Spain is a lot more than Manchego, and below is a small selection of fine cheeses I appreciate.
As a rule of thumb you can say that in the north of Spain they use cows’ milk for their cheese making, in the middle they use ewe’s milk and in the south and along the Mediterranean coast the goats rule. In the Canary Islands it is mostly goat milk cheeses and in the Balearic Islands they use cows’ milk.
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.
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.
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 raw cow’s milk, but can sometimes also contain a certain proportion of raw 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 flavour. 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. Locally they will drink dry cider or even a glass of Orujo. The latter is not for the faint-hearted.
Yes that’s the name of the cheese, from the farmstead producer Mas Alba in Girona, Catalonia. Made of raw goat’s milk. 300 grams. Snow white of course, form a bit cone. Soft creamy texture and the taste is 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.
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.
The real name is Queso Manchego and it’s a hard ewe’s milk cheese from La Mancha. The cheese and sheep breed have just about the same name; this is milk from Manchega-sheep. This breed is apparently very well customised 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.
A small washed rind cheese made with raw ewe’s milk from the area Estremadura in the western part of Spain. What’s special with heis cheese is the use of vegetarian rennet, more specifically cardoon, which has a long tradition in this area. This makes the paste soft and sometimes almost fluid with age and spoonable. Cut off the top and enjoy the cheese. Animal flavour. Aroma is o the pungent side with nuances of fruit and vegetables. Shaped like a smack cylinder. Matured for approximately 60 days. Probably more than one producer, my cheese came from a farm called Finca Pascualete.
To drink: Cava or Albariño. You can also try a Portuguese white wine from the Duoro.
Queso la Serena, Torta la Serena or just La Serena. A raw ewe’s milk semi soft washed rind cheese from la Serena in Extremedura. The sheep breed is Merino. PDO protection which has been in place since 1992. Made with vegetal rennet, cardoon, as most cheeses in this area are. It was the Sephardic jews in Estremadura that first started to use the cardoon rennet for their cheese making some 1500 years ago. The use of vegetal rennet was probably know many, many years before that. Ref the Romans Columella and Pliny the elder. Salty, and hints of barn. Normally matured for two months, younger variants may appear and they are softer than more mature examples.
To drink: See above.
Another Spanish blue cheese. From Castilla y León. Made from a blend of cow, goat and ewe’s milk. Made both from raw and pasteurized milk, then go for the raw milk version. 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.