Cheeses from the North of Spain
Spain is famous for the quality and number of cheese available. Out of the many fantastic Spanish cheese the ones from Northern Spain offer probably the most variety. Cheese in Spain is categorised by an official system which tells us where the cheese came from. Much like with wines, these ´Denominación de Origen Protegida´ (D.O.P.) regions protect Spain´s traditional cheeses from imitation, and regulate their quality. We have outlined some of the most fantastic cheeses to enjoy during a trip to North of Spain below, adding some wine and food pairing notes for your use.
Queso de Cabrales (D.O.P.) is one of the most famous cheeses in Spain. A blue cheese, it is aged for 2-4 months in cold and chilly natural limestone caves, in the Picos de Europa mountains. These special cold and humid conditions allow bluish, green mould patterns to develop in the cheese. Unlike many other cheeses, when penicillin is injected, this process happens completely naturally from the outside, in.
The cheese is creamy and firm, and has a strong, sharp, slightly acidic and slightly salty taste. It pairs well with cured salchichón Spanish sausage, figs, salami and melted over roasted meats. As the flavour of the cheese is quite piquant, it pairs and contrasts well with sweet flavours, making it the perfect accompaniment to a sweet Spanish sherry. The cheese used to be wrapped in Acer Pseudoplatanus leaves, but now has to be officially wrapped in green foil and stamped by the D.O.P. ´Queso de Cabrales´.
Queso de Afuega'l pitu (D.O.P.) is famous for being one of the oldest cheeses of Asturias and also for being one of the most widespread cheeses made in the region. It is a soft, artisan cheese that comes in different shapes, with different ingredients added. The flower pot shaped cheese is called 'Troncado/Atroncáu', and the round shaped cheese is called 'Trapo/Trapu'. You can also buy it ´plain´ and white in colour, 'Blanco/Blancu', or with paprika added, 'Roxu/Rojo', which gives it a light orange shade. Its flavour and texture makes it perfect for tapas, or use in desserts.
Queso de Gamonéu (D.O.P.) is made from a blend of cow, goat and sheep´s milk to create a hard, or semi-hard, cheese with a buttery, nutty, smoky and spicy taste. It has a yellowish white colour in the middle, with quite distinctive blueish green coloured edges.
Tetilla (D.O.P) is the most famous cheese of Galicia, probably with most international acclaim. Made from the milk of Friesian, Blonde and Swiss Brown cows that graze on pastures close to the coastal mountain ranges, this cheese has a surprising shape and name that both make a nod towards where the milk came from; tetilla in Spanish means ´little breast´, or teat.
The buttery, milky aromas that are so characteristic of this cheese make it mild to taste, and they may be accompanied by touches of vanilla and walnut. Its light flavours make it perfect to pair with a wine that will not overpower its delicate flavours, such as a young, light and fresh white wine from Galicia.
Arzúa-Ulloa (D.O.P.) is elaborated from the milk of the Rubia Gallega, Friesian and Parda-Alpina breeds, and cross breeds, of cows. It has a mild, milky and slightly salty taste, with notes of walnut, vanilla and cream. It melts in the mouth and has a smooth, not very firm texture. When matured for around 6 months, its taste intensifies and it becomes firm and hard to cut.
San Simón da Costa (D.O.P.) is similar in shape to the Tetilla cheese, however it greets you with a smoky aroma and a darker colour, which comes from the distinct way in which it is prepared. Made from the milk of Galician Blonde cattle, the new cheeses are smoked over birch wood for a couple of hours, and then aged for around two months. The cheese has a buttery and mild taste, with a deep smoky aroma.
Cebreiro (D.O.P.) can be sold both as a fresh and a mature cheese, and has an unusual shape that looks like an upturned mushroom. It is made from cows milk, sometimes also with a little goats milk added, depending on where in Galicia it is made. The fresh Cebreiro cheese is soft, creamy, granular and easy to spread. It has a slightly acidic taste and a distinct smell. If sold after maturing for around 2 months, the texture becomes firmer.
Quesucos de Liébana (D.O.P) cheese is made primarily from cow's milk, but is sometimes also mixed with goat´s or sheep's milk. It is a semi-firm, quite small cheese, which can be made in the shape of ball or alternatively a disk, and is matured for a minimum of 15 days. The taste of the cheese can vary depending on the milk used, and whether it has been smoked. The common varieties taste smooth, mild and buttery.
Queso Nata de Cantabria, (D.O.P.) cheese, made with the milk of Friesan cows, is mild, buttery and a little salty to taste. It has a creamy smooth texture. It is so mild that it forms part of the local Cantabrian daily diet, whether enjoyed for breakfast, lunch or dinner. It pairs well with membrillo (quince jelly) and can be used in stews and soups.
Picón Bejes- Tresviso (D.O.P.) has existed as a D.O.P. since 1994, although its cheeses have been produced for longer. Picón Bejes- Tresviso is a blue cheese from the Picos de Europa mountains. It is sharp, spicy and buttery to taste. Its wine and food pairing notes are similar to the blue ´Queso de Cabrales´ from Asturias.
Idiazábal (D.O.P. shared with Navarra) is a hard, farmhouse cheese that is buttery, nutty and smoky to taste. It is made with the raw milk of Latxa or Carranza sheep, which migrate around different pastures depending on the seasons. It is dry, but not crumbly. Its distinctive sweet, smoky aroma comes from being stored near traditional fireplaces and pairs well with a bold, fruity and oaky red wines.
Queso de Camerano is easy to recognise from its rind, which has stripy, swirly patterns produced by the cheese´s cane mould. Made from goat's milk, the cheese is sold at different stages of maturity- from fresh and soft, to semi-hard and mature.
Roncal (D.O.P) is a hard, artisan cheese which tastes buttery, herby, sharp, and sweet, with aromas of nuts, mushrooms and earth. It is a very pale cheese, almost ivory white, and has small holes. Covered in a smooth grey mould that is sometimes glazed with olive oil, it pairs well with Spanish wines made with the tempranillo grape.
Queso de Tronchón is a cheese that has featured in one of Spain´s great literary works of all time, El Ingenioso Hidalgo Don Quixote de la Mancha (The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha), written by Spain´s answer to Shakespeare, Cervantes. Made with sheep´s milk and sometimes mixed with goat´s milk, it has an intense, buttery and sharp taste, with aromas of herbs and wild plants.
Queso de l'Alt Urgell y la Cerdanya, (D.O.P.), is a traditional Catalan cheese with a Catalan name. Covered by a light brown rind, the cheese itself is cream or ivory coloured. Creamy, soft and mild, the cheese is aged in local caves for a minimum of 45 days, creating fruity, nutty aromas.
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