Catavino keeps you current not only with the remarkable wine developments in Spain and Portugal, two of the most dynamic wine producers on the planet, but you'll learn about food trends, new dishes and restaurants and the ancient and modern cultures on the Iberian Peninsula. And you may not notice it, but Catavino also happens to be one of smoothest designed websites you'll have the pleasure of visiting.
Doug Frost MS/MW http://dougfrost.com

A Foreigner’s Guide to Spanish Cheese: Goat/Cabra (Part 2 of 5)

Growing up in Florida during the 1970’s and 1980’s I rarely, if ever, saw a cheese from an animal other than a cow. Our refrigerator was full of Cheddar, Swiss, and Jack cheeses but nary a cheese from any other animal. I suspect that most people living in the U.S. during that time were experiencing a similar dilemma but, like myself, were either ignorant or oblivious to what others were savoring across the Atlantic. It was not until I moved to San Diego in the early 1990’s that my eyes (and tastes) began to open. During my time in Spain my tastes broadened even further. Are you telling me they make cheese from something other than a bovine? Well, bring them on! Hopefully, this series will nudge you to try something new as well. Enter the sprightly goat…

Goat cheese has been made for thousands of years. It is believed to be one of the earliest made dairy products. The goat is frequently referred to as the poor man’s cow in Spain, due, in part, to its independent and almost fanatical characteristics. For centuries (as well as today) it accompanied Spanish shepherds. Rural families normally owned a herd of goats which supplied them with milk and cheese. The goat is well-suited to Spain as it is accustomed to the hot, dry climate Mediterranean climate.  As a result, numerous breeds and cross-breeds of goat are found virtually all over Spain.

In its simplest form, goat cheese is made when raw milk is allowed to naturally curdle. It is then drained and the curds are pressed. More modern methods such as using acids (vinegar or lemon juice) or rennet (a natural complex of enzymes produced to digest the mother’s milk) are also used to coagulate the milk. Goat’s milk cheeses range from the fresh where they may just be hung to drain and cure for days or aged where they are brined (to form a rind) and then stored in a cool place for some months to cure. Click here to learn more about a Catalan goat cheese producer.

Fresh cheeses can be found predominantly in Asturias and along the Mediterranean coast – from Cataluña to the Levante. Heading south on also finds fresh cheeses in Murcia; yet this area also produces an incredible wine-dipped cured cheese. The high mountainous regions of Andalucia – Almería, Málaga, Cádiz, and Sevilla – also are amongst major cheese-producing areas (many of these cheeses are cured in olive oil). North of Andalucia in Extremadura the cheeses mirror the characteristic open land of the central Spanish mountain ranges. Finally, in the Canary Islands (where goats have been bred for centuries) both fresh and cured raw milk cheeses from a local breed are produced.

In “researching” the cheeses for this section I found that goat milk cheeses were the most readily available locally (and through many online retailers). As a result, I chose six cheeses to sample. Additionally, since we rarely eat cheese without some great wine, I have included five wines (both white and red) which I found to pair very nicely with these cheeses. Serve these cheeses with some baguette slices or a hunk of country bread and some fruit (fresh or dried).

Goat Milk Cheeses

Garrotxa: One of my favorite of all the Spanish cheeses, this is an artisan, unpasteurized hard cheese from north-central Cataluña. It comes in a gray, felt-like wheel and has a bone-white interior. This cheese has a very smooth texture and a tangy, and somewhat, grassy flavor laced with hints of hazelnuts.

Vare: Made in the mountainous region of Asturias, this pasteurized goat’s milk cheese is cured for approximately 2 months. Vare has a sweet (almost fruity) flavor with a clean and smooth flavor. The animals diet of grass and herbs subtly express themselves in the cheese as well. This one is a little harder to find but worth a try when you do.

Monte Enebro: At first sight one is almost certainly put off by the sight of this pasteurized goat’s milk cheese from Avila. Once formed, the cheese logs are inoculated with the same mold used in making Roquefort. The rind – composed of ash and mold – imparts a wonderfully distinctive flavor throughout. As this cheese ages the young, creamy, slightly acidic cheese gives way to a slightly more dense and intense flavor profile. Do not be put off by this cheese’s appearance. It is a delicious cheese as well as an extremely versatile cheese to pair with wine.

