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Portuguese cheese, a 101 introduction

Portuguese cheese
Portuguese cheese of raw ewes’ milk and bread

Portuguese cheese has a rich history that dates back centuries and is an important part of the country’s culinary tradition. Portugal is known for its diverse range of cheeses, each with its unique flavors and characteristics. Let’s explore the history and some particulars of Portuguese cheese. For me personally, they are a favourite, because they are so good, but also because they are special, different from most other cheeses, but also because they are very rare if at all available here where I live.

The History of Portuguese cheese – in short

The origins of cheese-making in Portugal can be traced back to ancient times. The Romans introduced cheese-making techniques to the region during their occupation. Over time, Portuguese cheese production developed and flourished, influenced by different cultures, techniques, and local ingredients. Cheese in Portuguese is called queijo by the way.

Some particulars

Most of the artisan cheeses produced on the mainland are made using ewe’s milk but there are also some goats’ milk cheeses. The famous cows’ milk cheeses are from the Azores. The ewes’ milk cheeses are oftenmost made using vegetal rennet; cardoon to be specific, while the cows’ milk cheeses from the Azores archipelago is made with animal rennet.

Types of Cheese

Queijo Serra da Estrela: This is one of Portugal’s most famous cheeses, made from raw sheep’s milk. It has a creamy texture and a strong, slightly acidic flavor. This cheese is from the mountainous region in central Portugal, Serra de Estrela is the highest mountain on the mainland. The cheese is made using milk from Bordaleira sheep and is traditionally consumed melted or spooned out of its rind. Bigger than the ewes’ milk cheeses mentioned below.

Queijo de Azeitão: A small, soft cheese made from sheep’s milk. It has a buttery texture and a slightly salty taste. It is often consumed as a spread.

Queijo Serpa: Produced in the Alentejo region, this cheese is made from raw sheep’s milk and has a semi-soft texture. It has a distinctive flavor and aroma.

Queijo de Nisa: Another sheep’s milk cheese, Queijo de Nisa is semi-soft with a smooth texture. It has a mild, slightly salty taste. This cheese along with Azeitão and Serpa are all from the Alentejo region in southern Portugal, renowned for its sheep’s milk cheeses

Sao Jorge: Originating from the Azores islands, Sao Jorge to be specific, this cheese is made from cow’s milk. It has a firm texture and a rich, buttery flavor. The Azores archipelago, particularly the islands of São Jorge and Terceira, is known for its production of cow’s milk cheese. These cheeses have a firm texture and a tangy, slightly spicy flavor.

Portuguese cheese is enjoyed both domestically and internationally, and it is often paired with local wines, fruits, or honey. The country’s cheese-making traditions continue to be celebrated, and new variations and flavors are constantly being explored by local producers.

Suggested pairings

Portuguese cheese and wine pairings can be delightful, as the country produces a wide range of both. Here are a few recommendations for cheese and wine pairings from Portugal.

Queijo Serra da Estrela with Douro Red Wine. The rich and creamy Queijo Serra da Estrela pairs beautifully with a robust red wine from the Douro region. The wine’s structure and tannins complement the cheese’s strong flavors.

Queijo de Azeitão with Moscatel de Setúbal. The soft and buttery Queijo de Azeitão harmonizes well with the sweet and aromatic Moscatel de Setúbal. The cheese’s saltiness contrasts with the wine’s sweetness, creating a delightful balance.

Queijo Serpa with Alentejo Red Wine. The intense and slightly acidic flavors of Queijo Serpa match nicely with a full-bodied red wine from the Alentejo region. Look for wines made from the Trincadeira or Aragonez grape varieties.

São Jorge Cheese with Port Wine. The semi-hard São Jorge cheese pairs wonderfully with a rich and full-bodied Port wine. The cheese’s nutty and slightly spicy flavors match well with the sweetness and complexity of the fortified wine.

Remember, these are just suggestions, and personal preferences may vary. Feel free to explore different combinations and experiment with your own pairings to discover your favorite combinations of Portuguese cheese and wine.

