27 Jun Spanish Wine and Spanish Cheese – 4 Great Pairings You Might Want To Try
The world of cheese is as diverse as the world of wine. And from France to Italy and Spain, cheeses, as well as grape varieties, vary from region to region. When Spain’s Great Match came to Los Angeles a few months ago, one of the seminars was about pairing Spanish Wines with Spanish Cheese which I wrote about in a story for The Cheese Professor and share here.
There is a popular expression in Spain, “Que no te la den con queso”, which means “don’t get it with cheese.” This saying originated in the past, when winemakers would serve cheese tapas to tasters which would mask the flavor of the wine. The strong smell or flavor of the cheese would often hide the poor quality of a wine, deceiving the buyers. Today the phrase is used when wanting to say, “don’t try to distract me.”
But there is no distraction when you have a great pairing of wine and cheese.
When we think about cheese production, France and Italy likely come to mind. But Spain also has a long tradition of cheese-making and today has 100 different types of cheeses, of which 30 have PDO status.
With 13 different Köppen climates, excluding the Canary Islands, Spain is the most climatically diverse country in Europe and is within the 10 most climatically diverse countries in the world. The Atlantic Coast (Galicia) is cool, humid, and rainy. The Meseta, or Central Plateau (Madrid), is quite arid and moderately continental, with relatively cold winters and hot summers. The Southern and Eastern coastal regions (Barcelona, Balearic Islands, Valencia, Malaga) are mild and sunny. The Mountainous Pyrenees and the Sierras are cold, depending on the altitude. Andalucía (Cadiz, Sevilla, Malaga) in the South has an almost African climate with a mild winter and very hot summer.
In Spain, cheese is made from cow, sheep, and goat milk. Cow milk cheese is found in the north, along the Cantabrian Coast which runs along the northern Cantabria Mountain Range and the Pyrenees from Galicia to the Basque Country. Sheep milk cheeses are found inland, from the north in Cantabria and the Basque Country, down to the flat lands of Castilla Leon, Castilla La Mancha, Aragon, and Extremadura. Goat milk cheese is found along the regions of the Mediterranean Coast. From Catalonia to Andalucía, there are mixed milk cheeses. Each cheese in Spain is unique, depending on the region, the milk source, and the production methods. Read more about Spanish cheeses you should know.
The history of Spanish wine production dates back at least 3000 years. Today, Spain is the 3rd largest producer of wine globally. Spain has the largest vineyard area of all major vine-growing countries in the world, with some 2,375,000 acres, making up 13% of the world’s vineyards.
Spain is home to hundreds of grape varieties but only 20 grapes are used in the production of most Spanish wines. There are 130 official wine designations in Spain and almost 70 DO wines and two DOCa wines, Priorat and Rioja. When pairing wine and cheese, you can do classic pairings or edgier pairings.
FOUR SPANISH CHEESE AND WINE PAIRINGS
Mahón comes from the Minorca Island in Spain and is named after the port of Mahón. It was originally a sheep’s milk cheese until a British invasion of the island in the 18th century brought Friesian cattle. Since then, the recipe has changed to cow’s milk. The cheese is aged for 2 to 12 months in salty and dry conditions and is considered Curado (cured or aged). It is rubbed with oils as it ages to create the stone-colored rind. The result is a medium-intense, semi-firm cheese that is bright, flaky, and salty with an unmistakable tang. With a texture like Parmesan cheese, it can be grated.
A classic wine pairing is with sparkling wine, such as the Roger Goulart Organic Cava 2019 from Penedes. A blend of 50% Macabeo, 35% Xarel-lo, and 15% Parallada, the wine spends 18 months sur lees and has white fruit and citrus notes and lively, fresh acidity. For an edgier pairing, try a sweet fortified from Malaga.
MURCIA AL VINO PDO
As the story goes, there was an accident at a farmhouse and a wheel of cheese fell into a barrel of wine and was not found for two days. Murcia al Vino literally translates to “goat with wine”. It is a goat cheese made from the pasteurized milk of local Murciana goats from Jumilla in Murcia, on Spain’s Mediterranean coast. The cheese is cured for 48-72 hours in a red doble pasta (double paste) wine, a twice-fermented, high-alcohol, deep, dark wine made with extra grape skins. The cheese is then aged for an additional 90 days. The rind becomes a lovely violet color, but the paste remains nearly pure white. The semi-firm cheese, better known as Drunken Goat, is smooth and pliable with a delicate grapy note.
A classic wine pairing is a bright red wine from DO of Alicante, Jumilla, Utiel-Requena, or Yecla. An edgier pairing is a white wine from Rueda, such as the Marqués de Riscal Sauvignon Blanc 2021, a crisp wine with honeydew, herbal, and citrus notes.
Manchego cheese is a sheep’s milk cheese that has DOP status. This means that it can only be made from the milk of the Manchega sheep that graze in the provinces of Albecete, Ciudad Real, Curnca, and Toleda, which form the region of La Mancha, located south of Madrid. A medium-intensity cheese, it has a firm and compact consistency and a buttery texture. Manchego cheese can be aged between 60 days to 2 years and the best cheese is produced when the milk is its richest between August and December. As Manchego ages, its flavor intensifies, as does the texture, and the ivory-colored body crystallizes over time going from open to flaky and a little crunchy in the span of a year.
A classic wine pairing with Manchego is an aged Rioja, such as the Bodegas Urbina Seleccion 2000. A blend of 90% Tempranillo, 5% Mazuelo, and 5% Graciano, the wine was aged for 15 months in oak and then 18 years in stainless steel. It is an elegant wine with dark red fruit notes and smooth tannins. For an edgier option, try a medium-dry sherry.
Idiazabal is made from unpasteurized sheep milk from the Latxa sheep in the Basque region. The sheep bask on the hillsides and produce exceptionally rich, fatty milk that has a buttery mouthfeel and a gamey character. And, by law, the sheep can produce no more than 1 liter of milk per day. Idiazabal is a semi-firm cheese that is intense in flavor with a definitive smoky note.
A classic wine pairing with Idiazabal is an old vine Garnacha, such as the Bodegas Alto Moncayo Garnacha 2019, Campo de Borja, Aragon. Made from 100% Garnacha, the wine spends 20 months in new oak. The creaminess of the cheese cuts the richness of the wine, and the soft-drying tannins are rounded out by the cheese. For an edgier pairing try a richer, dry sherry.
Whether the pairing is classic or edgy, when you have a balanced pairing of Spanish wine and cheese, there is no distraction.
Read the original story in The Cheese Professor.