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FOOD & DRINK

A bite-sized guide to Spanish cheeses

Spain may not be as famous as France or Italy when it comes to cheeses, but it actually produces a wide variety of world-class products. Here’s everything you need to know about Spain’s designation of origin cheeses.

A bite-sized guide to Spanish cheeses
Your guide to Spanish cheeses. Photo: Vane Monte / Pixabay

Spain is in fact the third country within the European Union with the most variety of cheeses, just behind France and Italy. There are currently 26 kinds of cheese throughout the country which are certified as denominaciones de origen protegidas or Protected Domination of Origin cheeses (DOPs).

You’ll find DOP cheeses in 13 regions across the country from Galicia to Murcia and even in the Balearic and Canary Islands. Here’s our guide to all the DOP Spanish cheeses so you can be better informed next time you browse the queso aisle at the market.

Los quesos de España con Denominación de Origen

Galicia

Tetilla cheese – The most famous of the Galician cheeses is Tetilla, known for its unique shape which resembles a breast, hence the name. It’s made from cow’s milk and is both light and soft with a salty and mild taste.

ArzúaUlloa – This cow’s milk cheese means ‘cheese from the land’ and is both pale and soft and creamy. It’s often eaten as a dessert cheese and is also great for melting.

San Simón da Costa – This smoked cheese is made from pasteurised cow’s milk and is made in the area of Lugo. It’s known for its iconic tear-drop shape and is semi-hard with a buttery and woody texture.

Cebreiro cheese – This soft white cheese is made from the milk of Galician blonde cows, as well as the Alpine brown variety. It has a bulging mushroom shape and can be aged for up to 45 days. It has a milky, yet slightly spicy flavour.

READ ALSO – MAP: How well do you know your Spanish cheeses?

Asturias

Cabrales – The most well-known of Asturian cheeses is Cabrales, a blue cheese which can either be made from unpasteurised cow’s milk or mixed with sheep or goat milk. It’s semi-hard but has a creamy texture with a sharp acidic taste. It’s often used for melting into sauces or made into croquetas.

Gamonéu – Gamonéu or Gamonedo cheese as it’s sometimes referred to is a fatty blue cheese from Asturias. It has a slightly smoky flavour and is made from a combination of cow, sheep and goat milk. There are two different varieties – Gamonéu del Puertu, which is hard and Gamonéu del Valle, which is rich and creamy.

Los Beyos – This cheese is typically produced in the Picos de Europa mountain range and is a hard or semi-hard cheese made from either cow, sheep or goat milk which is matured over 20 to 60 days. Its flavours include grass and herbs with a tangy aftertaste.

Afuega’l pitu – Made from unpasteurised cow’s milk, this is one of the oldest cheeses in Asturias, whose origin can be traced all the way back to the 18th century. It has a creamy, acidic flavour with a yellowish-white rind or sometimes orange if paprika is added.

Casín – A full cream cheese made from unpasteurised cow’s milk, this cheese is made in a unique way by kneading the curds. It smells of cured butter and has a slightly spicy and bitter taste.

Cantabria

Nata de Cantabria – A soft cream cheese, it’s made from Fresian cow’s milk in Cantabria. It’s both light and mild and is often eaten for dessert or used for melting.

Picón BejesTresviso – This unique blue cheese is made with raw cow, sheep and goat milk and has a strong intense flavour. It’s matured in caves found in Liébana region for a minimum of two months. 

Catalunya

Alt Urgell y la Cerdanya – Produced in the eastern Pyrenees, it was invented at the beginning of the 20th century and is made from pasteurised milk from Fresian cows, which is matured for one month. It is creamy and sweet with a mild flavour.

Basque Country

Idiazabal – The Basque Country’s most famous cheese can be found used in dishes all over the region, from risottos to desserts. It’s made from unpasteurised sheep’s milk from Latxa and Carranzana sheep. It’s an aged cheese with a very slightly smoky flavour.

La Rioja

Camerano – Produced in the Sierra de Cameros in La Rioja, this cheese has been made in the region for over 700 years. It’s made from goat’s milk and is aged over 75 days, giving it an aromatic and earthy flavour.

Navarra

Roncal – Made in the Roncal Valley, it was the first of the Spanish cheeses to gain DOP-protected status. It’s made using raw sheep cheese from the Rasa and Lacha breeds and is aged for six months. It has a velvety smooth texture and is covered with veins of blue mould.

Castilla-La Mancha

Manchego – Perhaps the most famous of all Spanish cheese is Manchego, hailing from the region of Castilla-La Mancha. It’s a hard cheese made from Manchega sheep milk and is aged between 60 days and two years. It has a slightly nutty and tangy flavour and you can often find it served by the slice on its own on tapas menus.

Castilla y León

Zamorano – This sheep’s cheese is made in the province of Zamora and is a hard cheese which takes six months to mature. It’s similar to Castellano or Manchego cheese with a nutty flavour and crumbly texture.

Valdeón – This blue cheese from León is made in the northeast of the province and is made from either cow or sheep milk or a mixture of both. It’s often wrapped in sycamore maple or chestnut leaves before being sold.

