In Spain we are fortunate to have so many quality cheeses that sometimes a cheese encyclopedia is needed to get to know them all. This is the case of Galicia, the birthplace of excellent quality cheeses, with no more and no less than four cheeses with Designation of Origin, as well as others without this honour but just as spectacular. Without underestimating other wonderful Galician dishes such as octopus a feira or lacón con grelos, the cheese has become another of Galicia‘s characteristic emblems. But… Which cheeses from this review do you know or have you had the pleasure of trying?
The Arzúa-Ulloa Designation of Origin is perhaps one of the least known, but not in Galicia, where it is most popular. The geographical area in which it is produced under this category covers 24 municipalities located between the provinces of La Coruña, Lugo and Pontevedra. In fact, such is its popularity that two festivals a year are held around this rich product. One of them is the Festa do Queixo (Cheese Festival), held in the municipality of Arzúa since 1975. On the other hand, in the region of Ulloa there is an annual fair around the figure of Arzúa-Ulloa cheese where, as there are three town halls, each year a different town is chosen to celebrate it.
Made exclusively from cow’s milk, there are three different types within the D.O. One is the traditional Arzúa-Ulloa, a soft cheese with a ripening period of at least six days. Another is the Arzúa-Ulloa de Granxa, which has the particularity that it is made with raw or pasteurised milk from their own cows. As it ages, it acquires a very characteristic butter aroma. Finally, the Arzúa-Ulloa Curado, known in Galicia as “queixo do ano”, as it used to be a cheese that was kept from one year to the next.
Made in the province of Lugo, Cebreiro cheese is another of those with a Designation of Origin. Its production covers 13 municipalities. In a mountain climate, its production has a monastic origin related to the municipality of O Cebreiro, an important town in the French Way to Santiago, as it is the gateway to Galicia. A particularity shared with the previous one, since Arzúa is another famous Jacobean town. When it was only a village, it was the first monks who lived there who made it.
Such was their fame that, during the reign of Charles III, two dozen cheeses from Cebreiro were sent to Portugal every year to be tasted by the Portuguese Royal House. It is a dairy product whose weight can vary from 300 grams to 2 kilos. It is a cheese that can be found both tender, when it has a more milky taste, and aged, when it has a spicier taste.
However, one of the best known is Tetilla cheese, also protected by the D.O. label. It is known for being one of the cheeses most closely related to Galicia. Its shape is one of the most famous as far as these products are concerned because, as its name indicates, it is a cheese with a conical image. This particular aspect is the result of the funnels in which the milk is left to curdle. It is made mainly with pasteurised milk from Galician cows and the minimum ripening period is seven days.
The pieces can weigh up to one kilogram, and their flavour is smooth and creamy. Due to its soft texture, it can also be eaten spread on toast. Its origin is curious and dates back to the 1st century A.D., when the Roman writer and soldier Pliny spoke about some very tasty cheeses from Gallaecia. He called them mamulas lactem, that is, milky breasts. According to other experts, Tetilla cheese originated in a nunnery in the 11th century.
San Simón da Costa cheese is a smoked cheese whose shape is similar to that of Tetilla cheese. Its production under the Designation of Origin belongs to the province of Lugo, in the region of Tierra Llana. Its use during the Middle Ages, when it was used as a means of payment of tithes and forums, is unique. Thus, the origin of this cheese is related to the villages of Castro that lived in the mountains of the Xistral and A Carba mountains.
Of all the cheeses mentioned above, it is the one that requires the longest ripening period. For the larger sizes, a minimum of 45 days is required. After the maturation of the product, its elaboration is finished with the smoking; for which birch wood without bark is always used. Therefore, it is not surprising that it has a characteristic wood aroma. It is also very low in fat and has a mild flavour. Experts say that it goes well with young red wines, being perfect as an appetizer.
Although Requeixo cheese does not have D.O., it is one of the most popular cheeses in Galicia. No wonder why. Little is known about its origin; but its simple production soon made it a favourite of some of the most humble Galician houses. Many of these families had cows among their livestock, so preparing the Requeixo was no problem. Afterwards, it was served with a piece of bread. Sometimes, it was used as a snack by pouring some honey on it. However, in the past, it was called leite callado (drinkable milk), leite mazado (buttermilk) or leite trallado (smagado milk).
Nowadays it is usually served on its own or with sweet complements. So much so that it is the protagonist, along with honey, of a gastronomic festival held in Pontevedra, in the municipality of As Neves: the Feira do Requeixo e do Mel. In this town, the wild landscape has facilitated the development of this highly valued cottage cheese; for which only whole cow’s milk is used.