Quality cheese production is taken seriously. Like wine appellations, and there are currently 13 cheeses with "Denominations of Origin" in Spain. Spanish eat cheese every day, whether it is by itself, or with bread, as a tapa, or as a dessert. Because of the variations in climate and geography, as well as culture, each region of Spain produces several varieties of cheese.
Each cheese has its own unique characteristics that affect the finished product, such as the type of milk (sheep, goat, cow or a mixture), the production process, the history or traditions, and the aging or curing process.
Cheese flavors are usually classified as light, medium and strong. Their classification depends on both the type of milk and breed of animal as well as on the curing or aging process. Strong and flavored cheeses are usually made from sheep milk or a mix, and typically have a longer curing process. Cheeses with the lightest or mildest flavors are those that are soft and made from cow’s milk.
Medium flavored cheeses are usually semi-cured and not as soft as the light cheeses. Medium cheeses can be paired well with young red or rosé wines. Arzua-Ulloa from Galicia, Mahon from the Balearic Islands and Izbores goat's milk cheese from Extremadura are good examples of medium-flavored Spanish cheeses.
Strong cheeses have the longest curing or aging process. They are best when paired with red wines that have body. Four sheep's milk cheeses - Manchego from Castilla-La Mancha, Roncal from Navarra, Zamorano from Castilla-Leon and Idiazabal, from the Basque Country are examples of strong cheeses. The most famous strongly-flavored cheese is probably Cabrales, a mixed milk blue cheese, produced in northern Spain and matured in limestone caves for 2 to 5 months.
Learn more about specific types of Spanish Cheese: