Introduction to Spanish Cheese

Spain Produces a Wide Variety of High Quality Cheeses

Spanish cheese plate
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In many parts of the world, quality cheese production is taken seriously, and Spain is no exception. The Spanish eat cheese every day, whether it is by itself or with bread, as a tapa, or as a dessert. Their Denomination of Origin (DO) ensures that the cheese's label of origin is accurate, as the geographic name of the cheese is representative of the cheese's quality and uniqueness. 

Because of the variations in climate, geography, and culture, each region of Spain produces several varieties of cheese with its own unique characteristics. The type of milk (sheep, goat, cow or a mixture), the production process, the history or traditions, and the aging or curing process all affect the flavor of the cheese.

Mild-Flavored Cheeses

In general, cheeses with the lightest or mildest flavors are those that are soft and made from cow’s milk with a short curing time. These cheeses generally are not altered or fermented except for the process of lactic fermentation. They are best paired with young white wines, perhaps from the Galicia region. A few examples of mild-flavored Spanish cheeses are made in the region of Galicia, such as Tetilla cheese–a cone-shaped cheese with hints of herb and lemon that is soft and creamy–and Arzura Ulloa, a melt-in-your-mouth cheese that is more about the creamy texture than any significant flavors. 

Medium-Flavored Cheeses

Medium-flavored cheeses are usually semi-cured and not as soft as the mild cheeses; they can be paired well with young red or rosé wines. A cow's milk cheese, queso mahon comes from the Balearic Island of Minorca; this cheese is the second most popular after manchego. It is salty, spicy and has a nutty and fruity flavor. Butter, paprika, and oil are rubbed onto the exterior creating an orange rind.

Ibores goat's milk cheese from Extremadura is also a good example of medium-flavored Spanish cheese. It is a raw goat's milk cheese that strengthens in flavor while it ages for two months, resulting in a hard, tangy, and salty cheese with an oil and paprika-rubbed rind.

Strong-Flavored Cheeses

Strong cheeses have the longest curing or aging process and are usually made from sheep's milk or a mix. They are best when paired with red wines that have a full body. Four sheep's milk cheeses–Manchego from Castilla-La Mancha, Roncal from Navarra, Zamorano from Castilla-Leon and Idiazabal from the Basque Country–are examples of strong cheeses. The most famous strongly-flavored cheese is probably a mixed milk blue cheese, such as Queso de Cabrales, produced in northern Spain and matured in limestone caves for two to five months. Cabrales' strong flavor can be quite acidic, and when made with different kinds of milk is very complex.