Cabra al Vino (Drunken Goat): In Murcia (along the Eastern coast) an incredibly sweet and smooth cheese is produced of pasteurized milk and aged for approximately 75 days. This semi-soft artisan cheese is soaked in Doble Pasta (red) wine for up to 72 hours producing a burgundy/violet, edible rind. Drunken Goat has a sweet, smooth flavor. Dried apricots paired particularly well with this cheese.

Caprichio de Cabra: Resembling a French Chevre, this soft and smooth is produced from Murciana goats (primarily found in Jumilla and Yecla in Murcia along the Mediterranean coast). The milk has a higher fat content with higher percentages of protein which gives this cheese its creamy texture. An extremely flavorful cheese with a somewhat sweet finish, it also comes rolled in crushed green peppercorns or fine herbs.

De Cal Bardines: These small and creamy goat cheese balls are made from pasteurized milk and blended with fresh garlic and parsley. Somewhat similar in creaminess to the Caprichio de Cabra, these goat cheese nuggets are incredibly tasty and are an extremely versatile cheese to pair with tapas and wine.

Wine Pairing Recommendations

The tart, tangy and creamy goat cheeses were a joy to pair. Preferring wines with a body and complexity, I found that the wines below served to complement the aforementioned cheeses quite well. I would recommend any (or all) of them. (Check out Wine Searcher or your local retailer for more information on where to find them.)

2009 Odysseus Pedro Ximenez (Priorat): {100% Pedro Ximenez} Normally used in the production of sweet wines in Andalucia this wine is a treat! Straw-colored with light hints of stone fruits on the nose. On the palate flavors of apricot, tangerine, and a bit of lemon zest are accompanied by balanced minerality and light acidity. One of the best all-around wines for the cheeses tasted, the Odysseus is a unique and delicious white wine.

2006 Norte (Navarra): {50% Merlot, 50% Cabernet Sauvignon} Aged six months in oak barrels; ruby red, aromas and flavors of black fruit (blackberries/blueberries); lightly smoky with expressive tannins and a long, smooth finish. This wine is a great pair for a variety of goat’s milk cheeses.

2007 La Tercera (Rioja): {80% Tempranillo, 20% Garnacha} Leaning towards classicly-styled Riojas this wine exudes aromas of ripe redi fruits, earth, and spice. On the palate, these ripe fruits have a bit of sweetness to them as well as hints of earth and spicebox; light acidity and a full mouthfeel leads to a medium finish of cherries. This wine is extremely versatile.

2001 Cataregia Gran Reserva (Terra Alta): {70% Tempranillo, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon} Ruby red color with aromas of ripe fruit and smoke; extremely easy to drink with flavors of ripe red fruits, vanilla, and oak on the palate. Nice full body with smooth finish. A truly excellent wine!

2006 Heredad Soliterra (Priorat): {60% Cariñena, 30% Garnacha, 10% Syrah} Garnet color and intriguing hints of coffee, cocoa, and smoke on the nose. On the palate dark fruits and a hint of coffee are round and full-bodied in the mouth with solid tannins and bit of a dry finish. This wine is a very pleasant introduction to the Priorat.

Where to find these and other cheeses:

Whole Foods Market – Stores nationwide

Dean & Deluca – NYC stores (ships nationwide)

Murray’s Cheese – NYC stores (ships nationwide)

La Tienda – Virginia store (ships nationwide)

D’España – NYC store (ships nationwide)

La Española – LA store (ships nationwide)

The world of Spanish cheese is vast and growing. Many of the best artisan cheeses are now becoming available outside the country. If you have been weary of goat’s milk cheeses in the past take this opportunity to expand your tastes. Hop in the car, step on the subway, climb on a horse, or open your web browser and get to your nearest cheese shop to explore what is available.

Part 1: Guide to Spanish Cheese
Part 2: Guide to Spanish Goat/Cabra Cheese
Part 3: Guide to Spanish Cow/Vaca Cheese
Part 4: Guide to Spanish Sheep/Oveja Cheese
Part 5: Guide to Spanish Mixed / Mixto Cheese

Enjoy!

Rick Fisher

  • Victormichaelbarber

    Rick,

    Great info. My wife and I love Spain, its food, culture and people.
    I will seek out some of your cheeses you mention in your blog. Check out my tortilla Espanola recipe.

    I think it will go great with some of your wine and cheese selections.

    http://loribarber.com/2010/10/tortilla-espanola/