You won’t be able to resist the irresistible cheeses of Spain no matter where you go in the country, whether you’re in the rolling hills of the Basque Country or along the rugged coast of Asturias. In Spain, which is a veritable culinary powerhouse, there are over one hundred different kinds of cheese produced, and each region offers its varieties. Are you thinking about taking a trip to Spain, and once you get there, you want to try the food from all over the country? Or are you simply a cheese connoisseur who is interested in discovering more about Spain’s delectable cheeses? Then you should read the following post.
History of Spanish Cheeses
- The historical roots of Spanish cheese production can be dated back to a period exceeding two millennia, during which the Romans, Phoenicians, and Greeks initially imparted the knowledge and techniques of milk coagulation to the Iberian Peninsula. The pioneers of cheese production during this era established the groundwork for a longstanding tradition that would thrive and evolve throughout subsequent centuries. Following the decline of the Roman Empire, the Visigoths and Moors made significant contributions to Spain’s cheese culture by introducing novel techniques and flavors, thereby enhancing its diversity and complexity.
- During the Middle Ages, monasteries in Spain became hubs for the development of new culinary techniques and techniques of refinement. Cheeses were painstakingly crafted by monks and nuns using locally sourced ingredients. This process took place frequently in remote regions where monasteries served as pillars of agricultural and culinary expertise. The knowledge of how to make cheese was kept alive and spread throughout the land by these monastic communities, which played a pivotal role in this process.
- The development of Spain’s cheesemaking traditions paralleled the country’s territorial expansion and diversification over time. Each region of the country, from the foggy hills of Asturias to the dry plains of La Mancha, developed its one-of-a-kind style of cheese throughout the country’s history. These regional varieties were shaped by the local climate, flora, and fauna, leading to a staggering array of flavors and textures that continue to define Spanish cheese today.
- A golden age for Spanish cheese was ushered in by the Age of Exploration, which took place in the 15th and 16th centuries. Not only did Spanish explorers take with them the flavor of their homeland, but they also brought the techniques that they used to make cheese. This allowed Spanish cheese to spread throughout the world. This sharing of culinary expertise had a significant impact on the evolution of cheese in the New World, and it has left an indelible mark on cheese traditions all over the world.
- In Spain’s cheese-making communities, a renaissance has been sweeping the country over the past few decades. A new generation of artisans and businesspeople, who have been inspired by the long and illustrious history of their craft, have resurrected traditional methods while also incorporating modern advancements. This renaissance has resulted in an explosion of creative output as well as a resurgence of interest in Spanish cheeses on both the domestic and international stages.
- Today, Spain is home to over 30 distinct cheese-making regions, each with their quality standards and regulations. These regions range from the blue cheese caves of the north to the smoky grilled cheeses of the Canary Islands. A Protected Designation of Origin, known as a Denominación de Origen Protegida (DOP) in Spanish, is awarded to a significant number of Spain’s cheeses. This indicates that every aspect of their production is subject to regulation, from the hills where the animals are allowed to graze to the level of humidity that is permitted in the curing room.
What Makes Spanish Cheeses Special?
- Spain is home to well over one hundred distinct types of cheese, each of which has a flavor profile and texture all its own. The final product is affected by a variety of factors, including the type of milk used, the location, the production methods, and the aging or curing process. Even though sheep’s and goat’s milk cheeses receive a disproportionate amount of attention, cow’s milk cheeses account for the majority of the country’s total cheese production.
- Spain can produce a wide range of cheeses due to the country’s varied topography and climate, both of which contribute to the country’s cheesemaking prowess. Cheeses made from cow’s milk can be found in the north of Spain, from Galicia to the Basque Country, as well as in the Pyrenees. These cheeses can be found along the Cantabrian coast and in the northern Cantabria Mountain Range.
- Cheeses made from goat’s milk are produced primarily along the regions of the Mediterranean coast, from Catalonia to Andalucia. However, the Canary Islands and the Balearic Islands produce both cheeses made from goat’s milk as well as cheeses made from mixed milk, known as quesos mezcla.
- The DOP system is used to classify cheese in Spain. Currently, 28 varieties of cheese have been designated as having a Protected Designation of Origin (D.O.P.—Denominación de Origen Protegida) by Spain and the European Union, and more cheeses are expected to be added in the future. To ensure that the final product is of the highest possible quality, these origin controls place restrictions on every facet of production, from the hills where animals are allowed to graze to the level of humidity that may be present in the curing room.
Best Spanish Cheeses You Must Experience
- This cheese is traditionally produced in Galicia, which is located in the far northwestern corner of Spain. This region is well-known throughout the country for the beef and cheese produced by its cattle, which are pastured atop the verdant hills in the area. Grazing along the banks of the Ulloa River, not far from the town of La Corua, are the cows that provide Arza-Ulloa with the milk that is used in their products.
- This cheese is a prized jewel among the extensive collection of artisanal cheeses produced in Spain, and its name is protected by the European Union’s PDO (Protected Designation of Origin) status. This is a testament to the cheese’s exceptional quality as well as its significance to the region in which it is produced.
