Spanish cheeses have been absent for too long from North American stores. Both governments (Canadian and American) were reluctant to allow importation citing sanitary concerns, and ignorant retailers who knew next to nothing about Spanish cheeses. The country produces approximately 100 cheeses, and all reflect the terroir perfectly.
Most people believe Spain is a hot and arid country. This is false. The north along the Atlantic coast is lush, verdant, and home to many fine cheeses, as are La Mancha, the Balearic and Canary Islands, Extremadura, Asturias and Galicia.
There are creamy, semi-hard, and blue cheeses, all produced to the highest standards in hygienic establishments. Spain’s entry to the EU in 1986 helped a great deal achieving high standards and establishing D.O. (Appellations) for cheese, along with appropriate control mechanisms to guarantee consistency. In addition, the government finally understood that funds had to be made available for marketing in export markets.
Thus far, their efforts have been successful. You can buy a number of Spanish cheeses in Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver. New York, Los Angles and Washington D C also offer a good range of Spanish cheeses.
The following is a selection available in Canada.
Tetilla – produced using cows’ milk in Galicia (north-western Spain). This creamy, fresh and mild cheese resembles a female breast – hence the name!
Best with tart apples (Granny Smith, Mutsu, Northern Spy) and with Riesling, Gewürztraminer, Verdecho and white Rias Baixas wines.
Mahon – originates in Menorca one of the islands of Balearic Island group. This cows’ milk cheese is aged for three moths; during which time it develops a tangy flavour. The rind is brushed with oil, and sprinkled with paprika to preserve its soft texture.
Goes best with dry, flavourful white wines, or fine roses from Navarra close to the Pyrenee Mountains.
Manchego – from La Mancha, is Spain’s most famous hard ewes’ milk D.O cheese. This prized, flavourful cheese possesses a complex flavour, a grainy texture with a long aftertaste.
It is aged for 60 days and marketed in round loaves, weighing approximately two kilograms. You can serve it with baguette, olives, sun-dried tomatoes, and open a bottle of fine Rioja or pair it with dry (fino) sherry like Osborne’s fino, or Tio Pepe. For Riojas, choose a winery like Martinez Bujanda, Marques de Riscal, Baron de Ley, Faustino, or CUNE just to name a few.
Idiazabal – comes from the Basque country. This ewes’ milk cheese, smooth, rich with a unique sharpness, is smoked for an extra taste dimension.
The natural version is not smoked, but also not as titillating. Idiazabal is occasionally aged for up to eight months when it reaches its true taste potential.
Serve it with red Rioja wines like Marques de Murietta from Castillo Ygay, or Marques de Riscal, Muga, or Martinez Bujanda .
Majorero – this goats’ milk cheese from the Canary islands deserves better popularity since its creamy, seductive texture and tangy flavour are addictive. Majoreros’ aftertaste resembles that of walnuts.
In Spain, Majorero is served with quince- or guava jelly. Pair it with luscious Spanish dessert wines like a Malaga, or Amoroso, or dolce sherry, then listen to what people have to say.
Zamorano - made from churra and castellana ewes’ milk on the high Central Plateau of Spain. This grainy textured cheese offers a delightfully sharp and mildly salty flavour. Serve drizzled with extra virgin olive oil and fone red wine from La Mancha, Tarragona, Toro, Ribera del Duero or Hulva.
Roncal - comes from Navarre, a region close to the Pyrenee Mountains that separate Spain from France. The sheep graze on pastureland in the winter. During the summer months, they are driven to highland pastures. The alternating diet results in a creamy, buttery and aromatic cheese.
Roncal offers flavours of straw dried fruits and mushrooms. Serve with full bodied red wines from Navarre or Rioja.
Murcia al vino – is a washed rind, un-pasteurised cheese from the Mediterranean province Murcia produced from the milk of the unique Murcia goats. This pale white creamy, mild, slightly acid cheese possesses an herbal aroma. It may be aged for two, three or four months.
Enjoy it with medium bodied red wines from Penedes or Navarre.
Queso Ibores – an un-pasteurised chevre from Extremadura adjacent to the Portuguese border.
This semi-soft cheese occasionally is rubbed with olive oil and paprika, or marketed unadorned in its natural from. The creamy and buttery texture exuding aromas of un-pasteurised milk is assertive.
Pair it confidently with gewürztraminer form Penedes, rose wines from Navarre, or white wines form Rias Baixas.
Cabrales – connoisseurs consider this blue-veined cheese one of the best of its kind in the world. It originates ion the Asturian Mountains in northern Spain.
A blend of cows’, ewes’ ad goats’ milk provide an unusual and most intriguiging, strong flavour.
Cabrales is aged in caves where the natural airborne mould penetrates the cheese, creating a typical and intense blue veins.
Cabrales has a very strong, earthy, yet mellow flavour, most suitable with crusty bread, and strong red wines from Penedes, Ribera del Duero, and Navarre. Medium-sweet, strongly rancio sherries would also go well with Cabrales.
De la serena – is an ewes’ milk cheese from Extremadura created with vegetable rennet. This un-aged, creamy and buttery cheese is spread able, tangy and eminently suitable for breakfast. De la serena is highly recommended with white wines from Rioja, Rueda and Galicia.
Cheese lovers’ looking for unique flavours and textures owe it to themselves to try Spanish cheeses and see how flavourful they all are.
Pasquale Bros, Bruno’s, Pusateri’s, Longo’s, the cheese shops of the St Lawrence Market on Front Street in Toronto and specialty cheese stores in larger cities in North America carry a large selection of Spanish cheeses.
Article contributed by Hrayr Berberoglu, a Professor Emeritus of Hospitality and Tourism Management specializing in Food and Beverage. Books by H. Berberoglu