworked and improved. Today the youth have taken up the torch, proud of the authenticity and quality of their products. Agour belongs to this new generation of companies, who claim themselves as "defenders of the Basque Country and Gascony’s cuisine."
Notice to gourmets
The Basque Country and Gascony are the land of ducks, foie gras geese, lamb, pigs, chickens, capons, asparagus, apples, cherries, cheeses, cured meats, peppers, fish, chestnuts, Irouléguy, Jurançon, Txakoli, Madiran, Rioja, Armagnac... The land of "true taste" and abundance!