- The primary ingredient in Arza-Ulloa cheese is pasteurized cow’s milk, which is procured from the various dairy farms in the surrounding area. After using rennet and lactic starters to curdle the milk, the first step in the process of making cheese involves cutting, stirring, and molding the curd that has been produced. This time-honored technique guarantees that the cheese will keep its delicate texture and distinctively mild flavor throughout the aging process.
- Arza-Ulloa cheese is renowned for having a silky, buttery consistency as well as a flavor profile that is subtle and only slightly tart. It has a smooth interior that is the color of ivory and is surrounded by a natural rind that is very thin and can range in color from light yellow to light brown. Its flavor is distinguished by delicate undertones of grass and nuts, which are a direct result of the lush pastures that the dairy cattle graze on. These undertones are a testament to the quality of the pastures.
- Because of the different lengths of time the Arza-Ulloa cheese is aged, it typically comes in two distinct flavors. The ‘Fresco’ version, which translates to ‘fresh’ in Spanish, is consumed shortly after it has been produced and is distinguished by its supple, moist texture as well as its mild, milky flavor. On the other hand, the “Curado” or “Aejo” version refers to the aged variety, which is given at least six weeks to mature before being sold. This results in a texture that is steadier and a flavor profile that is more pronounced and nuttier.
- Cheese from Arza-Ulloa is considered to have significant cultural significance in the Galician region. It is a symbol of the handiwork that is done in the area as well as the profound connection that exists between the people, their land, and their agricultural past. The cheese is frequently honored at festivals and other events, drawing attention to the significant role it plays in the cuisine of Galicia.
- Cabrales Cheese
- The strong and intensely flavorful blue cheese known as Cabrales cheese comes from the rugged mountains of Asturias in Northern Spain. It is commonly regarded as one of the most famous and prized cheeses to come out of Spain. This cheese was given its name after the quaint hamlet of Cabrales, which can be found in the heart of the Picos de Europa. It exemplifies both the artisanal craftsmanship of the region’s cheesemakers as well as the singular terroir of the area.
- Cabrales cheese is produced by using a combination of cow’s milk, sheep’s milk, and sometimes goat’s milk as well. The precise ratios of the various kinds of milk used can differ from one cheesemaker to the next, which helps to create a one-of-a-kind flavor profile for each variety of cheese. The curdling of the milk is an essential step in the process of making cheese, and it is accomplished with natural rennet that is derived from animal sources. After the mixture has been allowed to curdle, it is poured into molds and allowed to drain for some time so that the curds can form. After it has been formed, the cheese is pricked with needles made of stainless steel to promote the growth of the blue-green Penicillium Roquefort mold. This mold is responsible for the cheese’s distinctive veining and its intense flavor.
- Cabrales cheese is an adaptable component for use in a variety of culinary preparations. Because of its robust flavor, it is an excellent choice for using as an ingredient to enhance a wide variety of dishes. It can be strewn over salads, melted into sauces, or eaten with fruit and nuts as a snack or accompaniment. Cheese from Cabrales is frequently used in traditional Spanish recipes like empanadas and sauces for grilled meats. It is also frequently served with a drizzle of honey for a delectable contrast of flavors.
- The tradition of making cheese with Cabrales cows’ milk is deeply ingrained in the cultural heritage of Asturias. It is celebrated annually at the Feria del Queso de Cabrales, a cheese festival held in the village of Cabrales, where producers and enthusiasts come together to showcase and savor this cherished dairy treasure.
- Manchego Curado Cheese
- Only the milk of sheep of the Manchega breed, which is indigenous to the La Mancha region, is used in the production of Manchego Curado cheese. The first step in the production of cheese is the coagulation of fresh milk through the use of rennet from an animal. After that, the curd that has been produced is shaped, cut, and allowed to drain. After passing through this first phase, the cheese is then aged for a significant amount of time, which allows it to develop its signature flavor and consistency. Because it is aged for at least three months and frequently for a longer period before it is ready for consumption, Manchego Curado is distinguished from other cheeses in a meaningful way by its aging process.
- Manchego Curado is known for having a flavor profile that is both robust and nutty. Cheese that has been aged for a longer period develops a flavor that is both more pronounced and more nuanced than cheese that has been aged for a shorter period. The interior of the cheese has a texture that is firm and dense, and it is dotted with small air pockets here and there. The rind has a distinctive herringbone pattern that adds to the visual appeal of the product, as does its pale ivory color.
- Manchego Curado is aged for a considerable amount of time, with the process typically taking at least three months. However, some cheesemakers opt to age their products for an even longer period, which produces a cheese with a denser consistency as well as a flavor that is more concentrated and nuttier. The aging process takes place in environments that are carefully controlled. These environments can be natural caves, cellars, or specialized facilities designed specifically for the aging of cheese.
