Your In-Depth Guide to Spanish Cheese
Cheese is one of the most consumed and produced foods around the world, and Spanish cheese is a perfect example of how popular and delicious it is.
Cheese is an amazing source of calcium, fat, proteins, vitamin A and B-12, zinc, phosphorus and riboflavin. Several studies affirm that the consumption of dairy products, cheese included, can help to protect your teeth from cavities. That’s amazing!
Cheese can be considered a “whole food,” which is unprocessed food (or processed minimally). Whole foods are good for you—but like everything, they have to be eaten within a balanced diet, and not excessively.
Some Cheese History
This wouldn’t be an in-depth guide without a little bit of history to understand where this delicious food came from.
Some theories state that the production of cheese may have been discovered by accident while transporting milk inside ruminant stomachs. Is thought that cheese was discovered around 8,000 BC, when ships were first domesticated, and their stomachs and bladder-like organs were used to transport milk and other liquids.
When cheese was first discovered, it was heavily salted as a form of preservation, especially in areas with hot weather. On the other hand, once cheesemaking spread to other regions, like Northern Europe, less salt was needed for its preservation, which led to cremier and milder cheeses. These kinds of cheese are still consumed to this date.
The first cheese factory was established in Switzerland in 1815 and it changed how cheese was produced and consumed all around the world. Cheese became safer to consume after it was discovered it could be pasteurized, and scientists discovered how to mass-produce “rennet”, the enzyme produced by ruminants’ stomachs that is needed to make cheese. Then, with industrialization, mass produced cheese became the norm.
Cheese in Spain
El queso Español, or Spanish cheese, has a similar history as the other cheese around the world. Thanks to archeological studies, rests of baskets used to curdle the milk have been discovered, and there is proof that farmers and shepherds of several centuries ago used to heat the milk to pasteurize and used sugar to give milk and cheese better taste.
Cheese in Latin America
Even if cheese is widely consumed throughout all Latin America, it isn’t a native product from the region.
Because cheese is a fermented food—a fermented food is that one that is transformed through the controlled growth of microorganisms on it— and it was ideal for travelers, who used to coat cheese in oil to preserve it for months. Cheese was brought to America by the first colonizers in 1492, and later animals used to produce cheese, like goats and cows, were brought too.
Because cheese wasn’t a common food in Latin America, it was slightly modified so the natives would produce and consume it, giving place to the different kinds of cheese now produced in Latin America which became part of the diet and even culture.
Spanish cheese is produced through all Spain, and it is divided in three major regions:
- Northern region
- Eastern region
- Center and southern region
This region consists of Galicia, the Basque Country, the northern Cantabric Mountain Range and the Pyrenees. Cow’s milk cheese is the most common in this region, but sheep’s milk cheese is also produced. This region is called España Verde (Green Spain) by the locals, because of the greenery there.
This region includes all the places eastern to the Pyrenees, like Castilla-León, Castilla La Mancha, Aragón and Extremadura. Sheep’s cheese is produced in this region, and is famous because the newer generations are trying to continue with the traditional techniques of cheese making.
Center and Southern Region
Integrated by the regions alongside the Mediterranean coast, from Catalonia to Andalucía, this region is famous for its goat milk cheese.
On the Canary and Balearic Islands, you will mostly find goat’s milk cheese and mixed milk cheese.
Besides the regions, and how the weather may affect the cheese production, two really important characteristics of Spanish cheese is: the container where cheese is made, that can have several shapes like cones, cylinders, cubes,etc. And the exterior of the cheese, which can be covered by mold, paprika, wine, herbs, oils and wax.
Spanish cheese is primarily made from sheep, cow and goat milk that is produced all year long, through all Spain.
3 Types of Spanish Cheese
This cheese can be divided into three kinds:
- Queso Fresco: This means “fresh cheese” and is a variation where cheese has not been cured or aged.
- Queso Semicurado: Semi-cured cheese is that kind of cheese that is cured for about two to four months before being consumed.
- Queso Curado: Cured cheese has to be cured for four or more months before it can be consumed.
10 Most Popular Kinds of Spanish Cheese
Spain produces more than a 100 kinds of cheese, but here are 10 of the most consumed kinds of Spanish cheese around the world!
1. Queso Manchego
Origin: La Mancha
Milk Source: Sheep
Type: Semi cured and Cured
Manchego Cheese is the best known Spanish cheese, produced only in La Mancha, Spain, and has to comply with several important requirements, like using milk from manchego sheep only, and some analytic requirements like measurements of fat, protein, etc.
Manchego is a hard cheese, relatively sweet and mild, but depending on the curing time, it can have a mildly strong taste. Manchego cheese can also have a touch of salty nuts
2. Queso Cabrales
Milk Source: Sheep, goat and cow
Type: Semi Cured
Cabrales Cheese is produced exclusively on Asturias, and once elaborated, this cheese is taken to natural caves in the region for three or four months to cure it. Most of these caves are 90% humid all the time with a temperature of 10 ºC (50 ºF) which helps the mold that the cheese develops.
