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During the 9th century,
the rural folk and their cattle took refuge in the monasteries in the
mountains. It is here where the
monks became the primary manufacturers of cheese by understanding and mastering
the fundamentals to do so. As the population of these villagers grew, they
needed much more land to maintain their cattle, which was increasing in numbers too. This was the beginning of the phase
we termed ‘The Transhumance’, referring to the migration of the shepherds and
their cattle. Most of the shapes and patterns encasing various types of cheeses
were usually made up of the local materials available, adding to the terroir of
cheese from this side of the globe. Each mouthful of cheese could be said to be
a taste of the Spanish history and culture. It allows one to understand its
gastronomy in depth.

Manchego cheese is traditionally made from unpasteurized sheep milk. It
takes its name from a native breed of sheep ‘Manchega’, only found on the dry
plateau of La Mancha.

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Regionally it’s
in a rather magnificent part of Spain with regards to maintaining a sense of
timelessness and heritage. Modern irrigation has led to a lot of the indigenous
flora; acorns, blackthorn and wild grasses, to be cleared. However, they have
left plenty of uncultivated land for the hardy sheep to graze during the
summer. This leads to the milk being much thicker, and possessing an aroma that
reflects its terroir. This is the secret to Manchego cheese’s unremarkably rich
character. Traditionally the cheese was pressed in grass belts to give it the
distinctive wavy pattern, however they have been replaced with plastic molds
that reproduce the


same designs
reliably. The overall depth and complexity of the cheese majorly depend on the
age, they tend to develop a peppery bite to the finish. It has richness that could be associated with Brazil nuts and
caramel, along with the aroma of lanolin and roasted lamb. Its flavors are
accentuated due to the slight salty finish. The result is a dry yet creamy
cheese. It is a versatile cheese
that lends nutty sweetness to a dish when incorporated. Its flavor can be
intensified by cutting the cheese into wedges and marinating it in green olive
oil. Manchego absorbs tannin very well hence it pairs very well with a dry or
sweet sherry.

Idiazábal cheese is an ancient cheese that originated in the Bosque
mountains. The shepherds spend the summer in high pastures ensuring their
cattle graze well, before returning in the fall with cheese. Traditionally
during the summer, it was stored inside wooden huts of the shepherds in
rafters. This enabled it to develop a wood-smoke flavor. Nowadays it is smoked
with beech wood, to add light smokiness to the distinctive caramel sweetness of
the milk it was made from. It is a very hard chewy cheese with a coppery rind.

Tastes great cooked, especially in risottos. Pairs equally well with ciders of
any kind.

Valdéon cheese, also publicized as Picos de Europa, on comparison is a
much less popular cheese of the trio. It is a product of the Alonso brothers
who produce said cheese on Léon, Picos de Europa. The climate of Valdéon is
much less humid that its neighboring cities, which results in lesser virulent
molds. This produces a rather milder blue cheese than the usual. Sycamore
leaves usually wrap the rough and sticky rind speckled with molds. It is
distinctively spicy but not very strong. The slight amount of saltiness
produces a very elegant aftertaste.

Traditionally it
is served with hazelnuts, prunes and walnuts, along with port or cider.

Moreover, it is excellent incorporated in sauces of dishes.

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