Our journey has taken us through mountainous terrain and spacious pastures; it has introduced us to the sprightly goat, the demure cow, and the helplesssheep. We have also eaten some of the most amazing cheeses produced in the world today. Our final gaze turns to those cheeses produced from a combination of two or three of these animals. (flickr photo by paul goyette)
Greater than 50% of the cheese produced and consumed in Spain is made from a mixture of cow’s, goat’s, and/or sheep’s milk. The largest quantity of the milk comes from cows with the other two being blended in to shape the outcome of the finished product. Typically, the greater the amount of the cow’s milk the more simple and less expensive the cheese. Cow’s milk is added for mass and flavor, while goat’s milk adds whiteness to the color as well as a tangy and tart flavor. Finally, sheep’s milk normally provides more flavor and richness to the cheese.
Mixed milk cheeses are produced primarily in Central Spain and Asturias (the north-central area near the coast) with a few cheeses produced around Cataluña, along the Eastern coast (the Levant), and among the Canary Islands. In 1987, in an effort to standardize some incongruent practices, the Ministry of Agriculture set regulations for three mixed-milk cheeses: Hispánico, Ibérico, and Mesta. These regulations designated the minimum milk content for each of the three cheeses. Ibérico is the best known and most widely consumed in Spain (I have only seen Ibérico in the U.S.).
This cheese tasting was a bit more unique than the others. Although the single variety cheeses provided diversity amongst the types, the mixed milk cheeses exhibit a vastness of depth and character that only cheeses produced from a variety of milks can turn out. Our tasting takes us from the light and savory Taramundi to the depths of flavor experienced in the Cabrales blue-veined cheese. Five absolutely wonderful wines accompanied these cheeses and all provided extremely enjoyable and delicious pairings. Bring along a hunk of crusty bread and sliced fruit and sit back and enjoy.
Mixed Milk Cheeses:
Ibérico: Produced in Central Spain (and D.O.P. designated), Ibérico is a pasteurized hard cheese closely resembling (and often mistaken for) Manchego. By law, it must be made from a minimum 50% cow’s milk, 30% goat’s milk, and 10%, sheep’s milk. It is aged for roughly six to 12 months and has a light yellow color this slightly oily in texture. Ibérico is mild, yet aromatic, exhibiting the softness of the cow’s milk along with the grassy and herbaceous notes of the sheep and goat milk. It is a great all-around cheese which paired nicely with all of the wines.
Campo Montalbán: Much like Ibérico, Campo Montalbán is a blend of the three milks. This cheese was actually considered Manchego (which contains only sheep’s milk) up until 1985 when the regulatory board decided to designate Manchego unique status. It has a very similar look, but the taste is quite different because of the blend of the three milks. Semi-firm in texture and aged for three months the cheese has a slightly tangy and buttery essence. As with the Iberíco cheese, the Campo Montalbán also paired nicely with all five wines. (Flickr photo by jlastras)
Taramundi: A blend of cow and goat milk, Taramundi is a semi-cured artisan cheese hailing from the remote mountains of Asturias. Produced for over 1000 years, Taramundi is cured for a minimum of 60 days. The cow’s milk adds a buttery texture and taste as well as helping to keep acidity at low levels. This cheese is not spicy and has toasted hints alongside fresh, country meadow flavors. The Taramundi paired beautifully with the two white wines and the lighter red wines (La Nevera and Chateldon).
Valdeón: Produced in the Picos de Europa Mountains in Castilla y León from either pasteurized goat and sheep milk or cow and goat milk, Valdeón is a pasty, fatty blue cheese. It is the milder of the Spanish bleu cheeses and is rich and creamy with a hint of tang and sweetness (partly from the chestnut leaves in which it is wrapped). This cheese is made year-round and is an extremely aromatic cheese. Valdeón is has lesser intensity due to the fact that the caves in which is ages are slightly drier. Valdeón also carries a D.O.P. designation. In addition to the cheese itself I was also able to taste a Crema de Queso Valdeón. This cheese was perfect on crusty bread or sliced fruit. I particularly like the two Priorat wines and the Penedés red with this cheese.
Cabrales: The King of the Spanish blues, Cabrales is also produced in the Picos de Europa Mountains in eastern Asturias and carries D.O.P. status. Made with cow’s milk and either or both of goat and sheep milk, Cabrales is the best known of the Spanish blue cheeses. The cheese is slow-aged in cold, damp, and humid caves. They are turned periodically during this process until the entire wheel has been grown with mold (naturally). This process normally takes a minimum of two months. I was also able to enjoy a Crema de Cabrales with is a creamed blend of Cabrales cheese and Asturian cider. This cheese was also incredibly paired with the Priorat wines.