At Christmas it seems that there are products that are essential. Beyond the traditional dishes, which can vary according to the region and the family, when Christmas shopping is done there are things that cannot be missed, especially when thinking about the appetizers. Some of those typical products I would start to question, but yes a few gourmet cheeses are worth choosing to celebrate at parties.
I consider cheese to be one of the greatest inventions of humanity and it fascinates me to continue discovering new varieties, with many producers who continue to defend artisan production. With all the varieties that we can get and with specialties of such high quality, we are going to take advantage of Christmas to invest in some really special cheeses to share at the table. Here we have a good selection to choose from.
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Very good cheese is made in Spain, and we have to take advantage of it. With so many different regions and a very long artisan tradition, our country can boast of producing exceptional quality cheeses and with a good variety for all tastes. Whether using purely artisanal techniques or taking advantage of modern technologies, there is a national cheese for every palate.
I have the feeling that the value of good cheeses is recovering and there are more and more specialized stores and small producers that are betting on good products. As with bread or coffee, when it is category cheese becomes a gourmet product to appreciate it with value for its own sake. In addition to the 28 Denominations of Origin that we have in Spain, there are many more cheeses that are worthwhile. This is an interesting selection to start with.
- Manchego cheese. I would say that it is the most famous internationally, increasingly known and valued as a gourmet product. It is made with La Mancha sheep’s milk and offers different levels of curing, between 30 days and a maximum of two years.
- Idiazabal. Made in the Basque Country and Navarra with Latxa and Carranzana sheep’s milk, it is a cheese with a minimum maturation of two months, and can be smoked.
- Torta del Casar. Extremadura specialty based on raw sheep’s milk, with a light semi-hard crust that keeps a very creamy heart, a succulent delicacy. With intense aromas and unique texture, it is perfect to serve by spoonfuls, spread in appetizers or make sauces and fillings.
- Nipple. One of the most famous Galician cheeses, perhaps partly because of its name and its curious shape, but which does not detract from its quality. With a very thin and yellow rind, the pasta is pale yellow in color and has a somewhat creamy texture, very soft and juicy. The aromas are not intense but they are fresh, from fermented dairy such as yogurt and butter. It is sweet and balanced, with a slightly spicy mouthfeel.
- San Simon Da Costa. Also conical in shape, this Galician cheese is distinguished by presenting a more stylized conical shape and having a darker color. It has a smoky touch of birch wood that adds a lot of flavor to a springy and very buttery texture. It is somewhat more intense in aromas than the previous one, but also with balanced sweet notes.
- Cebreiro. Fresh Galician cheese shaped like a mushroom or cap, pasteurized Galician Rubia, Pardo Alpina and Friesian cow’s milk is used, all indigenous. White, grainy and soft paste, it has a humidity higher than 50%.
- Goat cheese with wine. Murcian product made with pasteurized goat milk of the Murcian-Granada breed, with different degrees of curing, although it is normally marketed semi-cured. The rind is bathed in red wine, giving it its typical color and providing a very characteristic aroma and flavor to the cheese. Goat cheeses with rosemary rind, paprika and other spices are also made.
- Arzúa Ulloa. Galician cheese made from raw or pasteurized cow’s milk, with a cylindrical shape with rounded edges. The crust is thin and elastic and the paste is homogeneous, sometimes with small eyes. Semigraso, is a cheese with a soft intensity, with aromas of fresh butter or yogurt and a sweet and fresh flavor, which passes to aromas of almond in the most cured cheeses.
- Majorero cheese. Originally from Fuerteventura, this Canarian cheese made from raw or pasteurized majorera goat milk sometimes also incorporates local sheep’s milk. Pressed, cylindrical paste, with a slightly spicy and acid flavor, with a smooth and creamy texture.
- Afuega’L Pitu. With a curious name, this cow cheese has four different varieties in the shape of a truncated pyramid or pumpkin. It has an intense flavor, with sweet and fresh notes, sometimes with spicy touches. It has a semi-soft paste and a more or less accentuated grainy texture, depending on the variety and the degree of curing.
- Mahon. Mahon cheese is a Menorcan product of ancient origin that is made with freshly milked raw cow’s milk. There are two varieties, the artisan and the reserve, with a maturation that ranges from two to ten months. It is a high intensity cheese, with complex flavors and aromas that range from sweet to spicy notes, with hints of nuts and salty flavors. The texture of the most cured is crumbly, with a semi-hard compact paste.
