SAY cheese and you might not instantly think of Spain.
It’s the French that dominated for years when it came to fromage – meanwhile, Spaniards don’t get credit for much more than manchego.
But cheese from southern Spain is not to be sniffed at. Recently an Andalucia cheesery walked away with the top prize at the 2021 World Cheese Awards in Oviedo.
Quesos y Besos from Guarroman in Jaen Province wowed judges with its goat cheese to beat off 4,000 other contenders for the title of ‘best cheese in the world’.
The judges described it as a ‘gastronomic jewel’ and the world-class cheese has since flown off shelves after collecting the top accolade.
But don’t fear churn-nerds, you don’t need to look hard for a delicious selection of queso – it’s there in every variety you can dream of, in the market, at the tapas bar and in restaurants, washed down with a good glug of manzanilla.
From slabs of Cabrales and Mahon to slices of Afuegal Pitu and Zamorano, the average citizen eats 9kg of the stuff a year and is spoilt for choice.
There are 26 cheeses that are classified as Protected Designation of Origin (D.O.P.—Denominación de Origen Protegida) by Spain and the European Union, indicating that the cheese has been made in the same manner and place for many years.
Like wine, the best cheesy produce varies from region to region. Roncal, from the Navarra area, comes from the rich sheep’s milk of the legendary Lacha and Aragonesa breeds of oveja sheep, while cow’s grazing on the lush pastures of Galicia create the conical Tetilla cheese and the pale, soft and creamy Arzula Illoa.
In Andalucia, cheeses are made from goat’s milk or occasionally sheep’s milk – you’d be hard pressed to find queso from a cow in this area.
“The best cheeses are always the local ones,” says Jessica, the owner of Darcy’s Deli in Estepona – a mecca for quality Spanish produce. She favours cheeses from the stretch between Cadiz and Malaga, so she can ensure her customers are getting whatever is in season from cheesemakers close by.
Jessica advises I choose five to seven cheeses for a classic cheeseboard, all made with goats milk and not pre-packed in plastic and eat them from lightest to strongest.
Apologise to Spain’s best known cheese Manchego for not making the cut – we promise we still love you but it was time to try something new. Named after the province of La Mancha to the south and east of Madrid, Manchago was originally made to barter at livestock markets as it provided durable food for the shepherds. Still, me and my pals are no sheep – and we decided to give some lesser know queso a go.
Here’s what we had.
Pimienta Negra (Black pepper)
A punchy pepper rind encasing soft goat’s milk cheese was the indisputable favourite of the night. The pungent aroma masks a rich and mellow tasting cheese that we, unanimously, declared irresistible.
Cabra Romero (Goat’s cheese with rosemary)
A crumbly centre, the rosemary was a nice frangrent touch to your typical goats cheese. Richer and more buttery than the others with a satisfying savoury bite.
Pimenton dulce (Sweet paprika)
Our least favourite of the tasting. A mild aroma and nutty savoury-sweet taste seemed bland at first – but left an aftertaste that we couldn’t wait to wash away with a hasty chug of wine.
Cabra Andazul (Blue cheese)
This goat’s milk deeply veined blue cheese is aged for more than 120 days of curing in the Andazul cheese factory and is the only blue cheese that is made in Andalusia. The factory is located in the Cadiz town of San José del Valle and the cheese itself is full of flavour, thanks to its rich and creamy. Jessica’s tip? Keep out of the fridge an hour before serving.
Cabra Chile (Chilli)
A strong, spicy cheeses perfect with chilled wine (and a staff favourite at Darcy’s) delicious with quince and crackers.