Spain is renowned for its delicious cuisine, and its cheese is no exception. From the sharp, tangy flavor of Manchego to the creamy, rich taste of Tetilla, Spanish cheese offers a wide variety of flavors and textures to suit every palate.
In this comprehensive guide, we’ll explore the world of Spanish cheese, from its rich history and traditional production methods to the top varieties to try and where to find them. We’ll also offer tips on pairing Spanish cheese with wine and other foods, as well as caring for and storing your cheeses to maintain their quality.
- Spanish cheese offers a wide variety of flavors and textures to suit every palate.
- Traditional production methods are still used by many Spanish cheese producers.
- Top Spanish cheeses to try include Manchego, Tetilla, and Cabrales.
A Brief History of Spanish Cheese
Cheese-making has a long and storied history in Spain, dating back to the time of the ancient Romans. Over the centuries, different regions of Spain have developed their own unique styles and types of cheese, making Spain a true cheese-lover’s paradise. Today, Spain is home to over 100 varieties of cheese, with many traditional producers still making cheese by hand using time-honoured techniques.
One of the most famous regions for cheese production in Spain is La Mancha, which is known for its world-renowned Manchego cheese. This cheese is made from the milk of the local Manchega sheep, which graze on the arid plains of central Spain. The cheese has a distinct flavour and is often used in traditional Spanish dishes such as tortilla and gazpacho.
The Basque Country is another hotbed of cheese-making in Spain, with many traditional producers using raw milk from their own sheep, cows, and goats. One of the most famous Basque cheeses is Idiazabal, which is made from unpasteurised sheep’s milk and has a rich, smoky flavour.
A Brief History of Spanish Cheese Producers
For many centuries, Spanish cheese producers have been using traditional methods to make some of the world’s best cheese. One of the most important factors in the production of Spanish cheese is the use of raw milk, which gives the cheese a unique flavour and texture. In recent years, however, there has been some controversy over the use of raw milk due to concerns over food safety.
Despite these challenges, many traditional Spanish cheese producers continue to use raw milk, arguing that it is an essential part of the cheese-making process. These producers work tirelessly to ensure that their cheese is of the highest quality, and many have won awards at international cheese competitions, cementing Spain’s reputation as a world-class cheese producer.
Overall, the rich history of cheese-making in Spain has helped to shape the country’s vibrant culinary scene, and no visit to Spain is complete without sampling some of the country’s traditional cheeses.
Types of Spanish Cheese
Spain offers a plethora of cheese varieties that span from soft to hard, mild to tangy, and sweet to salty. Being a country rich in dairy traditions, Spanish cheeses come in an array of flavours, textures and shapes, all rooted in the country’s local food culture.
Here are some of the most famous and traditional Spanish cheese varieties:
|Texture and Flavor Profile
|Region of Origin
|Aged 2 to 12 months, nutty, buttery, and slightly tangy
|Aged 2 to 10 months, milk, tangy, and slightly sweet
|Semi-soft, buttery, and slightly sour
|Strong and spicy, blue cheese
Manchego is the most well-known and authentic variety, made from sheep’s milk, while Cabrales is a blue cheese, created from sheep, goat, and cow’s milk, giving it a strong spicy flavor. Mahón is a cow’s milk cheese with fruity overtones, while Tetilla cheese is a mild and buttery cow’s milk cheese that is ideal for cooking.
Other traditional Spanish cheese varieties include Idiazabal, which is a smoked cheese made from sheep’s milk, and Zamorano, a hard cheese made from raw sheep’s milk that is aged for at least 100 days. Valdeón is a spicy and creamy cheese that is wrapped in sycamore leaves and aged for two months.
Fun fact: Spain has over 100 varieties of cheese, and five regions across the country have received DO (Designation of Origin) status for their cheese production methods, including Asturias, La Mancha, and Galicia.
- In a cheese platter, pair a mild Tetilla with a glass of white wine to balance the taste.
- Manchego can be grated over a salad or melted in a sandwich for added flavor.
- Spice up your cheese board with a slice of Cabrales with a glass of red wine to complement the bold taste.
- Idiazabal is a versatile cheese, perfect for grilling, frying, or just eating fresh.
Next up, we will highlight some of the best Spanish cheese recipes out there and guide you on pairing Spanish cheeses with wine, fruits, and other complementing foods.
Top Spanish Cheeses to Try
Spain is home to a vast variety of traditional and famous cheeses, with each region offering unique flavors and production methods. Below are some of the top Spanish cheeses to try:
|Nutty and smoky
Idiazabal cheese is made from raw sheep’s milk and aged for several months. It is named after the village of Idiazabal in the Basque Country, where it has been produced for centuries. This cheese is best enjoyed with a glass of full-bodied red wine.
|Castile and León
|Sharp and nutty
|Firm and crumbly
Zamorano cheese is made from raw sheep’s milk and has a distinctive, strong flavor. It ages for at least 6 months before being sold. This cheese pairs well with a glass of Spanish red wine or a drizzle of honey.
|Castile and León
|Sharp and tangy
|Creamy and crumbly
Valdeón cheese is a blue cheese made from cow’s and goat’s milk and aged for 2-4 months. It has a pungent, spicy flavor and a creamy texture. This cheese is best served with a fruity white wine or a crisp cider.
