I love blue cheese. Personality, complexity and subtleties. What’s not to enjoy when paired with a bold red or a porter or stout beer?
In Spain, Cabrales is the cheese everyone references as the Spanish blue. It is assertive. I love blues but this one is over the top and not in a favorable way. Let’s say it’s an acquired taste. Produced in the same region as Cabrales, the Picos de Europa region, is Valdeón. Although it stands in its shadow it is not weak. Surely not as bold it is still no wallflower. It is salty, sharp and certainly rich and creamy–full-flavored as a blue tends to be. If you are familiar with this category of cheeses you will find it stronger than Stilton (England) but less intense than Cabrales (thankfully).
Wheels of Valdeón are wrapped in sycamore maple leaves, lending to its distinctive appearance and complex flavor. It is perfect paired with cured meats, dried fruit or as a sauce on top of a steak. Produced with cow and goat’s milk, that has been pasteurized or sometimes it is raw. The former is aged two months while the pasteurized receives at least a month and a half.
Cheese educator, Janet Fletcher, who led a recent Spanish cheese tasting suggested that in cheese shops Valdeón and Cabrales are confused. She shared that retailers sometimes label Valdeon as Cabrales, possibly out of ignorance, or maybe because they think it will sell better under the more familiar name. One proof point on what you’re buying is that you want to check for the maple leaves as Cabrales is always wrapped in foil.
Smoked Paprika-Rubbed Steaks with Valdeon Butter
Serrano Ham, Peas, Haircot Vert Salad with Valdeon
Milk: Cow and Goat
Age: 2 months
Pairing: IPA Beer, Sauternes, medium bodied red such as Gamay
Standing in the understudy role for Manchego is this intense and bold. Traditionally, the orange rindcolor comes from the six-pound wheels being rubbed in a mixture of butter, Spanish paprika and oil. Aged for 12 months, which earns it the “reserva” name, in the caves on the island of Menorca in the Balearic Islands this hard cheese, carries a salty, buttery, sweet nutty character to its taste profile. The cheese crumbles like Parmigiano. On tasting it I received a toasty sweetness like butterscotch with a peppery finish. I’m told that this is less about the paprika and more about the amino acids that show up during the aging process. The younger version of this cheese is similar to a Gouda. Really a delightful cheese that could trip up some, thinking it was a manchego.
Milk: Raw, Cow
Pairing: Doppleback beer, bold red wine
I was pleasantly surprised by this creamy buffalo milk cheese from Spain. Pere and Imma, the cheese makers, who began making this cheese in 1989 with milk from their own herd at their farmhouse Montbrú in Moià, near Barcelona. Named after their son, Oriol, who has since taken over as cheesemaker. This cheese is young and sweet with a medium texture that crumbles a bit. Formed into small wheels it has a slight covering of blue-gray mold of Roquefort penicillin similar to Garrotxa, a pressed and hard goat cheese from Catalunya. Worth seeking out for its overall uniqueness and taste. Pair with a Saison or a light red or cava.
Region/Country: Catalunya/Catalonia | Spain
Milk: Water Buffalo
Pairings: Saison beer, light red wine, sparkling wine such as Spanish Cava