Cabrales Cheese is considered a blue cheese, and its taste could be spicy, balanced but intense at the same time. The smell could be pretty strong. And it has blue and green tints throughout the body because of the cheese mold.
3. Queso Pasiego
Milk Source: Cow (sheep occasionally)
The Pasiego cheese is produced in Cantabria, specifically in the Pas and Liebana zones. Actually is produced from pasteurized milk cheese, but can be sometimes mixed with a little bit of sheep milk.
Pasiego cheese is soft and has a circular form. The color of this cheese is white when fresh and a soft yellow when curated for one or two weeks. Pasiego’s taste is soft, semisweet, milky and easy to fund. It smells like fresh milk and it’s consistency is soft and creamy.
4. Queso Idiazabal
Origin: Basque Country and Navarre
Milk Source: Sheep
Idiazabal cheese’s most prominent particularity is that it is made exclusively from whole unpasteurized Laxta and Carranza sheep’s milk. Idiazabal cheese is handmade and cured for a few months before consuming it. It is also covered in a hard, dark brown indelible rind.
The flavor of this cheese is really interesting. After being cured for a short time it develops a nutty, buttery flavor. On the other hand, after being cured for several months, the cheese becomes dry and sharp and can be used for grating.
5. Queso Torta del Casar
Milk Source: Sheep
Torta del Casar means cake of Casar, and it’s name comes from the city Casar de Cáceres. This cheese is made from sheep milk, and has a creamy texture. For a while, this cheese was considered for poor people only, but it has become more popular nowadays.
This is a semi-cured cheese with a semi-hard texture. It has to be cured for 60 days minimum before being consumed. It tastes a little acidic and spicy, and is colored white and yellow.
6. Queso de Tetilla
Milk Source: Cow
Tetilla cheese literally means “small breast cheese” because of its particular form thanks to the containers this cheese rests after being made. It is elaborated in Galicia from cow milk and has to be semi-cured for at least seven days before being consumed.
Tetilla cheese is usually consumed for dessert, with a soft-creamy texture with a clean and mellow, almost buttery taste, and develops a straw-colored rind.
7. Queso de Garrotxa
Milk Source: Goat
Garrotxa cheese was almost extinct for a while! But thanks to young cheesemakers, it’s back and more popular than ever! This cheese is traditionally prepared with Murciana goat’s milk and is cured in caves, which foment the formation of mold and enhance the flavor.
Garrotxa cheese has a powdery-gray or grayish-blue natural grind, a firm texture, and the color is like ivory. This cheese is semi-cured for three to four weeks before being consumed, and has a semi-soft texture. It has a mildly acidic taste, and is usually used to serve tapas or at the end of a meal.
8. Queso Mahón
Milk Source: Cow
Type: Semi-cured and Cured
Texture: Soft to hard
Called Maó Cheese in English, this cheese has its origins in Catalonia, in the port or Maó. This cheese can be divided in two kinds:
- Queso Mahón-Menorca: This one is elaborated with milk treated for conservation and molds are used to give it form.
- Queso Mahón-Menorca Artesano: This is an artesanal form of the Maó cheese. This cheese is made with raw milk and uses a tool called fogasser to give it form.
But whatever kind of Mahón cheese you decide to try, it will have a buttery sharp, slightly salty and lightly aromatic, sweet and nutty. Generally, the rind of this cheese is orange, because it is rubbed with butter, oil or paprika. It reaches maturity after 10 months of curation, and it develops tiny holes and granulation.
9. Queso Majorero
Origin: Fuerteventura Island
Milk Source: Goat
Type: Semi-cured and Cured
Majorero cheese is produced with majorera goat milk. Majorera goats are native to Fuerteventura Island, and their milk is thick, aromatic and high in fats. This cheese can be elaborated with raw or pasteurized milk, and sheep milk can be added in small amounts.
Majorero cheese is characteristic for its diamond shape, that comes from the original braided palm tree mold. This cheese can be curated from eight to 60 days, and it’s aroma and taste is soft and delicious, with acidic tones and a buttery consistency. Is not salty. The cured cheese is more acidic and with a hard rind, meanwhile the semi-cured ones are more mild in taste and texture.
Majorero can be obtained with its natural rind rubbed in three different ways:
- Roasted Gofio
10. Queso de Gamoneu
Milk Source: Goat, Cow and Sheep
Gamoneu cheese is another important and famous cheese from Asturias, Spain. During the 17th Century, Gamoneu cheese was considered an affordable cheese for poor people, and since then it has been produced.
Gamoneu can be considered a blue cheese, is lightly smoked and the natural rind is coloured with some red, green and blue.
3 Types of Latin American Cheese
As stated before in this article, cheese was brought by those who came with Christopher Columbus, and then the animals that can produce cheese to make it easier to produce and consume in the American Continent.
