Cabrales – the very best of the Blues?

Quite a few would say that Queso Cabrales, or just Cabrales which is most commonly used, is the world’s best blue cheese. From the northern foothills of the Picos de Europa mountains in Asturias, Spain. Some would of course fiercely go against that. So be it. What is indisputable though; not that many have tasted it. If you are new to the cheese world, this is not a place to start. Personally I am not all that concerned with a cheese being the best in the world or not. I am concerned with the use of raw milk and a cheese being made by artisan cheese makers. A real cheese. And what is good or tasteful? Varies between people. Under any circumstance, this is a cheese that will challenge your taste buds.

cabrales
Queso Cabrales from Asturias in Spania.

Les mer

Bleu de Termignon – how it all started?

bleu de termignon
Bleu de Termignon

Have you ever tasted Bleu de Termignon? If not you should seriously consider doing that. It will be a kind blue cheese educational journey. It is a real, natural blue cheese made at a few farms rather high up in the mountains of Savoie. Within the boundaries of the Vanoise national park between the valleys of Tarentaise and Maurienne. Beautiful area. But what’s so special about Bleu de Termignon?

bleu de termignon
Bleu de Termignon, the other side.

Bleu de Termignon – an original?

Although running the risk of repeating myself and become boring I have to remind you about André Simon in Cheeses of the World from 1960 where he says: “Blue Cheshire is not made, it happens.” That’s exactly the point which fascinates me a lot. This is one of the issues that makes cheese so interesting; biology, nature and living life. Bleu de Termignon is a blue cheese where nature still decides the outcome. You surely remember the story about Charlemagne, penned by Notker the Stammererer, aka Notker Balbulus.

Also read: Blue Cheese isn’t made – it just happens

From beautiful Savoie

Bleu de Termignon hails as it is from the mountainous Savoie region in eastern France. There are just five or six small farms making it from June through September. The process is not like other cheese making processes, but not going further into that part of it. However, they mix fresh curd with curd made to days earlier. Bind it with cloth and puts it into moulds. Removes it more or les regularly from the mould to change cloth before it is set aside to wait for nature getting to work. Or not. The outcome is not at all always predictable. The is no blue culture added, Penicillium Glaucum is present on the grass and flowers and herbs the cattle feed on. No needles to give the molds air to breathe. I have been told the blue molds do not need all that much oxygen to survive anyway, so I don’t know if the needles are more the habit than the need. Apart from Bleu de Termignon, Spanish Cabrales is also an exception from the rule.

A cheese to taste?

As said, this is about education. If you enjoy blue cheese at all it is a must to have tasted Bleu de Termignon. If you dare not go any further that the pasteurised industrial varieties you’ll find in any supermarket, do not spend neither time nor money on this cheese. Waste.

Wherever you find yourself in the blue cheese landscape, you should know that this cheese is different from any other blue cheese you have tasted. Bleu de Termignon is probably also showcasing how far we have moved away from the original. It might just be you may have a blue cheese without any bluing. In that case you’re fooled by nature and you have to try one more time. Well, most of us buy a pice from a cheesemonger which gives us the opportunity to check if the cheese is blue or not. Texture is firm and crumbly. The firmness might remind you of an alpine cheese, but that’s about all. Perhaps closer if there are no bluing at all. The rind is also well worth a close look. Does not look very edible, so I advice you not to try.

Tasting notes says a touch of bitterness, especially just beneath the rind. Savoury, grass and herbs. Meaty and some barnyard. Did I loose you now? Not very uncommon cheese tasting notes this. Compelx flavour that sits long in your mouth. If cheese is something that you care for, this s a cheese you have to taste before you die. No less.

To drink

Perhaps something unorthodox, just as the cheese itself? A Chinon blanc from the Loire. Move up the price scale. If you’re in for something sweet, try a red sweet on the Tannat grape from the Madiran region of France.

Blue cheese isn’t made, it just happens

History is full of anecdotes about things that just happen for no obvious reason. Today we know how a blue cheese becomes a blue cheese, but that has not always been the case. Thereof the heading of this post. But for most blue cheeses the expression is not valid today. But only for most, because there are still some. Well, perhaps not some. I will come back to that. Some insist blue cheese has been around since dawn, and it could just be. We do not know a lot about it, though. There are indications that the romans and ancient greek did not like it when it appeared and regarded it a flaw. That brings us back to the heading: Blue cheese isn’t made, it just happens.

blåmuggost
A selection of blue cheeses

Les mer

Spanish Cheese

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 skin-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.