It’s as easy to fall in love with Spanish cheeses as it is with some of its other fabulous exports. Julio Iglesias, Antonio Banderas and Penelope Cruz come to mind but so do Manchego, Mahon and Cabrales.
Cheeses are revered in Spanish cuisine. “It is very different in America than it is in Spain,” Elisabet Aguirre, food marketing assistant for Foods from Spain explains. “Our cheeses are prominent in the gastronomy but not so much in recipes. It generally is something that’s used by itself, as a separate course. Maybe it is a snack or eaten after a meal. Sometimes it is served with bread as a sandwich but not a fancy sandwich, a rustic and simple one.”
If you haven’t indulged in Spanish cheeses yet, it’s time to get your Spanish food passport up to date. Here are a few cheese highlights to start the tour.
Cabrales: One of the big blues, this creamy, sharp, salty prize today is mostly made from cow’s milk although it once was a mixture of cow, goat and sheep milk. It is ideal for enjoying as is, spread atop grilled rustic bread and paired with quince paste.
Idiazábel: Pronounced ee-dee-ah-ZA-bahl, this cheese in its earliest days was made by shepherds who kept it near their fires, thus imparting a smoky backdrop to the characteristic pungent taste. It is a semi-hard but rich and sweetly flavored sheep’s milk cheese that is typically aged from two to four months.
Mahon: Made on the island of Minorca off the coast of Spain, one of the distinguishing traits of this cow’s milk cheese is in how it’s made. It is thickened with herbs instead of rennet and hints of the process are evident in the taste. So, too, are suggestions of the sea; the cheese is aromatic with a briny, salty kiss. Semisoft, buttery and nutty, Mahon is sold at various ages. Try slices of it drizzled with olive oil, black pepper and fresh thyme or tarragon.
Manchego: Spain is the land of sheep and only the hardy La Mancha variety can be used to make this ivory-yellow aged cheese. Classified as a hard cheese, it still flaunts a rich, creamy texture especially in younger versions. By Spanish law, it must be aged at least 60 days but can and often is aged longer. It has a natural, entirely edible rind and a distinct pattern embedded on the brownish-colored surface. Manchego delivers the lush richness of a sheep’s milk cheese with a flavor that is nutty, salty and sublime. It’s a great eating cheese and melts well for cooking.
Tetilla: The shape of this semisoft cow’s milk cheese, not unlike that of a Hershey kiss, hints that tetilla means nipple in Spanish. Mild and creamy, the pale yellow cheese has small holes throughout and no visible rind. A terrific eating cheese with a grassy fresh taste, it also melts to perfection.
Spanish cheeses are prominent in the gastronomy but not so much in recipes.
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