Further reading

For more on Portuguese cheese check out this page.

This post is created partly with the help of Chat OpenAI.

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Scalloway Hotel

Scalloway is the former capital of Shetland, a nicely nestled haven on the west coast of the Shetland mainland. My ‘relationship’ to Scalloway is the hotel, Scalloway hotel where I have stayed only once, but this stay made its impact. It is a small, but fine hotel where they put their pride in decorating the rooms with local products and serving great Shetland food. Though not only.

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The Hidden Cheese Heaven

It could of course just be me. Even though I don’t think so. I am above average interested in cheese and was not aware of the hidden cheese heaven Portugal is. Know they make cheese here, yes, but not so much, and not that so much is from raw milk.

Hail the supermarkets

The supermarkets is full of regional raw milk cheese. Many artisan, though not all. A majority from ewe’s milk and some from cow. Goat is more rare, mostly pasteurized, even though I managed to find one raw. But there are a few blends blends with goat milk.
Ostedisk Portugal
Some of the ewe milk cheese is hard, some is firm to semi firm and quite a few are spoonable.

Portuguese spoonable ewe's milk cheese
Portuguese spoonable ewe’s milk cheese

Ewe’s milk cheese in majority

Portugal seems to be the country where production of ewe’s milk cheese is most widespread. Comes in different sizes, but they’re all rounds. Unless they are treated with oil and paprika powder the rinds are generally of beige color. Hard and non-edible. I do not know if it is a washed rind, it might seem so, but the texture is a bit plasticky.

It is hard to know if the cheese is farmstead, artisanal, cooperative or industrial. Partly because of the language of course, I do not speak portuguese, but it also seems like most of the cheese is consumed locally and therefore there is not so much need for any international sites. I need to do some more research in other words.

The best cow’s milk cheese comes from the Azores

So they make traditional firm cow’s milk cheese as well. And the best comes from the islands, which in this case is the Azores. Quite far into the Atlantic, west of Portugal. Queijo São Jorge DOP is the most famous. Comes in at least two versions; four and seven months of maturity. An alternative is the Topo Queijo curado, also from raw cow’s milk, but without the DOP certification.
I’ll come back to the actual tasting, later.

The hidden cheese heaven

Having explored the portuguese cheese marked for a good week or so, I am very positively surprised and have no doubt this is the hidden cheese heaven. So much excellent cheese, and so readily available.

To drink

I find it natural to drink a white to these cheeses, though not Vinho Verde as they are too crisp, but Duoro and Alentejo whites will work very well. Since we’re in Portugal, Port is a good choice as well. Works well with most cheese.

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Heading for Portugal

We’re heading to Portugal for a few days. And I am going to explore Portuguese cheese. They have quite a few good ones, a lot with DOP (or AOP) protection. I found an article about Portuguese cheese, so I am a bit informed, but I also think I have to do my own field research. Have a few addresses to some good shops in Lisbon especially, but hoping to find something outside of the capital as well.

We’re starting off in Lisbon and ending up there before we’re heading home. In between, a little bit of this and a little bit of that.

Portugal = Good food

Portugal is a food country. Like Spain food is rustic, not so complicated. Good food and good wine. As simple as that. A cup of coffee and an aguardente. Long lunches.

Bacalhau

Apart from the cheese I am particularly looking forward to having wet salted cod, bacalhau, prepared in numerous ways. They are masters at it. If you’ve never had it, this is the place to try it (in addition to Brazil). It is said that Portuguese men are able to prepare a different dish of Bacalhau for every day of the year. That’s 365 different recipes. Quite a few more than I know.

But I will keep you informed, bring my camera and snap a few fine shots to share with you.
I’ve been to quite a few places around the world, but I’ve never been to Portugal before. Shame really. So if you have any tips on what to do, where, I am more than happy if you share.

To drink

White from the Vinho Verde and others worth exploring, reds from the Duoro and Dao and other local varieties. Port of course. There is a lot of good wine in Portugal at a reasonable price.

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