Castellano – Similar in flavour and texture to the famous Manchego, this is a sheep’s milk cheese is rich, as well as crumbly and dry. It is aged for six months and has notes of butterscotch and nuts.

Extremadura

Ibores – Made from unpasteurised goat’s milk this rich cheese is aged for two months and is treated with smoked paprika and olive oil during the ageing process. It’s made in Extremdura, however, is loved throughout the country.

Torta del Casar – Made using traditional techniques and raw sheep’s milk, this is a unique cheese because of its semi-hard exterior and very soft and creamy interior, which you’ll find when you open it up. It’s both aromatic and intense with a slightly bitter aftertaste.

La Serena – La Serena is a cheese made from Merino sheep’s milk and is made in the Extremaduran area of La Serena, from which it’s named. It has a strong, bitter and sharp flavour and is matured for at least 60 days. Fully matured cheeses are soft and creamy and can be scooped out with a spoon.

Murcia

Murcia al vino – Lovers of cheese and wine can have both in this unique cheese from Murcia. A very popular cheese, it’s made from unpasteurised goat’s milk from Murcian breeds. The cheese is soaked in red wine during ripening, which gives it a slightly acidic and floral aroma.

Balearics

Maó or Mahón cheese – From the island of Menorca, this white cheese, made from cow’s milk, is semi-hard. It’s both crumbly and dense with a buttery, salty flavour and is aged for two to three months.

Canary Islands

Palmero – Made on the island of La Palma, Palmero cheese is made from unpasteurised goat’s milk who are allowed to graze year round on wild plants. It’s slightly smoked and has been made on the island for centuries.

Flor de Guía – A cheese from the island of Gran Canaria, it’s made from Canarian sheep milk, with a mixture of cow and goat milk added in. It can either be soft or semi-hard and is curdled using vegetable rennet made from dried flower heads.

Majorero – The first Canary Island cheese to be awarded the designation of origin label, Majorero is from Fuerteventura and is made from the milk of the native island goat. During the ripening process, it’s covered with sea salt, paprika, gofio flour or oil and it has an intensely creamy texture.

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FOOD & DRINK

Droughts threaten Spain’s iconic jamón ibérico

Climate change is threatening the production of one of Spain's most famous gastronomical delights - its much-loved cured ham.

Droughts threaten Spain's iconic jamón ibérico

Every year around 6 million cured pigs’ legs are sold in Spain, according to the country’s Association of Iberian Pigs (Asici). Jamón, whether as a tapas dish or proudly displayed as a full leg in someone’s kitchen over Christmas, is about as Spanish as it gets.

Along with tortilla de patatas (Spanish omelette) and paella, it is probably the most iconic food offered by Spanish gastronomy. 

READ ALSO: The ultimate guide to buying a leg of ‘jamón’ in Spain at Christmas

But Spain’s world-renowned jamón ibérico is facing increasingly tough market conditions and now the iconic Spanish cured ham could be under threat from droughts.

In the summer of 2022, Spain was scorched by record temperatures and its reservoirs were drained. Though the water levels of Spanish reservoirs began to refill during the rainier winter months, and are already at 50.9 percent of their capacity, according to the latest data, climate change makes it likely that Spain will suffer high heat and droughts more frequently during its summers – something that could have a big impact on the jamón industry.

Know your jamones

An important point on jamón you’ll usually find either jamón serrano or ibérico, with the latter being considered of a higher standard and taste, as it’s from a Spanish breed of cerdo ibérico (Iberian pig) which eat only acorns that are rich in oleic acid (a healthy fat) and the process by which the meat is cured is more artisanal.

And acorns are where the problem comes in.

Put simply, droughts are shrinking the areas where pigs graze and reducing the number of acorns, which in turn reduces the weight of the pigs. When combined with all the other various external economic pressures, the jamón business is quickly becoming unprofitable

“The pigs lack weight and it restricts us quite a lot,” Rodrigo Cárdeno, from Explotaciones Agropecuarias Cárdeno, told Spanish news outlet RTVE. “We are talking about an animal that should be 90kg going into October and leave in January at around 150 kilos.”

READ MORE: How drought is threatening Spain’s ‘green gold’ harvest

In certain parts of Spain, farmers have been forced to increase their grazing land to be able to maintain the slaughter this season, which can often be around 3,000 acorn-fed pigs per season.

Some farms, however, have not been able to do this and have had to reduce the number of pigs as a result.

Both options hit profitability, in addition to the broader pressures on production and energy costs felt by all sectors.

“We are heading towards the ruin of the sector, expenses have equalled income and it is a disaster,” Emilio Muñoz, manager of Ilunion Ibéricos de Arzuaga, in Grandada, explained to RTVE.

As a result, experts estimate that 20 percent fewer acorn-fed pigs will be slaughtered this season than last.

Price rises

It is likely the shortage will have an impact on the price of jamón ibérico moving forward. 

“This means that in four years’ time, when these acorn-fed pigs reach the market, there will be less available and it will be a scarcer product,” Alfredo Subietas, general manager of Ilunion Ibéricos Arzuaga, told the news channel.

This is a price increase that will be passed onto consumers, so if you want to enjoy the best jamón ibérico in the future, you’ll likely have to pay even more.

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