When you think of Spain, you may picture vibrant flamenco, the art and architecture of Barcelona, sangria, and tapas. Yet, nestled within this culturally rich country lies another treasure: your favorite imported cheeses from Spain. Spanning centuries of history and tradition, Spanish cheeses are a big part of this food-centric country’s gastronomic prowess. From sun-soaked Andalucia to the lush Pyrenees mountains, each region has contributed its own local specialty to the world of imported cheeses, captivating taste buds and preserving heritage.
The roots of Spanish cheese can be traced back to the Roman era when conquerors brought with them the art of cheese-making. Monasteries played a crucial role in shaping these techniques, meticulously perfecting recipes that have been passed down through generations.
Over the centuries, Spain’s diverse climate and terrain have fostered the evolution of a wide variety of cheese-making techniques and styles. Spanish cheeses have transcended borders, captivating palates around the world and contributing to the country’s cultural influence on global cuisine. Here are a few iconic cheeses from Spain:
- Manchego: Perhaps the most internationally renowned of Spanish cheeses, Manchego originates from the arid La Mancha region. Crafted from sheep’s milk, it boasts a distinct crisscross pattern on its rind known as the “pleita” and a nutty, earthy flavor that intensifies with age. Manchego cheese is aged for varying periods of time, ranging from a few weeks to several years, depending on the desired flavor and texture. Enjoy it as a simple tapas paired with quince paste and jamon or in our Spanish-influenced recipe for Manchego Stuffed Flank Steak with Romanesco Sauce.
Manchego Stuffed Flank Steak
- Idiazabal: Hailing from the Basque Country and Navarre, Idiazabal is a smoky, semi-hard cheese made from sheep’s milk. Traditionally smoked over beechwood, its flavor profile varies from mild and buttery to robust and intense.
- Tetilla: This Galician cheese is named for its breast-like shape (“tetilla” translates to “little breast” in Spanish). It is made from cow’s milk, specifically from the Galician Blonde or Rubia Gallega breed of cows. The milk from these cows is known for its high fat content and quality, which contributes to the creamy and rich texture of Tetilla cheese. With a creamy texture and delicate taste, Tetilla is often enjoyed as a table cheese or dessert.
- Cabrales: Nestled in the heart of the Picos de Europa mountains, Cabrales is a blue cheese made from cow, sheep, or goat milk. Its pungent aroma and intense flavors are a result of the unique mold found in the local caves where it matures. Enjoy it drizzled with honey or in our unique recipe for Shrimp, Quinoa, Beet, and Cabrales Bowls.
Beet and Cabrales Bowl
- Mahón: Also known as “Queso Mahón-Menorca,” this traditional cheese originates from the island of Menorca, which is part of the Balearic Islands of Spain. This cheese is made from cow’s milk, specifically the milk of Menorcan cows, a local breed known as “Friesian” or “Mahonesa.” Mahón comes in two distinct varieties: young and soft, with a mild taste, and aged, with a crumbly texture and tangy flavor.
Spanish cheese-makers remain steadfast in their commitment to preserving traditional methods. Many artisanal producers still craft cheeses by hand, using age-old techniques passed down through generations. This dedication not only maintains the authenticity of these cheeses but also safeguards the cultural heritage intertwined with each bite.
Ready to learn more about imported Spanish cheeses, dishes, and wines? Check out our piece here!