- Roncal. Known as shepherd’s cheese, it is a Navarrese cheese produced very locally in the valley that gives it its name, made from raw milk from Rasa and Latxa sheep. It is cylindrical, with a pale yellow rind and a firm but cold paste, somewhat sandy, with a very characteristic aroma reminiscent of cereals with floral notes and a touch of spice.
- Gamonéu or Gamonedo. Less well known than the also delicious Cabrales, it is a blue cheese that fortunately increasingly extends its prestige throughout the country. Large, semi-hard and smoked Asturian cheese, produced in the cabins of the ports of Onís and Cangas de Onís, with intense aromas.
- Picón Bejes-Tresviso. Blue Cantabrian cheese matured in limestone caves, with mixtures of cow, goat and sheep’s milk. It has a slightly spicy flavor that depends on the milk mixture used, and its paste is compact but creamy, with some eyes and blue streaks.
- Stump. Traditional from the Maestrazgo de Castellón and Teruel, its name comes from the town of the same name. It is prepared with raw goat or sheep milk, and is easily recognized by its frustoconical shape, with concavities at the base and top. Straw yellow in color, the pasta is firm and homogeneous, not very elastic but not excessively floury. It has herbaceous and floral aromas, more pronounced in those of sheep’s milk, with a long, slightly spicy aftertaste.
- Payoyo or Grazalema. Andalusian cheese increasingly valued, from Cádiz. It is made with milk from Merino sheep and Payoya goat, native to the Sierra de Grazalema in Cadiz.
Swiss and Austrian cheeses
It’s hard not to see mountains full of green meadows, cows, and cheeses when you think of Switzerland. The cattle tradition of the small mountainous country is centuries old and the cheese industry is one of the most important in the country, with some 450 different Swiss cheeses. Almost half of cow’s milk is used to make cheeses, many of which follow traditional techniques in historic cheese factories. It is worth visiting some of the centers where the cheese culture is shared with the visitor, even the farmers are usually delighted to open their facilities.
- Gruyère. Originally from the Freiburg area, in the west of the country, it is a hard cheese with a firm, compact paste without holes, with a strong aromatic intensity that intensifies according to the degree of curing. Various varieties are made, soft, cured, semi-cured or surchoix, and it cannot be missing in a good fondue. Widely used in sauces and hot dishes, also as an aperitif. It is elastic but firm and somewhat pasty on the palate, with a slightly fruity aroma.
- Appenzeller. It receives the name of the same canton where it is traditionally made following artisan techniques of several hundred years. It is one of the most appreciated cheeses in Switzerland, with a very limited and controlled production. Its unmistakable flavor is achieved by leaving it for three months in a herbal brine whose recipe is a jealously guarded secret. There are different levels of curing, with some cheeses spicier and others softer and sweeter. It is soft, not rough, crumbly and moist on the palate, elastic and with aromas of nuts and grasses.
- Tête de Moine. Literally, “monk’s head.” It is a very striking cheese because to serve it, it is cut into thin slices using a special device, the girolle or the pirouette, which scratches the cheese. When it comes into contact with air, the texture of the cheese changes and allows all the aromas to develop. The rosettes are very showy and are usually presented on cheese boards or to crown appetizers. It has many aromas of dried fruits, with toasted and spicy touches, mixed with sweeter fruity notes. Its texture is smooth and elastic.
- Emmentaler. Swiss Emmental cheese is famous for its big eyes and is so named because it comes from the valley of the Emme River, in the area of Bern, the capital. According to tradition, it is made in rural cheese factories with milk from cows fed exclusively on hay and grass, producing large cheeses. There are different degrees of curing with different flavors and aromas, usually sweet and somewhat fruity, with good elasticity on the palate.
- Sbrinz. It is an extremely hard cheese, of very ancient origin, made in the central area. It has a very intense aroma and a very pronounced and complex flavor, thanks to the minimum maturation of 18 months. It can be served in three different ways, grated, broken into small irregular pieces or cut into thin rolls.
- Vacherin Fribourgeois. Freiburg cheese, essential in a good Swiss selection – my father’s words -. It is aromatic but soft, with notes of the typical grasses and herbs of the region, with a juicy and unctuous texture. It is a creamy cheese that delights even the most cheese makers, tasted naturally, but it also melts wonderfully.
- Gailtaler Almkäse. Austrian cheese from the Upper Gailtal mountains, made from raw cow’s milk to which you can also add goat’s milk. Wheel-shaped, it is a long-maturing cheese with a firm and unctuous paste, with intense spicy aromas …