Image description: top Spanish cheese & famous Spanish cheese
These are just a few of the many exceptional Spanish cheeses to discover. Be sure to explore and enjoy the rich diversity of traditional and famous cheeses that Spain has to offer.
The Spanish Cheese Market
Spain has a thriving cheese market, with traditional Spanish cheese being a significant part of its culinary heritage. Spanish cheese varieties are known for their distinctive flavours and textures, and this has made them popular not just in Spain but across the world.
The market for traditional Spanish cheese has grown significantly in recent years, with small-scale producers playing a vital role in producing authentic and high-quality products. Despite this growth, the industry still faces challenges, particularly when it comes to competing with mass-produced cheeses and meeting the strict regulations set by the Spanish government.
However, there is still a strong demand for traditional Spanish cheese, and many producers have found success by focusing on quality over quantity. Consumers are increasingly interested in the story and process behind their food, and this has led to a growing appreciation for artisanal products.
|Spain has a thriving cheese market, with traditional Spanish cheese being a significant part of its culinary heritage.
|The market for traditional Spanish cheese has grown significantly in recent years, with small-scale producers playing a vital role in producing authentic and high-quality products.
|Despite the growth, the industry still faces challenges, particularly when it comes to competing with mass-produced cheeses and meeting the strict regulations set by the Spanish government.
|However, there is still a strong demand for traditional Spanish cheese, and many producers have found success by focusing on quality over quantity.
The popularity of Spanish cheese has also led to increased export opportunities, with the UK and the US being two of the biggest importers. This demand has resulted in a more competitive marketplace, with many Spanish cheesemakers refining their craft to ensure their products stand out in an increasingly crowded field.
Despite the challenges facing the industry, traditional Spanish cheese remains an important and beloved part of Spanish culture, and its continued success is a testament to its quality and taste.
Pairing Spanish Cheese with Wine and Other Foods
Spanish cheese is a versatile and delicious addition to any meal or gathering. Whether you’re enjoying a cheeseboard with friends or incorporating it into your favorite recipe, there are many ways to pair Spanish cheese with wine and other foods.
Pairing Spanish Cheese with Wine
When it comes to pairing Spanish cheese with wine, it’s important to consider the flavor and texture of the cheese. For hard and aged cheeses like Manchego or Idiazabal, try pairing them with a full-bodied red wine such as Rioja or Tempranillo. For softer and creamier cheeses like Tetilla or Mahón, a crisp white wine like Albariño or Verdejo is a great option.
Another popular way to enjoy Spanish cheese is with sherry, a fortified wine that originated in the Andalusia region of Spain. Pair dry sherry with aged and nutty cheeses like Manchego, and sweet sherry with blue cheeses like Cabrales.
Pairing Spanish Cheese with Other Foods
Spanish cheese can also be paired with a variety of other foods to create a delicious and well-rounded meal. Serve slices of Manchego with quince paste and crusty bread for a traditional Spanish snack. Top Tetilla cheese with chorizo or serrano ham for a flavorful appetizer. Or incorporate Mahón cheese into a Spanish-style omelette or frittata.
Spanish Cheese Recipes
If you’re looking for more ways to incorporate Spanish cheese into your cooking, here are a few simple recipes:
- Spanish Cheese and Chorizo Empanadas: Fill pre-made pastry dough with a mixture of grated Tetilla cheese and sliced chorizo, then bake until golden brown.
- Manchego and Apple Salad: Toss sliced apples with arugula, walnuts, and crumbled Manchego cheese, then drizzle with a sherry vinaigrette.
- Mahón and Tomato Toast: Toast slices of crusty bread and top with thinly sliced tomatoes and crumbled Mahón cheese, then drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with sea salt.
Whether you’re enjoying Spanish cheese on its own, paired with wine, or incorporated into a recipe, there are endless ways to enjoy this delicious and traditional delicacy.
Where to Buy Authentic Spanish Cheese
If you’re looking to try some authentic and traditional Spanish cheeses, there are several options for purchasing them.
One great option is to visit a specialty cheese shop that carries a selection of Spanish cheeses. These shops often have knowledgeable staff who can offer recommendations and provide information on the producers and production methods.
Another option is to search for online retailers that specialize in Spanish cheeses. These retailers often have a wider selection and can ship the cheeses directly to your doorstep.
For a more immersive experience, consider visiting local Spanish cheese producers. Many small-scale producers offer tours and tastings, allowing visitors to learn about the production process and sample a variety of cheeses.
When purchasing Spanish cheeses, be sure to look for producers who use traditional methods and source high-quality milk. This ensures that the cheeses you purchase are truly authentic and of the highest quality.
Where to Buy Authentic Spanish Cheese
|The Cheese Society
|The Fine Cheese Co.
*Note: This table is for illustrative purposes only and is not an endorsement of any particular retailer.
Whatever method you choose, be sure to savor the unique flavors and textures of authentic Spanish cheeses. Whether enjoyed on their own or paired with wine and other foods, these cheeses offer a true taste of Spain.
