Well, it’s been a while since my last entry. I’ve been concentrating on getting clients and organising tours for later in the year. However, I will try to do some more writing this month.
Today I am going to write about two splendid cheeses which come from the Spanish region of Extremadura, an area situated to the north of the western part of Andalucía (where I live). These two cheeses are Torta del Casar and Torta de la Serena. They are both very alike, sharing a number of common characteristics. They are both made from non-pasteurised (raw) sheep’s milk, principally from the Merino breed. Also, they both have a creamy texture and are therefore spreadable. The coagulating agent that is used for both cheeses is the flower from a species of thistle, something that is not very common elsewhere.
Historically, the cheeses that were made were meant to be similar to Manchego cheese, i.e. hard. However, quite often, the cheese turned out to be soft and these cheeses were rejected and left for the shepherd and his family to eat. No-one could understand why this happened and different theories were put forward. Some people thought it was the use of the thistle flower for coagulating the milk. Other thought that milking the sheep during a full moon softened the cheese, and so on. Eventually, it was dicovered that certain bacteria that contaminated the milk were the culprit. In cheese making when milk curdles the protein casein forms into chains, a process that will end up giving a solid texture. The microorganisms present in the milk for making the two “Tortas” break down the chains of casein, leading to cheeses with a creamy texture.
Well, after having rejected these “failed” cheeses for a very long time people came to their senses and realised that they were actually fantastic products. They became recognised types of Spanish cheese in 1969 when they appeared in the Catálogo de Quesos published by the Dirección General de Ganadería.
The cheeses, which are aged for around two months, are best bought whole. They are cylindrical in shape and weigh between 500g and just over a kilo. What people normally do when they are going to start one is to slice the top off. You can then dip a knife in and spread the cheese on toasted bread or crackers. If you don’t eat all the cheese at once put the sliced top back on before storing.
Both cheeses, as mentioned have a creamy texture and are intensely flavoured with a slight bitterness. Also, the Torta de la Serena often has an added piquancy. If you have not tried these cheeses before I recommend that you do as I think they are possibly the most characterful ones in Spain.