Spain is a country that offers a variety of different cheeses that are suitable for everyone. It is almost impossible to not find a Spanish cheese that you don’t like. It can be a little overwhelming with so many varieties, but we want to share a useful guide to navigate the different categories of Spanish cheeses.
How well do you know Spanish cheeses?
Spain offers a range of cheeses due to the different climates, landscapes, soils, and vegetation found throughout the country. This richness in the pastures is a great source of food for the cows, sheep, and goats. These nutrients make their milk superb which allows for a variety of textures, flavors, aromas, and colors in the cheese. These little details add up to make Spanish cheeses the most flavorful and sought-after products.
All cheeses essentially follow the same basic formula of animal milk, bacteria, rennet, and salt. But the distinguishing factor is seen in the time and the characteristics of the milk based on the landscape and food available to the animals.
Categories of Spanish cheese
The best Spanish cheeses are the ones that grab your attention with the flavor and the pairings. Afterall, cheese is a big part of the Mediterranean diet, therefore Spain has mastered its production of cheese in a way that is unique to the country and its landscape.
Cheese varieties depending on the milk
As we mentioned before, Spain has a wide range of landscapes even though the country is not considered big. The north and northwest of Spain (think Galicia, Asturias, Cantabria, Basque Country, and Navarra) offer stunningly beautiful green pastures. These areas are populated by cows. The cheeses made with cow’s milk are white in color and have a slight odor and a sugary flavor. The cheeses are soft and creamier than other cheeses. The most common cheese made with cow’s milk is Cabrales cheese and Mahon cheese.
Cheeses made with sheep’s milk can be found all throughout the Iberian Peninsula, but it is popular in the Castilla la Mancha and Castilla and Leon regions. These types of Spanish cheeses are pearly white with the occasional yellowish tones. The flavors are more complex due to the fatty acids and the proteins. The most typical Spanish cheese that uses sheep’s milk is Manchego cheese.
Lastly, goat’s milk is commonly found in dry regions such as Andalusia and the Canary Islands. The color is bright white with no yellow tones. The flavor is categorized as strong and a little acidic. Common Spanish goat cheeses are the Murcia al vino cheese, Payoyo, and Majorero.
What varieties of D.O. Spanish cheeses are the most popular?
You could travel all around Spain to taste the different flavors of cheese. In fact, that would be an amazing food trip! But for now, we will try to highlight some of the most popular Spanish cheeses that can be found in the autonomous regions. This way you can taste a little of Spain. But don’t forget to properly preserve these cheeses to obtain the maximum freshness and to prevent the growth of any harmful molds.
Many of the Spanish cheeses are under the protection of the Designation of Origin. This consists of a regulatory council that guarantees high quality products linked to the geographical environment from which they originate. It is important to maintain manufacturing standards.
A very rich and pleasant flavor that is not too overpowering. Pairs perfectly with various types of ham and wines such as Rioja. This delectable cheese comes in four assortments depending on the age like semi cured, cured, and old being the longest aged. You can find more information about our partnership with the Gomez Moreno family and their exceptional Manchego cheese.
A cheese from Galicia made from cow’s milk. This cone-shaped cheese has a buttery and tangy flavor with a mild bitterness. It can be paired with crackers and quince paste with a full- bodied and dry red wine.
Great to introduce new flavors of blue cheese into your palate. Check out the fermentation process here. This unique cheese pairs well with something sweet like honey, figs, or quince paste! It pairs beautifully with a strong wine that has a sweet aftertaste like Pedro Ximenez. This way the intense flavors balance out.
You can learn more about Cabrales Cheese here
A matured cheese made with unpasteurized whole sheep’s milk produced in the Basque country or Navarra region. The flavoring is nutty and buttery with smoky hints from being smoked at the end of the curing process. Pairs beautifully with a medium-bodied tempranillo or with ciders.
You can learn more about Idiazabal Cheese here
See how to pair the semi cured option or the artisanal cheese here.
You can learn more about Mahon Cheese here
Torta del Casar
An unpasteurized goat’s milk cheese produced in Extremadura. It is known for its smooth and creamy texture with a salty flavor. It is perfectly soft to place on fresh bread as a tapa and be sipped with a nice dry red wine.
Cheese varieties depending on the aging time
The maturation period refers to the time during which the cheese remains at room temperature and under specific conditions after being made. Therefore, we have:
- Fresh cheese: These are soft cheeses, which have hardly had a maturation period. These types of cheeses, which have a maturation period of less than one month, are also called soft cheeses. They are products that have less fat and more water. For this reason, it lasts less time since it deteriorates more quickly.
- Semi-cured cheeses: This type of cheese has a maturation period of between 2 and 3 months. They are a little stronger than fresh cheese and have a slightly harder texture. But they still contain a lot of water.
- Cured cheeses: These products have a maturation period between 4 and 7 months as a general rule. They are much stronger than the previous types. They contain little water and are fattier.
- Old cheeses: These cheeses have a maturation period of more than 7 months. They have a very intense flavor and a more rigid surface.
Cheese varieties depending on the fat percentage
Cheese is a source of protein, vitamins, and calcium. But it also contains fat. We can classify them into the following:
- Skimmed: Cheeses that contain less than 10% fat. Cottage cheese is an example of skimmed cheese.
- Semi-skimmed: These cheeses contain between 10 and 24.9% fat. Burgos cheese is an excellent example.
- Semi-fatty: Cheeses that contain between 25 and 29.9% fat such as blue cheese or Manchego cheese.
- Fatty: These cheeses contain between 30 and 60% fat. An example is Cabrales cheese among others.
- Extra fatty: This type of cheese exceeds 60% fat such as cheese spreads.
Cheese varieties depending on the paste consistency
This classification takes into account the water content to determine firmness and indirectly relates to the aging.
We can classify them into the following:
- Hard cheeses: such as feta, parmesan or pecorino cheese.
- Semi- firm: like Manchego, Murcia al Vino, Mahon
- Semi-soft: like Cabrales, goat roll cheese.
- Soft: like brie or mozzarella cheese.
What makes Spanish D.O. cheeses so special? The art of cheese making
As a recap, we have talked about cattle and the milk that each one of them produces, what the animals eat and the microbes in the milk, but all of this only explains part of the end result. It is the responsibility of the master cheesemaker to do the rest after the milk arrives to the cheese factory. They can use their experience, know-how, art, and passion to bring out the best in the milk, microorganisms, rennet, and salt.
This is what happens in artisan cheeses such as those selected by Deliart. Because having a herd of cattle crazing in the mountains, making a limited number of cheeses each season, salting them by hand, turning them every day while they are maturing, and meeting the requirements of the D.O. is almost an art! So, when one dares to try a cheese with these characteristics, one has to think that they have a small gastronomic jewel in their hands. This is the result of the transmission of know-how from parents to children for several generations. So now let’s enjoy these amazing cheeses!