Spanish Cheeses

Appears in

Oxford Companion to Food

Oxford Companion to Food

By Alan Davidson

Published 2014

  • About

Spanish cheeses exemplified to the outside world by manchego, one of the finest sheep’s cheeses to be found anywhere, exist in a bewildering number of forms. The Inventario español de productos tradicionales (1996) lists 93, while specialists usually reckon there are over a hundred. The reason is that in most parts of Spain and also, to some extent, in Portugal, there are very strong traditions of local artisanal cheese-making which continue to display great vitality. The Spanish for cheese is queso, and the full name of many cheeses begin with that word, e.g. queso Manchego. A high proportion of Spanish cheeses, especially those from the centre and south, are made with sheep’s milk or goat’s milk, or a mixture of two. Many have interesting shapes due to ingenious moulding.

  • Cabrales, one of the few blue cheeses of Spain, is made in the mountain farms of the Asturias from cow’s milk, sometimes mixed with ewe’s or goat’s milk. It has been described as similar to roquefort. The dried curd is transferred to an horreo (granary or storehouse on raised stilts typical in NW Spain and N. Portugal) until the blue mould appears, when the cheeses are taken to the famous cave of Jouz del Cuevo to complete their maturation.

  • Cabreiro, one of the mixed goat’s and sheep’s milk cheeses, smooth and white, comes from Castelo Branco near the Portuguese frontier. Eaten fresh or ripened in brine.

  • Roncal, a hard cheese with a smoky, piquant flavour, is made from ewe’s milk in the valley of Roncal in Navarra in the summer.

  • Cebrero is a good example of the Galician cheeses, most of which are made from cow’s milk. The shape, resembling a thick-stalked mushroom with a concave cap, is unusual.

  • Tetilla, a name meaning nipple or teat, is another Galician cheese. It is also known as perilla because its shape, derived from the wooden mould in which it is made, could be likened to a flattened pear as well as to a breast. Has a clean salty taste.

  • Torta de Casar is made in Extremadura. It is one of a group of sheep’s milk cheeses made with thistle-rennet, which helps give the creaminess. The cheese is spooned out after a lid is cut in the rind.