Monday, May 23, 2011

Cheese: Iberico

Iberico cheese is produced in the province of Valladolid in central Spain. 
It is touted as the number one cheese in Spain. It is not yet a DOC (denomination of origin certification) cheese, but an application has been made. It is a blend of cow, goat and sheep milk and the combination varies based on the weather, season and breeding patterns of the goats and sheep. 
It must have a minimum of 50% cow milk, 30% goat milk and 10% sheep milk (which totals 90% giving a fluctuation of 10%). One site I read says that the cow milk provides "the flavor and acidity while the goats' milk provides the slightly tart flavor and the whiter color and the sheep milk adds the richness and buttery consistency due to its higher fat content." Another site says that the goat milk adds a "mildly zesty" flavor and the "more sheep's milk in the cheese, the better the cheese." It is aged from one to six months and given a dark plastic outer rind similar to Manchego cheese, which is a copy of the rind that used to be given by woven baskets years ago. 
The cheese is creamy white, but with shade variations and pockets of air or eyes. The cheese darkens to a tan near the rind. It is rugged looking cheese, like something an old adventurer years ago would pull out of his pouch and eat. It is also rugged tasting. It has a rough, jagged, hard feel as you put it in your mouth, but it breaks down into a complex mix of flavors. 
I'm sure that our particular cheese, from Garcia Baquero, aged six months, would be harder and more rugged and stronger tasting than a similar cheese aged two months. Judy feels it has an acidic taste, like some of the hard cheeses. In my mind, the sheep flavor stands out. It is not as strong as say, the sheep Gouda, but that taste resides. Others in our taste testing group felt that the goat taste stood out, the goat tang. My friend, Terry, who was part of our cheese-tasting, says he was put onto it by his son and that it is his favorite cheese. He brought a wedge of it to find that we already had some as part of our tasting samples. I prefer the Iberico to Manchego and Idiazabel, other Spanish cheeses I've tried recently.

I found some Iberico cheese at Trader Joe's, 
aged four months, and had to try it. What a difference a couple of months make! 
Where I really loved the Iberico aged for six months, I was only so-so on the Iberico aged four months. 
It was much softer and not anywhere near as flavorful. 
I was surprised that the sheep and goat milk tastes did not stand out more. I even tried some on a grilled cheese sandwich and was disappointed how mild it was. 
It was a wonderful lesson in how the aging process really impacts the taste and texture of the cheese. So for me in the future, my Iberico needs to be aged at least six months!

1 comment:

  1. This is most like the cheese that we ate in Portugal for breakfast with the most wonderful rolls which I just got a recipe for!