Spain might not have the “cheese heaven” status that is traditionally paraded by France, but it definitely has a few cheese varieties to be proud of, on an international scale.
The gastronomy of Spain is pretty verbal when it comes to their wide variety of cheeses, many of which are PDO (Protected by the Designation of Origin) and hail to unique, traditional recipes, elaborate processes, and specific breeds of cow, sheep or goat (among others). All of which combines to create distinctive flavours, aromas and appearance, making all of these notable nationally and internationally treasured delicacies.
The following list is comprised of some of the most popular cheeses from all over Spain and the Balearic Islands; these are tried, tested, and remain the top ten of the Iberian cheese charts!
Being a cheese lover myself I can vouch for many of these, especially the local favourite ‘Payoyo’ which you can purchase at its origin in the nearby city of Ronda.
Article by Victoria Wood
Made with the raw milk from Menorcan and Friesian cows exclusively on the Son Vives farm, we are graced with the Mahón cheese. This internationally acclaimed cheese comes with a Protected Designation of Origin seal – originating from the Balearic Island of Menorca and named after its capital.
The Menorcan Mahón is distinctive as it is hand-rubbed with either butter, oil or paprika during maturation. It is a unique cheese with a sweet and fruity aroma, plus a rich, bold flavour, making Mahón a stronger tasting cheese – not for those with a milder preference. Made from cow’s milk, it has a yellowish rind and a spicy and somewhat salty cheese flavour affected by its maturity which varies from mild to intense.
Award-winning Galmesano is a cheese originating in A Coruña, Galicia. This north-westerly Spanish cheese is made with fresh milk from Galician cows that graze freely in meadows and is matured for around sixteen months This is a cooked and pressed paste cheese which is versatile to many dishes and distinctive for its aromatic flavours of caramel, herbs and nuts. Galmesano is widely known as the parmesan of Spain, referring to its similarity to Grana Padano and Parmigiano Reggiano.
3. Queso de Burgos
Another widely famous Spanish cheese comes from the province of Burgos, Castilla y León. A soft, white cheese made from sheep’s milk originally but now includes cow’s during elaboration. Used all over Spain in a variety of dishes including salads and desserts, Burgos is a popular addition to many a meal. It is curdled by means of enzymes and has a cylindrical shape, it is slightly firm with a creamy texture and mild hints of salt and milkiness.
4. Manchego cheese
Probably the most famous of the cheeses of Spain, as well as most widely produced and exported, Manchego is originally from the region of La Mancha. The Manchega sheep from which the cheese is made are indigenous to the region and roam freely in pastures there. There is a wide variety of types of Manchego ranging from a fresh version that matures for only two weeks, and up to over one year for fully cured Manchego.
Manchego is generally a semi-hard cheese identified by its distinctive herringbone rind, subtle sweetness, and acidity. You may note tones of fruit, nuts and herbs with sharper, more acidic flavours, as well as texture, developing through maturation.
This award-winning, PDO, Basque country cheese hails mainly from the hillside Lacha and Carranzana sheep in northern Spain which give an exceptionally rich, fatty milk, resulting in a buttery mouthfeel and an interesting gamy quality. It has an intense flavour which accompanies many dishes well due to its supple texture and subtly sharp bite. Maturation varies but begins at 60 days, and similarly to its close relative, Manchego, is lightly smoked and pressed (akin to its ancestors having been dried by the fireplace).
Winning awards since 2011, Idiazábal is an excellent cheese worth heading north for.
This Galician cheese is an international superstar made from the Galician Blonde, Alpine Brown and Friesian breeds of cow. Maturation starts at seven days and produces a mild, salty, acidic yet creamy texture. Its amusing name, Tetilla (translating as nipple), is due to the shape of the cheese formed by the funnels the milk is left in to curdle during production, perhaps also hailing to the origin of the milk itself!
7. Queso del Roncal
Also enjoying a PDO status, Roncal is a hard, creamy cheese made from sheep’s milk. It is made in one of seven villages in the Valle de Roncal of Navarra, Spain. Made using traditional, local techniques, Roncal is a pressed and cured, fatty cheese with a buttery palate and a rough, robust rind made from whole ewes’ milk from the Rasa and Latxa breeds and F-1 Latxa x Milchschaf crossbreeds. Ripened for a minimum of 4 months to give it its pleasant, intense aroma.
An Asturian cheese by origin the Gamonéu is made using a combination of raw cow, goat and sheep milk from the Friesian, Parda Alpina, and Asturiana de los Valles cattle breeds; from the Lacha, Carranzana, and Milschalfe sheep breeds; and from the Murciano-Granadina, Saanen, Picos de Europa and Pirenaica goat breeds. Also a PDO, the flavour of Gamonéu offers a piquant bite as well as a buttery texture.
A very intense, World Cheese Award winning blue cheese from Cantabria. Picón-Bejes-Tresviso has PDO status which, despite much of the process taking place in modern industrial situations, regulations stipulate that final maturity is achieved in a limestone cave, typical of the Liébana region, for at least two months.
It is traditionally made with milk from a mixture of the Tudanca, Pardo-Alpine, Friesian cattle breeds, the Lacha sheep breed, and the Picos de Europa and Pirenaica goat breeds.
Winner of multiple international and national awards and qualifying several times in the World Cheese Awards, Payoyo cheese comes from Cádiz, Andalucía.
Payoyo is made from a combination of the Payoya goat and the Merina sheep from the Sierra de Grazalema. It is referred to as a Grazalema cheese for this reason. There are many varieties including fresh, semi-cured, larded, rosemary, bran or paprika.
If you’re heading to Ronda for the day, drop into a local store and buy yourself a hunk of this delicious local delicacy, you will not be disappointed.