Caring for Spanish Cheese
Proper storage and handling of Spanish cheese is essential to preserve its flavor and quality. Follow these simple tips to ensure your traditional Spanish cheese stays fresh and delicious:
- Temperature: Spanish cheese should be stored in the refrigerator at a temperature between 4 and 8°C. Avoid keeping it in the fridge door, where the temperature fluctuates more.
- Wrapping: Wrap the cheese in waxed or greaseproof paper to protect it from moisture and air. Avoid using cling film or plastic wrap as these can cause the cheese to sweat and spoil.
- Aging: Some Spanish cheeses, such as Manchego, are aged for several months or even years. If you have an aged cheese, remove it from the fridge an hour before serving to allow it to reach room temperature and fully develop its flavors.
- Cutting: When cutting Spanish cheese, use a clean and sharp knife to prevent it from crumbling or sticking to the blade.
Remember that traditional Spanish cheese is a delicacy that should be savored and enjoyed. By taking proper care of it, you can ensure that it stays fresh and delicious for longer.
Exploring Spanish Cheese Festivals and Events
If you’re a cheese lover planning a trip to Spain, make sure to check out some of the country’s annual cheese festivals and events. These gatherings celebrate the many varieties of traditional Spanish cheese and the regional producers who make them.
One of the most popular events is the Feria del Queso in Trujillo, held every May. This festival attracts producers from all over Spain, showcasing over 200 varieties of cheese, including Manchego, Torta del Casar, and many more. Visitors can sample and purchase cheese, attend tastings, and enjoy live music and entertainment.
Another must-visit festival is the Feria Nacional del Queso in the town of Tordesillas, held every September. This festival is dedicated to the famous Castilla y León cheese, but also features other varieties from around Spain. You can also participate in cheese-making workshops, cooking demonstrations, and food markets.
The Festival Internacional de quesos de Cantabria in the northern region of Cantabria, held every November, is another exciting event for cheese enthusiasts. This festival highlights the local varieties of Queso de Nata, Queso de Picón Bejes-Tresviso, and Queso de Liébana, and includes a gastronomic fair, a cheese market, and various tasting activities.
If you’re interested in exploring small-scale producers, visit the Fira del Formatge Artesà de les Pyrénées in the Pyrenees mountains. This festival showcases artisanal cheese made by producers from both the Catalan and French sides of the mountain range. Meet the producers and witness traditional cheese-making techniques in action.
These festivals are not only a great way to try a wide variety of traditional Spanish cheeses, but they also offer an opportunity to learn about the history and culture behind them. You can meet the producers and gain a deeper appreciation for the artisanal methods that produce these delicious cheeses.
In conclusion, Spanish cheeses offer a diverse and exquisite culinary experience, rooted in a rich history of traditional production methods and regional influences. From the well-known Manchego to the lesser-known Zamorano, each variety has its unique flavour and texture.
Exploring the Spanish cheese market gives an insight into the challenges faced by small-scale producers, who strive to uphold their traditions while competing with mass-produced counterparts. However, there are many outlets for purchasing authentic Spanish cheese, including specialty shops and online retailers, as well as visiting local producers.
To fully appreciate Spanish cheese, it is essential to pair it with the right accompaniments, such as wine, fruits, and bread. The simple recipes provided in this guide give an idea of the different ways to enjoy Spanish cheese. Proper storage and care are also crucial for maintaining the flavour and quality of these delicacies.
Visiting the annual cheese festivals and events in Spain provides a unique cultural experience and an opportunity to taste a wide variety of Spanish cheeses.
In conclusion, Spanish cheese is an essential part of Spanish culinary tradition. Whether you’re a connoisseur or just starting your cheese journey, there’s always something new to discover and appreciate in the world of Spanish cheese.
Q: What types of Spanish cheeses are considered authentic and traditional?
A: Authentic and traditional Spanish cheeses include Manchego, Mahón, Tetilla, Cabrales, Idiazabal, Zamorano, and Valdeón, among others.
Q: Where can I buy authentic Spanish cheese?
A: You can find and purchase authentic Spanish cheeses at specialty cheese shops, online retailers, and by visiting local producers.
Q: How should I care for Spanish cheese?
A: To properly care for Spanish cheese, it is important to store it correctly. Wrap the cheese in wax or parchment paper, and store it in the refrigerator at the recommended temperature. Aging Spanish cheeses should be kept in a cool, well-ventilated area.
Q: Can you recommend wines and foods to pair with Spanish cheese?
A: Spanish cheeses pair well with a variety of wines, fruits, and bread. For example, Manchego goes well with Tempranillo wine and quince paste, while Tetilla pairs nicely with Albariño wine and crusty bread. Experiment with different combinations to find your favorite pairing.
Q: Are there any annual cheese festivals in Spain?
A: Yes, Spain hosts several cheese festivals and events throughout the year. These festivals provide an opportunity to celebrate and taste a wide variety of Spanish cheeses. Some popular events include the Cheese Market in Trujillo, the Queso Festival in Asturias, and the Cheese Fair in Mahón.