Seems appropriate, these days, to write about a tasting of Catalan cheese and wine during Cheese 2017 in Bra, Italy, back in September. The cheese hailed from the two Catalan regions Montsec in La Noguera and Pallars Sobirà. The latter is a mountain area in the Pyrenees to the west of Andorra, while La Noguera is much closer to Barcelona, about three hours drive heading northwest from the city. No reason to doubt the Catalan patriotism, most of the guiding during this session was done in Catalan. Kudos to the interpretor switching instantly between Italian, Catalan, French and Spanish. The leader of the tasting panel was the Barcelona based chef Sergi de Meiá running a restaurant carrying his name.
Old, but new Catalan tradition
During the Franco regime most artisanal making of raw milk cheese in Catalonia ceased. But thanks to some passionate farmers in La Noguera, that have been working hard since the mid-1980s, artisanal and farmstead cheesemaking have now achieved a renaissance.
The cheeses at this tasting are probably cheeses you have to visit Barcelona to find, or the areas of their origin. I would think Formatgeria la Seu is a good place to start searching. You can find the address here.
First cheese was made from goat’s milk. Blanch de Tòrrec. Fresh and very creamy, that is, I must add, underneath a hard rind covered in mould and Geotrichum candidum. Do not have a go at the rind, it’s hard and has a bitter taste that will destroy your impression of the cheese. But as I said, inside of the rind, bright white and creamy. Very rustic with low acidity. Smell of grass and barn, but very mild. The wine served was a Mas Ramoneda, Blanc de Boira, 2015. Garnatxa vinificata in bianco as the Italians would say. Blanc de Noir. A very aromatic wine. Anis and Rosemary. A wonderful wine, but I am not so sure it was a hit with the cheese. I think the wine overpowered the cheese.
Next cheese up was also from goat’s milk. Paüs de Tòrrec. Rind covered in ash. Fresh and white. Lactic with a well inegrated acidity. Here as well the rind shows some bitterness, so exclude it. According to the panel the ash makes the cheese very creamy. The wine to accompany this cheese was a Vall de Baldomar, Cristiari Blanc 2015. Made from Müller Thurgau and Incrocio Manzoni; two grape varieties I do not connect with Catalonia or Spain for that sake. Roses and bluberries on the nose. A fine and fresh wine carrying its alcohol content with brave and pairs well with a fresh goat’s milk cheese, as well as on its own on the balcony dreaming into the sunset.
The third cheese was from ewe’s milk. Casa Mateu Tou from Surp in Pallars Sobira; The Pyrenees that is. Struggled with a proper description of this cheese, but starting with the easy bit; rind has a lot of Geotrichum candidum. Did not taste it, but would assume it has its fair share of bitterness. Soft and creamy, but somewhat drier than the two preceding cheeses. Has a fine roundness and body, rustic. Put shortly: A very good cheese. The wine was Rubió de Sols, Sols Xarel 2015. D.O. Costers del Segre. A female winemaker, Judit Sogas, which seems uncommom since it was particularly pointed out. Six months in large French oak barrels gives a rounder expression than the other whites at the tasting.
While we were tasting the first three cheeses Sergi de Meiá’s mother had been busy in the kitchen making soup for all of us. And the base of the soup was the cheese Casa Mateu Tou, with the addition of cream and al dente vegetables. Very tasteful and extremely well made.
Following this pleasant interlude, it was time for goat’s milk cheese again. Suau de Clúa from Sierra del Montsec. Change of style. A firm cheese with an expressed saltiness. Reminds me of stone. Firm and dry. Made at a tiny dairy; Formatgeríes de Clúa. Not a very complex cheese, round and moderate on the palate. No marked rind, sort of well integrated with the cheese. This cheese was paired with a red wine made from Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Tempranillo. 2015 Celler Montsec Symer 365. Paired well thy did. Not much more to say, other than a country bread would have added still an other dimension to the combo.
Cendrat is a goat’s milk cheese from Sierra del Montsac as well. A soft and creamy chèvre style cheese covered in ash. Cheese very white a usual, with a fine acidity when you chew it. Strangely enough this was paired with a red wine; Vinya l’Hereu de Seró, Flor de Grealo 2009. Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah. Not dwelling too much about that, personally I preferred Rubió de Sols with this cheese, and Mas Ramoneda, as well.
The final cheese was the lightly smoked cow’s milk cheese La Peça d’Altron Fumat. Smoked scheese is not my cup of tea, I must admit, but the smoke was very toned down, so I made an exception. First thing is to cut off the rind. Semi firm texture with a few scattered holes. Same wine as above, Vinya l’Hereu de Seró, Flor de Grealo 2009, and this combination fared much better.
I must admit I did not know all that much about Catalan cheese, so for all practical purposes, this was a very educational session. There is a lot of excellent cheese out there, and still much more to discover.