Latin American cheese can be divided into three kinds, somewhat varied from the Spanish cheese:
- Queso Fresco: Like the Spanish cheese, this kind of cheese is not curated, and rarely melt.
- Quesos que se derriten: Cheeses that melt are very popular in Latin America, because it can be paired easily with a lot of latino food, or being eaten as a meal with tortillas.
- Quesos duros: This translates to “hard cheese” and contrary European and North American cheese, these ones are big, hard and easy to crumble.
Unlike Spanish cheeses that have regulations for producing and selling, like using certain sheep breed or producing it only on the original place it was first produced, the Latin American cheeses are produced in several countries, and each place gives the cheese some kind of twist or personalization depending on the milk, the spices, and even the curating methods. So these three kinds of cheeses can be found everywhere but it probably won’t taste the same every time.
10 Most Popular Kinds of Latin American Cheese
Here is a list of 10 popular Latin American cheeses you should try!
1. Queso Provoleta
The Argentinian variation of the provolone cheese, is usually eaten, in Buenos Aires, before the asado argentino, or Argentinian steak. Is made of cow milk, curated for almost four months and has a semi-hard texture.
2. Queso Oaxaca
A Mexican, semi-hard cheese, with a texture similar to mozzarella or string cheese. Normally produced in Oaxaca, Mexico, the oaxaca cheese is one of the most famous and consumed mexican cheeses. Produced with cow milk, and used for meals like quesadillas and empanadas.
3. Queso Chancol
Chancol cheese is inspired by the Italian cheese “grasso d’Alpe”, and is no surprise because the creator of Chancol cheese is Guissepe Asari, an Italian immigrant that lived in Guatemala during the 19th century. Now, two families are in charge of producing and selling Chancol cheese, and is one of the most popular cheeses in Guatemala. It is normally eaten with tortillas negras, or black tortillas as a meal or entree.
This is a Latin American cheese consumed and produced through all the region. It is soft, creamy and granulated. Have a lot of similarities with the Italian ricotta. Could be used to salad dress, as a condiment, and as stuffing. Requesón can be made from cow, sheep and goat milk and is considered a fresh cheese.
5. Queso Panela
Of Mexican origin, the Panela cheese is consumed and produced all around Latin America. Is made with cow milk, is considered a fresh cheese, and is used as an appetizer or like a snack. This cheese doesn’t melt but it can be roasted or fried. In some places it is covered with a garlic and chile paste.
6. Queso Fresco
It means “fresh cheese” and is the kind of cheese that is not curated to be consumed. Queso fresco is also the name used in Latin America to indicate a type of cheese. It can be elaborated with sheep, cow and goat milk and is a soft, milky and mild cheese. In Guatemala, el queso fresco is consumed with tortillas and eaten as a snack or as part of the breakfast or dinner with beans and eggs.
7. Queso de Freir
Traditional in the Dominican Republic, this cheese is perfect for the traditional queso frito, or fried cheese. Is a soft cheese, with a soft, salty and acidic taste. The melting point of this cheese is quite high, so it is perfect to fry.
8. Queso Campesino
From Colombia, the Campesino cheese is a semi-soft, low on fat cheese. Elaborated from cow milk, it has a white color, with a soft and creamy consistency.
9. Queso Blanco
Popular in Panama, the queso blanco, or white cheese is a popular cheese consumed with toast, tortillas, bread for a snack or a meal. The preparation process can take from 4 to 7 hours. Is made from pasteurized cow’s milk and is considered a fresh cheese. Is color white, with a soft texture.
10. Queso Cotija
Considered as one of the principal Mexican cheeses, Cotija is a hard cheese elaborated from cow’s milk with a curation time of three months. Cotija’s texture is firm, granulated or easy to cut. It has a natural rind and is one of few Latin American cheeses that has regulations to be produced to protect the handmade way it is done and the fame of the cheese.
Some Spanish Cheese Vocabulary
This wouldn’t be an “in depth” guide if you don’t learn a little bit of vocabulary, right? So here is a short but really important vocabulary on cheese:
|El queso fresco||Fresh cheese|
|El queso curado||Curated cheese|
|El queso semicurado||Semi-curated cheese|
|El queso cheddar||Cheddar cheese|
|El queso mozzarella||Mozzarella cheese|
|El queso parmesano||Parmesan cheese|
|El queso derretido||Melted cheese|
|El queso americano||American cheese|
|El queso crema||Cream cheese|
|La tabla de quesos||Cheeseboard|
|El queso duro||Hard cheese|
|El queso suave||Soft cheese|
|El queso Azul||Blue cheese|
|El queso semi-suave||Semi-soft cheese|
|El suero de leche||Buttermilk|
|Queso artesanal||Handmade cheese|
So Much More Cheese to Discover!
Cheese is a food that is consumed all around the world, and even if this in-depth guide tried to cover the most popular ones, several delicious cheeses were left out. Which cheese missed my list? And which cheese will you be trying next? Leave me a comment below and tell me all about it!
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