Iberian Cheese

SPAIN

Spain is a lot more than Manchego, and below is a small selection of fine cheese I appreciate.

Cow

Arzúa Ulloa Arquesan

Spanish cow’s milk cheese from Galicia which lies on the rainy west coast. A very mild and smooth cheese with a slightly creamy texture when it is young. It hardens with age and the taste turns much stronger. Has a flesh-colored rind.
To drink: Drink local, ie, fresh and fruity white wines from Rias Baixas.

Mahón

Locally it is called Maó. Semi-solid to solid cow’s milk cheese from the island of Menorca. The cheese may actually contain milk from both sheep and goats in addition to cows’ milk, but not on a regular basis. Snow white cheese with a reddish rind due to it being rubbed with paprika. Have only tasted ripe cheese which has a nice nutty and salty taste.
To drink: Brut cava or a dry rosé.

Cabrales

Queso de Cabrales is the real name, is a Spanish blue cheese from Asturias, more specifically the Picos de Europa, located in the north western corner of Spain, west of Bilbao. made from unpasteurized cow’s milk, but can sometimes also contain a certain proportion of goat’s and ewe’s milk. All animals that provide milk for this cheese must be «born and raised» in the Picos de Europa. Traditionally wrapped in maple leaves, today in aluminum foil. Some locals still wrap it in maple leaves. D.O. (AOP) protection. Soft consistency. The cheese looks straight out old and long past when it comes to maturity. However, that is only the appearance. Very spicy and pronounced salty flavor. Not as well known as some other blue cheeses on this site, but well worth getting to know. Among many connoisseurs regarded as Europe’s best blue cheese. For the well versed cheese lover.
To drink: As with most other blue cheese a sweet white wine à la Sauternes pairs well. But since this is a Spanish cheese I recommend trying the very sweet Pedro Ximénez sherry.

Goat

Uff

Yes that’s the name of the cheese, from the farmstead producer Mas Alba in Girona, Catalonia. Made from raw goat’s milk. 300 grams. Snow white of course, form a bit cone. Soft creamy texture and taste just wonderful.
To drink: Cava; Torelló 225 Gran Reserva Brut Nature or Gran Torelló Gran Reserva Brut Nature in the latest vintage available.

Veigardarte de cabra

From the artisan producer Joaquin Villaneuva Casado in the village of Ambasmestas, Bierzo, Castilla y Léon north of Madrid. Unpasteurized when bought locally or in Europe, but he even exports some of his rather small production to the USA and then it is alas pasteurized. Milk is from the local goat breed Muriciano-Granadina, supplied by neighboring organic farmers. Comes in various forms, both as a 200 g wheel and in small logs. Creamy, buttery taste. Texture reminds you of cheesecake. Some comes with various added tastes, which I am personally not so fond of. Somewhat bloomy rind or covered with modest amounts of ash. The rind gives you hints of mushroom as well. Off white paste with a chalk white center.
To drink: Cava; Torelló 225 Gran Reserva Brut Nature or Gran Torelló Gran Reserva Brut Nature in the latest vintage available for this one as well.

Ewe

Idiazabal Ahumado

Spanish unpasteurized ewe’s milks cheese from the Basque Country and Navarra. Can be both smoked and unsmoked. Ahumado means that it is smoked, sin ahumado means that it’s unsmoked. To the extent it is smoked, the smoking is very delicate. Firm cheese with a hard waxy rind. Pale yellow in color, fairly compact with a few very small holes. Fine acidity and mellow smoke flavor and hints of nuts. The milk must primarily come from the breed Latxa but also Carranzana from the area Encartaciones is allowed. National DO-protection since 1987. The rennet used must be from lamb. The cheese is dry salted or in brine for 24 hours. Maturing at least two months. Any smoking of the cheese happens after the aging is done. It used shavings from beech, birch, cherry or local pine. The unsmoked cheeses are pale yellow while the smoked are brownish. Cylindrical and weights from 0.9 to 1.8 kg.
To drink: Red Spanish wine from Navarra, Rueda or Penedès. Red crianza or reserva from Ribera del Duero, Rioja, Navarra and Priorat.

Manchego

The real name is Queso Manchego and it’s a hard ewe’s milk cheese from La Mancha. The cheese and sheep race have just about the same name; this is milk from Manchega-sheep. This breed is apparently very well customized to the relatively harsh climate of La Mancha. Manchego can be both pasteurized (industrially produced), and unpasteurized (farmstead). In the latter case, it is marked Artesano. Look for it. Very characteristic zig-zag pattern on the outside of the rind. Has AOP protection. Matures for 60 days minimum and up to two years. But there is also a Fresco variety which is matured for just two weeks. However, this is rarely available outside La Mancha region. Curado is medium aged and Viejo is aged for at least one year. Manchego is pretty mild. Becoming more intense with aging though. Color from ivory to straw. Crumbly, and the older the more. Much the same usage as Parmigiano Reggiano.
To drink: Mature red wine from Spain. First and foremost, Rioja, Ribera del Duero or Priorat. Alternatively, a Fino or Manzanilla sherry.

