Gourmet Guide/Markets

Spanish Cheese-Connoisseur’s Guide

Spanish Cheese
Written by Aksel Ritenis

Spanish CheeseFrom the moors in sunny Andalucía, to the Basques, whose origins are lost in the midst of history, Spain’s many distinct regions and cultures produces an amazing array of over 100 artisan cheese from the miltk of cows, sheep and goats. We have assembled for a representative selection of theses distint hand-fashioned cheeses that are the pride of Spain.

 

Sheep, cows and goats are grazing on myriad plateaus and valleys of the mountainous Spain producing milk that has been made into a broad variety of cheeses – many of which may be a new experience for your palate. The goats bring us a bonewhite cheese that is marinated in wine, or fashioned into soft goat cheese buttons with herbs.

MAHÓN CHEESE

From the sunny Balearic island of Minorca comes Mahón, a wonderful combination of cream from three distinct strains of cows. The rounded orange-rinded cheese is reminiscent of Dutch Gouda or Edam.

Minorca is the outermost of the three Balearic islands. The city of Mahón is the major town on this small agricultural island.

Traditionally, to produce Mahón cheese, the curd is placed in the center of a cloth. The corners of the cloth are then knotted and twisted together, which gives the cheese its typical “cushion” shape. It then matures in the cloth for several days. The flavour is smooth, yet buttery sharp, slightly salty with a marvellous creamy, nutty aroma.

Mahón cheese is young, with a texture that is smooth and supple, and the aroma is sweet and fruity. This is a versatile cheese – nice as a tapa with olives and wine or beer. You can eat it the traditional way, sliced, then sprinkled with olive oil, black pepper, and tarragon. It is also a great treat when it is melted on toast. Keep your young Mahón in the vegetable compartment of the refrigerator, wrapped in plastic wrap or waxed paper.

Various Spanish CheesesTETILLA CHEESE

On the northwest coast, far from the Mediterranean island of Minorca, milk from the cows of Celtic Alicia is made into traditional smoked San Simón tetillas.

The region of Galicia is almost a country of its own – green and lush with rugged mountains and ocean waves lapping into peaceful fjords. The people are Celts, complete with bagpipes.

Their cheeses are as unique as they are. Before the days of refrigeration, many fresh cheeses were lightly smoked over a hardwood fire to preserve them. This is essentially how San Simón came to be – a tetillatype cow’s milk cheese, which has been left to briefly cure after being lightly smoked for two weeks. Due to its shape, San Simón is sometimes called a Bufone, or a dunce cap. Use San Simón as you might an Edam or Gouda cheese – either sliced cold as a snack, or melted – as a complement to many dishes. Its fi rm chestnut-orange exterior protects a soft, flavourful white center.

Spanish Cheese 2CABRALES

High in the glorious coastal mountains of Cantabria artisans make the complex Cabrales – the king of blue cheeses. The fl avourful blue mold in this cheese evolves naturally from the walls of the caves in which the cheeses are stored for curing – unlike its cousins in Denmark and France where the mold is introduced artifi cially by injection.

Cabrales is predominately made of cow’s milk, although often blended with that of goat and sheep’s milk according to a secret formula whose origin is lost in time. It is delightful accompanied by brandy or sherry, or crumbled on a crisp green salad. Of course it makes a remarkably bright “blue cheese” dressing.

MANCHEGO

Spanish cowsSheep’s milk makes the dominant cheeses, due to experience over centuries with vast herds of sheep covering much of Spain. The most familiar cheese is Manchego, produced in La Mancha, the central meseta of Spain – the land of windmills and Don Quijote. It is due south of Toledo. Mild or tangy, semi-cured or pasteurized – you’ll find what you like.

Traditionally, Manchego is cut in wedges and served with olives and thin slices of Serrano ham or membrillo quince preserve. It is a classic flavour of Spain.

As is often the case at all tapas bars, you’ll find slices of jamón paired with artisan sheep’s milk cheese from La Mancha.

 
Written by Rocky Gestautas

 

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Aksel Ritenis

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