This is a salty, Spanish blue cheese with a sharp, strong, salty flavour. It is made from cow’s milk, sometimes mixed with goat’s or sheep’s milk (cow’s milk is available year round; the other two milks may be mixed in during the spring or summer when available.) The milk can be raw or pasteurized. The cheese is a light ivory colour with veins of blue-green mould. The paste is a little gritty. It develops a thin rind that is yellow with a bit of grey on it.
It is sold wrapped either in aluminum paper or in chestnut leaves.
To make the cheese, rennet is added to milk and allowed to curdle between 1 and 2 hours at 82 to 90 F (28 to 32 C.) While curdling, the Penicillium fungus is added. The curd is cut into ½ inch (1 cm) pieces, allowed to rest for about 15 minutes, then stirred while the whey is drained away. The curd is lightly packed into open-ended cylinder moulds, then both ends of the cheese are salted and have holes poked in them. It is ripened in humid rooms at temperatures between 41 and 50 F (5 and 10 C) for a minimum of two months if made from raw milk, 1 ½ months if made from pasteurized milk. The resultant cheese has a fat content of 45%.
The cheese is made in Valdeón valley in Spain. It used to be ripened in caves, though now of course it is all done in special humidity controlled rooms. (These machine-controlled rooms surely must be the unique microclimate that the producers said, in their 2003 EU “Protected Designation of Origin” application, was essential for the cheese production.) It is sometimes called “Picón de Valdeón” (“picónes” meaning “sharp” cheeses.)
It is sometimes labelled “Cabrales” in the US, but Cabrales Cheese actually has an even sharper flavour and a more yellowish colour.
1 cup, crumbled = ¼ pound = 115g
Store refrigerated for up to a month, wrapped tightly in tin foil. To freeze, wrap first in plastic wrap, then in tin foil.
Literature & Lore
“A poet’s hope: to be, like some valley cheese, local, but prized elsewhere.” — W.H. Auden