Spanish Cheese and Cheese Making Culture
One of the most important cheese-producing countries in the world Spain is home to more than 100 different varieties. From fresh to extra cured and fermented to blue-veined, the country’s cheeses are just as diverse as its culinary styles.
In Spain, every region seems to boast its own speciality, as climate, culture and tradition all influence the types of cheeses being produced. Across the northern Cantabric coast and mountain range, cow’s milk cheeses reign. Further inland, sheep’s milk cheeses are more popular. And along the Mediterranean coast, goat’s milk cheeses dominate. Throughout the country, it’s also quite common to find cheeses made with mixtures of all three.
Currently, twelve Spanish cheeses are guarded by D.O.P. (Denominacion de Origen Protegida) status, but several more await the distinction. And while Manchego is the most famous Spanish cheese, many others are worthy of an introduction – cheeses with beautiful shapes and sizes, exquisite engraved rinds, and flavours of smoke and spices.
These are just a few representatives of Spain’s best. For true Spanish flavour, enjoy them with Crema de Membrillo (quince paste) and a fine sherry.
CabralesThis great Spanish blue is produced in the village of Cabrales and three other villages in the northern Picos de Europa mountains. It’s made in very limited quantities using traditional farmhouse methods and cow’s milk, although it’s sometimes blended with goat and ewe’s milk in the spring and summer months.
Cabrales can be distinguished by its cylindrical shape and foil logo wrapping that’s numbered as proof of authenticity. Though slightly acidic and piquant, the creamy blue-veined cheese does not taste as strong as it smells. Cabrales is excellent with salami, red wine and sherry, and is also used for cooking sauces and meat dishes.
IdiazabalThe most famous Basque cheese, this pressed, semi-cured to cured variety is made from whole unpasteurised sheep’s milk. Ripened for long periods, it's sharp and robust in flavour, and dry, crumbly and chewy in texture. Made both by farmers and commercial industry, Idiazabal comes in cylindrical, cone or octagonal shapes and the rind is beautifully engraved with drawings and symbols of the Basque culture.
The cheese is sometimes smoked, giving it a brownish colour and somewhat drier and stronger taste. It’s the perfect complement for grilled meat dishes and can also be simply appreciated with salads, toasted bread and full-bodied wines.
MahonCrafted in the capital port of Menorca, Mahon is the name given to all cow’s milk cheeses produced on this Balearic Island in the Mediterranean Sea. There are many varieties of Mahon to choose from – the cheese may be fresh, semi-cured or aged, and the rind may be rubbed with oil or paprika. It can also be made with unpasteurised or pasteurised cow’s milk and is sometimes mixed with small amounts of sheep’s milk.
Mahon is easily recognised by its rectangular shape and characteristic rounded corners. It has a smooth, yellow, oily rind and a compact interior dotted with various sized holes. The cheese has a distinctive taste that’s slightly acidic and salty, and it grows stronger and more piquant with age. Very versatile, it can be grated over pasta, potato and vegetable dishes, but is traditionally served as an appetiser with fresh rosemary and a drizzle of olive oil.
MajoreroConsidered one of the best goat cheeses in Spain, Majorero is produced on the southeastern Canary Island of Fuerteventura. Made in large, cylindrical drums, the aromatic aged cheese comes three ways: the natural rind may be rubbed with oil, pimento, or roasted cornmeal (“gofio”).
The rind is white when young, brownish-beige when aged and always imprinted with the pattern of traditional palm moulds. Slightly crumbly in texture, the gummy cheese melts in your mouth with a slightly piquant, buttery, acidic flavour. Quite versatile, Majorero is typically served with rosemary and olive oil as an appetiser or grated over cooked pasta, potato, rice and vegetable dishes.
ManchegoThe most important and well known of the Spanish cheeses, true Manchego is made only from the whole milk of Manchega sheep raised in La Mancha. It is available as a farmhouse cheese made with unpasteurised milk, or an industrial type made with pasteurised milk. The interior is firm and compact, with a few small air pockets and a well-developed taste.
Outside, the yellow to brownish rind is defined by a zigzag pattern along the side, which is imparted by the traditional esparto grass moulds. Manchego has a buttery and slightly piquant flavour, with a sheep’s milk aftertaste. Crumbly in texture, the cheese is best served alongside sun-dried tomatoes, olives, crusty bread and a glass of robust Rioja.
TetillaOne of the most popular traditional cheeses from Galicia, Tetilla (“nipple”) is easily recognised by its traditional half-pear shape. Made by both small artisan farms (unpasteurised) and commercial producers (pasteurised), the whole cow’s milk cheese has a smooth, fine, yellow rind and a soft, thick, creamy interior studded with a few eyes.
Very clean and mild in flavour, Tetilla can be eaten at any time of day. It is a favourite of Spanish children who enjoy the cheese with crackers, fruit and quince paste. It’s also quite wonderful for cooking, stuffing and melting into sandwiches and sauces. Tetilla is also known as Queso de Perilla and Queso de Teta.
ZamoranoFamous for centuries, the roaming artisans of Zamora once travelled with their flocks, offering their cheese making services to sheep farmers wherever they settled. Today the cheese has earned great prestige as a scrumptious, zesty ewe’s milk variety of superior quality.
Similar to another variety called Castellano, Zamorano has an oily, engraved rind and a straw-coloured interior dotted with crystals. Slightly piquant and buttery, the intense cheese has a long-lingering flavour and a slight aftertaste of nuts. The aged cheese is perfect for snacking, especially with crackers, olives and a full-bodied wine.