- Because of its bold and distinctive flavor, Manchego Curado is an extremely versatile ingredient that can be used in a wide variety of culinary preparations. You can eat it on its own, pair it with some crusty bread and a glass of red wine or use it as the focal point of a cheese platter. When grated or shaved, it gives salads, pasta, and tapas a deeper flavor and a richer texture. The robust flavor of this wine goes exceptionally well with cured meats, olives, and nuts of all kinds.
- In general, Manchego cheese is highly valued in Spanish cuisine and culture. It has strong ties to the La Mancha region and is frequently used in regional cuisines, like the well-known Spanish dish “Migas,” it can be paired with olives and wines from the area. In Spanish cuisine, Manchego Curado holds a prominent position due to its unique flavor and rich heritage.
- Torta Del Casar
- Originating in the Extremadura region of western Spain, Torta del Casar is a highly regarded and unique cheese. The careful craftsmanship and age-old customs that characterize Spanish cheese-making are evident in this cheese. Dedicated to the town of Casar de Cáceres, this cheese has well-earned its reputation as one of Spain’s most treasured culinary delights.
- The traditional Extremaduran dessert, Torta del Casar, is made with the unpasteurized milk of Merino and Entrefina sheep, both of which are native to the region and are prized for the quality of the milk they produce. The first step in the production of cheese is the coagulation of raw milk with a vegetable coagulant derived from cardoon thistle. This is an important step because it helps to create the distinctive texture and flavor of cheese. The curds that are produced are then carefully placed, by hand, into molds. This step helps to ensure that the cheese retains its creamy consistency.
- The traditional Extremaduran dessert known as Torta del Casar is made with the raw milk of Merino and Entrefina sheep, both of which are indigenous to the region and are prized for the quality of the milk that they produce. The first step in the production of cheese is the coagulation of raw milk with a vegetable coagulant derived from cardoon thistle. This is an important step because it helps to create the cheese’s signature flavor and texture. The curds that are produced are then carefully spooned by hand into molds. This step ensures that the cheese retains its smooth and creamy consistency.
- Torta del Casar is a cheese that can be used in a variety of different ways in the kitchen. Spread thinly on crusty bread or crackers, this allows the rich, creamy texture and robust flavor of the spread to take center stage in one’s eating experience. It is also possible to use it as an extravagant component in several different dishes, such as savory tarts and pasta dishes, or as a sumptuous addition to salads and charcuterie boards. Its robust flavor works wonderfully with a wide range of accompaniments, including quince paste, honey, and toasted nuts, to name just a few of the possibilities.
- Extremadura is home to a rich cultural and culinary heritage, and one of its most famous dishes is the Torta del Casar. It is commemorated on an annual basis at the Fiesta del Queso de Trujillo, which is a cheese festival held in the town of Trujillo. At this festival, cheese enthusiasts and producers come together to showcase and sample this well-loved dairy delicacy.
- Idiazabal Cheese
- Idiazabal cheese is a famous and highly regarded Basque dairy product that originates from the hilly pastures of the Basque Country in northern Spain. It is considered to be one of the best cheeses in the world. This cheese is a testament to the age-old traditions and skilled craftsmanship that characterize Spanish cheese-making. It was given its name after the town of Idiazabal, which is located in the province of Gipuzkoa.
- Idiazabal cheese is made exclusively from the unpasteurized milk of Latxa and Carranzana sheep, two native breeds of sheep that are known for producing milk of a particularly high quality. The first step in the process of making cheese is called coagulation, and it is accomplished by adding natural animal rennet to the raw milk. The curd that is produced is then shaped and cut with precision before being allowed to drain; this step is necessary to ensure that the cheese maintains its signature consistency.
- The aging process for Idiazabal cheese differs with the younger varieties undergoing aging for a minimum of two months and the more mature versions undergoing aging for at least a year and sometimes even longer. The cheese is allowed to age for a longer period so that it can develop a more pronounced flavor and a firmer texture.
- Because of its bold and distinctive flavor, Diazabal cheese is an extremely versatile ingredient that can be used in a wide variety of different culinary preparations. You can eat it on its own, pair it with some crusty bread and a glass of red wine or use it as the focal point of a cheese platter. When grated or shaved, it gives salads, pasta, and tapas a deeper flavor and a richer texture. Because of its smoky notes, it is an especially delightful addition to dishes that are grilled or that are hearty stews.
- Cheese made with Idiazabal milk has a significant historical and cultural significance in the Basque Country. It is a fundamental component of Basque cuisine and appears frequently in traditional dishes such as pintxos, which are small snacks. The cheese is honored each year at the Artzai Eguna, a festival that is dedicated to shepherds and the products that they create. This festival brings together both locals and guests to celebrate this prized dairy treasure.
When one sets out on a journey through the world of Spanish cheeses, not only is one exposed to a wide variety of tastes, aromas, and textures, but one also gains a profound appreciation for the artisans and regions that have contributed to the formation of these culinary treasures. Each cheese carries with it a story of tradition and the skilled craftsmanship that went into making it, from the crumbly tang of Cabrales to the velvety richness of Torta del Casar.