A Tour of Spanish Cheese
Cheese is milk made immortal
The original purpose of making cheese was to prolong the useful life of milk; it was when cheese-makers learned to harness the nutritional, dietary and gastronomic qualities acquired as it matures that it took on prestige.
Spain’s bovine flock is one of the biggest in the EU. Spain’s sheep breeds are not particularly productive in quantitative terms, but compensate with the fact that, because of its higher protein and fat content, their milk is highly suitable for cheese making. Most of Spain’s cheeses are made from pure sheep’s milk and have a pronounced flavour which emerges in the course of sufficient maturation.
We carry a wide range of continental cheeses, view the full retail range here.
Manchego is the best-known and most traditional of Spain’s cheeses. As required by the PDO’s (Protected Designation of Origin) regulations, it is made exclusively of milk obtained from Manchego sheep and only in La Mancha. Manchego can also be made from pasteurized milk, but the best cheeses are made with raw milk on which native microbiological flora act directly.
Cylindrical in shape and weighing around 3 kg (6.6 lb), they can be matured for periods of varying duration and range from semi-mature to mature and extra-mature. More mature cheeses should be savoured alone, accompanied by nothing more than a slice of rustic bread and a glass of local wine with plenty of body. They are versatile and can be eaten straight at any time of day and used in cooking for enriching the flavour of sauces.
Roncal was the first Spanish cheese to be granted PDO status. It is made in the seven municipalities of the Roncal Valley in northern Navarre, close to the French border. Roncal cheeses are cylindrical, medium-sized and have a smooth brown rind and ivory white interior. The buttery cheese has a pronounced flavour, sparsely salted but with an intriguing hint of piquancy. With good reason, this cheese is generally eaten to round off a meal, but it can also be used in cooking.
Idiazabal was the name chosen for a group of cheese from various Basque Country valleys. When PDO status was attached to the name, the unification of production methods resulted in a cheese whose quality has earned gourmet status. Weighing around 1 kg (2.2 lb), they are sometimes smoked and the colour of the rind varies. The interior is compact with occasional eyes or none at all, and ivory white. The rich, delicious flavour suggests walnuts or hazelnuts, the aromas are elegant and the texture smooth and compact. Idiazabal is a feature of an amarretako (a hearty Basque breakfast) or eaten as dessert or a snack.
Zamorano cheese comes from the cereal-growing plains of Zamora (Castile-León, north-western Spain), which are conducive to the presence of specific micro-organisms that are directly influential on the maturation process; in combination with traditional methods, enhanced by technology, it’s found itself a market niche and has earned PDO status. The cheeses, which are cylindrical in shape and weigh between 1 and 3 kg (2.2 and 6.6 lb) can be made with pasteurized or raw milk and are matured for four to six months. The aromatic cheese has an elegant, long-lasting flavour and is buttery yet firm and compact in texture. It is a multi-purpose cheese that never disappoints, whether eaten plain or as an ingredient.
Cow’s Milk: A Source of Smoothness
Mahón-Menorca was the first cows’ milk cheese to be awarded PDO status. These cheeses are square blocks with rounded edges and have a dark rind that sometimes bears the imprint of the cloth used for pressing. The interior is close-textured with very few eyes or none at all; its pleasant flavour and aroma vary in intensity depending on its degree of maturity, which can range from fresh, known as mitja salera (half salt), to extra mature, the latter being characterized by very pronounced sensory properties.
Queso De Liebana
The foothills of the mountain range Picos de Europa in the westernmost part of Cantabria are the source of Quesucos de Liébana – little cylindrical cheeses of varying weights not exceeding 1/2 kg (1.1 lb). Firm, very buttery and deeply aromatic, they are sold at various stages of maturity ranging from fresh to extra-mature, this latter type sometimes being smoked. Some are produced all year round and others seasonally; they present a range of characteristics with enough different aromas, flavours and textures to stock a varied cheese board.
Nata de Cantabria
Still in Cantabria and known as ‘pasiego prensado’, Nata de Cantabria cheese’s original purpose was making use of surplus milk. It’s shaped like a flattened cylinder, and weighs between 1 and 3 kg (2.2 and 6.6 lb). The rind is smooth and bright yellow, the interior is almost white or pale yellow, and is elastic in consistency. Pungently aromatic, it has a buttery flavour with an engaging hint of sweetness pays homage to its name, which means Cantabria cream.
San Simón da Costa
West of Cantabria lies Asturias and Galicia. In Galicia where we find another of Spain’s most distinctive cow milk cheeses. San Simón da Costa cheese is made throughout the Terra Cha district of Lugo (northwestern Spain). Shaped like a spinning top, it undergoes careful smoking over birch wood that turns it a reddish-yellow color. The required maturation period for smaller cheeses is at least 30 days and 45 for larger ones, which can weigh up to 1 1/2 kg (3.3 lb). The discernibly smoky flavour is deliciously buttery with a slight zing of piquancy. This is an excellent dessert cheese but is also a benign presence in salads and sauces.
Goat’s Milk: A Depth of Flavour
Ibores cheese is made in the Ibores and Las Villuercas districts of the Cáceres province (Extremadura, western Spain). These cylindrical cheeses, small at around 1/2 kg (1.1 lb), come in several presentations, the rind being rubbed with pimentón (a Spanish type of paprika), oiled, or left natural. The interior is smooth and buttery with a pronounced goats’ milk aroma and flavour.
Queso de Murcia
Murcia’s goat population is notable for the quantity and quality of its milk yield, and the cheeses have flavour, characteristic aroma and smooth texture. Queso de Murcia cheeses are cylindrical in shape with a white rind and weigh about 1 kg (2.2 lb). Another type has emerged: kid-derived rennet macerated in wine is used to coagulate the milk, and individual cheeses are qualitatively fine-tuned by repeatedly salting them and moistening them with wine. This tremendously popular type of cheese is known as Queso de Murcia al Vino.
Majorero, a splendid cheese made in Fuerteventura (Canary Islands) with milk from the local Majorera breed of goat, is cylindrical in shape, flattish at about 8 cm (3.1 in) high, and can be up to 35 cm (14 in) in diameter. They weigh between 1 and 5 kg (2.2 and 11 lb) and their rind, which bears the imprint of the braided palm band used to form them, is either ochre in colour or, if it has been rubbed with pimentón, reddish. The flavour is very pleasant, smooth and elegant, the aroma strong but not aggressive, and the texture compact.
Palmero cheese, made on the Canary Island of La Palma, is usually marketed as a semi-mature cheese, although it is sometimes eaten fresh and other times matured for longer. Cheese production is almost entirely artisan and subject to rigorous quality control. These are big, cylindrical cheeses weighing up to 7 kg (15 1/2 lb) and are generally smoked. There is a tantalizing smoky tang to Palmero’s pronounced flavour, while the aroma is very clean and the texture excellent. The fresh, unsmoked version of this cheese is used for making almogrote (a cheese, pepper, tomato and garlic spread eaten with bread) and mojos (red or green pepper and vinegar sauces), both integral features of Canary Island cuisine.