I was recently asked for advice on shopping for cheese in Spain so I thought I’d share my thoughts on here as well.
Cheese sellers will offer you samples if they see you looking, or you could ask:
‘I’d like to try…’
‘Me gustaría probar…’
In the first place, Spanish cheese can be divided into three main groups:
Fresco: fresh cheese which has not been cured or aged
Semi curado: semi-cured cheese which has been aged for two or three months
Curado: cured cheese that has been cured for upwards of 4 months
A cheese board might feature all three ages of the same cheese in which case they are best eaten in the order of age, youngest first, strongest last.
They can also be divided according to the animal which produces the milk.
Or a blend (mezcla) of two or three of the above
The most famous national cheese is Manchego, a sheep’s cheese from La Mancha, which is usually what you will get on your hotel breakfast buffet. Manchego Curado is the best stuff.
Other famous Spanish cheeses are:
Cabarales, a blue cheese from Asturias (often just cow but the best is a cow, sheep and goat milk mix)
Torta del Casar from Extremadura (sheep)
Mahon from Menorca (cow)
Idiazabal from Navarra and the Basque country (sheep)
Here’s a more exhaustive list with links.
When it comes to buying you could say:
‘I want to buy two hundred grams of Manchego Curado’.
‘Quiero comprar doscientos gramos de Manchego Curado’.
100g: cien gramos
250g: un cuarto de kilo
If it’s a segment of a wheel and you want to transport it you can ask for it to be vacuum packed or ‘envasado’.
Spanish people eat cheese as a tapa or as a starter, and also as a dessert with thin slices of ‘membrillo’ or quince jelly.
Grilled goat’s cheese is nice with some fig jam or ‘mermelada de higos’.
Toasted almonds, Marcona are the best, go well with matured cheese.
Connoisseurs say it’s best to drink white wine with cheese as it won’t dominate the flavour, but personally I prefer to drink red with more powerful curados. Dry Fino or Oloroso sherry goes well with it too and Pedro Jimenez sweet sherry can be an amazingly good match with blue cheeses like Cabrales.
The two best places to buy cheese in Madrid are:
La Boulette is a stall in Mercado de La Paz www.laboulette.com
El Poncelet, a shop between Alonso Martinez and Colon www.poncelet.es
The former is less than 10 mins walk from the Hotel Goya and the latter around 15 mins.
Both are proud to say they have over 200 varieties in stock, and they do have many Spanish cheeses but a fair amount of their stock will be from abroad.
If you want to find out the names of award-winning cheeses by looking at the yearly results in the World Cheese Awards gff.co.uk/awards/world-cheese-awards.
Please feel free to add tips and comments or to suggest other cheeses.
Happy cheese shopping 🙂