At Wabi Host we are huge fans of cheese and we want to give Spanish cheeses the reputation they deserve. That’s why we invite you to try them on our Foodie Walk in Madrid. Meanwhile, so you can know the best cheeses in Spain, we’ve written this rough guide so you can get to know them before visiting Madrid.
Cheese in Spain
Archaeological findings indicate that cheeses have been being produced in Spain since the Iron Age. Writings dating from the Roman Empire make references to the excellent quality of many of them. Both Christians and Muslims, who dominated the territory during the early Middle Ages, continued to produce them too. Cow milk cheeses abound in the North thanks to their rich pastures. However, a great variety of sheep, goat and mixed milk cheeses are also very common.
While most are made of pasteurised milk, there are artisan cheeses made from raw milk. Then, naturally different maturation periods change the characteristics of each type of cheese.
- Fresh cheese: It is a very young cheese that is usually sold after 60 days. It has a white or pale ivory color, unctuous and soft, ideal for breakfast or to use in salads.
- Semi-cured cheese: When it is an artisan variety, it is usually cured for about six months. But the industrial kind usually has only three or four months of maturation. It is more compact than the fresh counterpart and develops more complex flavours and aromas.
- Cured cheese: It must have a minimum maturity period of six months. It is a much harder cheese, usually richer in fat and calcium. It commonly develops more intense, spicy flavours and aromas similar to walnut and butter.
In Spain you can also find unctuous cheeses, blue, cured in paprika, wine, rosemary, lard or olive oil, each of them with a particular character.
Origin Denomination (D.O)
In Spain we can boast of 26 D.O cheeses. The most famous without doubt, the Manchego, today is exported to the whole world. It comes from Castilla-La Mancha and is made from Manchego sheep milk. It matures for at least 70 days and is rich in protein, vitamins and calcium. It makes a perfect tapa to accompany a good Manchego wine. However, there are many other excellent-quality Spanish cheeses with unique qualities.
- Idiazábal: From the Basque Country, this cheese is made from sheep’s milk (Lacha breed) and usually smoked. Rich in calcium and featuring intense but balanced flavours. Compact and firm in texture, it is ideal to eat by itself or use it in recipes.
- Tetilla: Cow-milk cheese from Galicia. Not very mature, with creamy and unctuous texture. It has a very mild flavour that makes it ideal to start cheese boards, pizzas, very original cheesecakes or with quince.
- Cabrales: This is the blue member of the Spanish cheese family cheeses. This mixed milk cheese (sheep, goat and cow) comes from Asturias and is cured in calcareous caves. The flavour is strong and penetrating and it used to be wrapped in maple leaves.
- Arzúa-Ulloa: Galician cheese similar to Tetilla but with a more intense flavour. Like its cousin, it is also made from cow’s milk.
- Torta del Casar: Typical from Extremadura, though semi-firm on the outside but it is creamy, almost fluid, in the inside. It has a very intense flavour and the smell is even stronger.
- Ibores: Also from Extremadura, this delicious goat cheese is rubbed with oil and paprika. This gives it a penetrating flavour and a particular reddish color.
- Mahón: This cheese from the Balearic island of Menorca is slightly sour and of medium consistency. Made from cow’s milk mainly (sometimes with a little sheep’s milk), it can be found tender, semi and cured. Its shape is squared and the colour varies according to its maturation.
- Murcia cheese with red wine: This goat cheese has the particularity of being cured in red wine. It is a firm and very aromatic cheese.
- Payoyo cheese: Although this cheese from Cádiz does not have yet the D.O seal, it is one of our favourites. It has an ivory color and changes radically depending on its maturation. Ideal to eat with fresh figs while admiring the beautiful Andalusian coast.
- Queso de Burgos: This is a very popular fresh cheese in Spain. It is very white, moist and slightly salty and usually eaten at breakfast. It is soft in texture and crumbles easily.
Cheese is a basic part of Spain’s gastronomy, so it’s important to know some fundamental things. As we said at the beginning this is just a basic guide for you to know the best cheeses in Spain. We know that we have left to mention many others but we will talk about them in future posts. For now we hope this will encourage you to come with Wabi Host to savour some of these delights at our local market. This is more than a tapas route, it is a walk through the real Spanish gastronomy.
Bonus track: Tips
- Avoid eating cheese right from the fridge as cold temperatures inhibit flavours. They will be more tasty at room-temperature.
- When making a cheeseboard, make sure you present at least three or four different types of cheese. One fresh or creamy, one medium-hard and a well-matured spicy one. Ideally you’ll also include some blue cheese or goat’s cheese to add variety.
- When tasting, always start with the younger softer ones as usually the more mature the cheese is, the stronger the flavours.
- Some kinds of cheese go very well with fruits, nuts, crusty bread, marmalade or even chutney. No rules are set in stone here so try your own combinations and let us know what flavours go well together.
- When buying D.O cheese (or any other product for that matter) always make sure the appropriate seal is in place. Don’t be fooled by copycats.
Thank you for reading.
Written by Matías A. Ferrer