Blended

Valdeón

Another Spanish blue cheese. From Castilla y León. Made from a blend of cow, goat and ewe’s milk. Made both unpasteurized and pasteurized, then go for the unpasteurised. A bright orange rind that gets a little sticky when the cheese gets «old». Matures for two to three months. Sharp and salty taste. The cheese is wrapped in maple or chestnut leaves. Is often considered the little brother of Cabrales. Valdeón stands well on its own, but is milder and with less blue veins than Cabrales. By some considered more accessible.
To drink: A traditional sweet white wine or port.

Portugal

Portugal is a cheese heaven, especially if you are interested in ewe’s milk cheese. There is an array of artisanal cheese so just dig in. Cow’s milk cheese mostly from the Azores. You can find some fine goat’s milk cheeses as well, but a lot of goat’s milk goes into industrially manufactured cheese. Most artisanal cheese is made from raw milk and quite a few have DOP (PDO) protection. Below is a selection I highly recommend, but far from all-inclusive.

Ewe

Serra da Estrela

Made with raw ewe milk cheese (leite cru de ovelha) from the central to north of Portugal. The cheese has DOP protection. Soft and creamy after a small hour or so in room temperature. Made with vegetable rennet. Commonly regarded as Portugals best cheese. Washed rind of beige color. Cheese paste is straw colored. Comes usually in two sizes; of approximately one kg and small rounds of 250 – 300 g. Artisanal.
To drink: Whites from the Duoro and Alentejo work very well. Since we’re in Portugal, Port is a good choice as well. Works well with most cheese.

Nisa

Nisa is a raw ewe’s milk cheese (leite cru de ovelha) from the Alentejo region of Portugal. Comes in rounds from 300 g to 1,2 kg. Washed rind with a light yellow color. Made with vegetable rennet. Semi firm. Matured for about 45 days. Tasteful. Artisanal and DOP protection.
To drink: Whites from the Duoro and Alentejo work very well. Since we’re in Portugal, Port is a good choice as well. Works well with most cheese.

Serpa

Soft and creamy cheese from the Serpa mountains in the Alentejo region. Made from raw ewe’s milk (leite cru de ovelha) and matured for at least 30 days. Light yellow washed rind. Comes in rounds from 250 g to approximately one kilo. Leave in room temperature for a little while, cut the top off and eat with a spoon. Tending towards pungent style. Artisanal and DOP protection.
To drink: Whites from the Duoro and Alentejo work very well. Since we’re in Portugal, Port is a good choice as well. Works well with most cheese.

Évora

A small raw ewe’s milk cheese from the Alentejo region of Portugal. Made with vegetable rennet and matured for at least 45 days. Washed straw colored rind. Texture is semi firm. The paste has small irregular holes. Artisanal and DOP protection.
To drink: Whites from the Duoro and Alentejo work very well. Since we’re in Portugal, Port is a good choice as well. Works well with most cheese.

Azeitão

Soft raw ewe’s milk cheese from the area south of Lisbon, made with vegetable rennet as most ewe’s milk cheeses in Portugal are. Sold in rounds of approximately 250 g and wrapped in waxed paper. Washed rind and matured for minimum 20 days. Very delicate taste. Artisanal and DOP protection.
To drink: Whites from the Duoro and Alentejo work very well. Since we’re in Portugal, Port is a good choice as well as it works well with most cheese. Also try a sweet from Setúbal, it’s more or less the same region.

Terrincho

Artisanal raw ewe’s milk cheese (leite cru de ovelha) made with traditional animal rennet! From the north of Portugal. Washed rind that sometimes is covered with paprika powder, especially the matured ones.This cheese may both be soft and firm. The more the cheese is matured the harder it gets so typically the paprika smeared cheeses are firm (Terrincho velho), while those with a pale yellow rind are on the soft side (Terrincho novo). Both styles have DOP protection.
To drink: Whites from the Duoro and Alentejo work very well. Since we’re in Portugal, Port is a good choice as well. Works well with most cheese.

Cow

São Jorge

A semi firm cheese from the island São Jorge in the Azores, west of Portugal. From raw cow’s milk (leite cru vaca) and DOP certified since 2006. Seems like all cow’s milk cheese worth considering in Portugal is from the Azores. Made with traditional animal rennet. Coated with paraffin. Comes as 8 – 12 kg wheels in three varieties with three, four and seven months maturity of which I have tasted the two latter. Artisanal.
To drink: My preference is white, but a good and mature red will also work well, as does Port.

Goat

Cabra Transmontano

As far as I know the only artisanal Portuguese goat’s milk cheese with DOP protection. Made from raw milk using animal rennet. Semi firm and from northern Portugal. Aged for 60 days and with a very typical taste of goat. Washed rind. White and rather compact paste but with a few «cracks».
To drink: Since this is a goat’s milk cheese and from the north of Portugal I would try a green wine, i.e. Vinho verde. But make sure it’s not sparkling, though, not even slightly.

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