Catalan cheese and wine at Cheese 2017 – a guided tasting

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.

Tasting of Catalan cheese, all from raw milk.
Not many spare seats left at the tasting of Catalan cheese and wine.

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.

The tasting

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.

Catalan cheese soup with vegetables
Catalan soup made of the ewe’s milk cheese Casa Mateu Tou.

An interlude

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.

11 thoughts on “Catalan cheese and wine at Cheese 2017 – a guided tasting

  1. You can start out here: Hafod, Isle of Mull (Scottish), Keen’s cheddar, Lincolnshire Poacher, Montgomery’s cheddar, Westcombe cheddar, Appelby’s Cheshire, Gorwydd Caerphilly, Kirkham’s Lancashire, Sparkenhoe red Leicester, Whin Yeates Wensleydale, Stichelton, St James (Ewe), St Cera, Cardo (goat), Baron bigod, Innes log (goat).
    They are all from raw milk and Neal’s Yard.

    1. Neals Yard replied today. Very friendly lot. I can put in a pre-order and collect in London mid December. I also read a couple of books by Patrick Rance and have a list of cheeses there that I might be able to get from some of the other cheese stores. la Fromagerie has a huge selection, but I had a slight falling out with the owner a year ago – long story. Shame as it has extensive stock.

  2. You’re pretty central of things cheese then. I thought you could make a French cheese. There are some who argue the Auvergne cheeses like Cantal are originally English, like Cheddar and Cheshire, brought there by the crusaders on their way to the Mediterranean and further. So the French has not necessarily invented all cheeses. 🙂

    1. I should do some cheese history sleuthing. That would be interesting and a persuasive way to draw the French into buying English. Mind you probably haven’t forgiven us for Agincourt or Waterloo yet. I have been doing some reading on raw milk cheeses in England and making a list that I would like to see if I can obtain some whilst back there. Looking at the more artisan ones – who has survived the big dairy takeovers and pasteurisation pressures.

  3. Its an area I really want to visit along with the Basque region. I am in the process of writing about a Basque cheese and have a passion for sheep’s cheeses above all others. We are about 3 hours drive from the Pyrenees so I think an exploration in order. Arla who I worked for, found the transportation costs of “Spanish” cheeses prohibitive and therefore reduced importing these and its a shame as they have so much to offer. I have written an article on Garrotxa cheese – would you like me to forward this to you? This is my favourite cheese.

    1. The thing is all Garrotxa is pasteurized, isn’t it? And my site is all about raw milk cheese. And I stand firm on my principles, the ones I have.
      I assume you speak French; a guided group cheese tour to the Pyrinées, what’s your thoughts on that?

      1. I wish I spoke French. But will have to, now living here. This week I bought a guide to AOC cheeses…raw milk and now have to translate it..long task. Point taken re your site. I think becuase you mentioned devoting more time to cheese you would be looking at the other processes and not just raw. But specializing not a bad thing. When in UK I will be looking at what’s on offer in the raw milk catagory and hoping to start next year visiting some of the French producers as I am very near the centre and many situated not far from us. Garrotxa is lightly pasturized.

        1. Lucky you. Wish we could do the same here. Not allowed to sell from a grocery store, just random sales direct from the farmer.
          For the cheese making I think you have to find a farmer that can supply the milk, otherwise the cheese will be very expensive, if you think of reselling. But for testing out varieties it’s probably fine to buy from the local grocery store.
          I do not quite know where in France you live, other than it’s the south west somewhere, what kind of cheese do they typically make in the area?
          I’ve ordered half a Stichelton, by the way, partly for ourselves and friends for Christmas, partly for a blue cheese course I am holding later in November. It’s made by an American turned English, so why cannot an Englishwoman make cheese in France?
          Happy Sunday!

          1. Nice little video on Stichelton’s website and notes about the clash with Stilton. I love the naming of the cheese. About making English cheese in France – I think it would be difficult to sell. One blogger I chat to a lot, her father-in-law was the famous Patrick Rance – said any mention about English cheese to French is greeted with humorous comment. In our area I believe someone tried to import English cheeses and after a few years it was just not cost effective – the uptake slow. It would have to be unique with a big investment behind it. Neals Yard has clout and connections – cheese breeding so to speak and without those pedigrees on board, you would be facing an uphill struggle. I will definitely try this when back in London as it actually looks a little less blue than Stilton, which I do not like. My favourite is Cheshire. the acidic flakiness I love. I would like to find a French version. So far its all creamy, or pressed and uniform in texture.

            Auge, where I am is absolute centre, with Auvergne just below us, half an hour away, so great for some of the big AOC cheeses. Valencay, Fourme D’ambert, St Nectaire, Blue d’Auvergne, about an hour away, and Salers and Cantal a little further, half hour. From next year it will good to visit some of these.

            My nearest AOC is Charolais – but this is a goats cheese. Our area produces beef.

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