We are super glad to see the internet’s recent excitement around building fabulous cheese and charcuterie boards. For years, we’ve been advocates of this delicious and artful way to enjoy our favorite products from our deli counter! But we have to disagree with those that suggest that what you put on the board is more about decoration than is is about quality products. We want your next cheese board to be a show stopper AND a mouth-watering conversation piece, so we’re offering up our top 3 tips for a perfect Spanish cheese board.
It all starts with the cheese
The tasty bits and accompaniments are super fun (we’ll get to those later), but for us, it really all does start with the cheese. For your Spanish inspired cheese board, we recommend these cheeses (along with some expert knowledge about where these cheeses come from and who makes them):
Finca Pascualete La Retorta
The story behind Finca Pascualete is a fairytale–a Spanish Count falls in love with an American CIA agent, they marry and preserve the local artisanal cheesemaking traditions of the Extramadura region by starting their own business. Not only that, but the sheep at this dairy roam freely and are treated to a luxury feed (their own granola) that is ground for them every day from various crops grown on the estate. La Retorta is one offering from Finca Pascualete, a unique handcrafted cheese made from pure raw milk from Finca’s own flock of Extremadura Merino sheep. Retorta is made with vegetable rennet using cardoon, a plant that grows freely throughout the estate. The flavor is delicate with a well-defined and persistent palate with hints of pistils of blue wild flower used in the curdling process.
Finca Pascualete Pascualino
Another cheese from the Finca estate is the Pascualino, a cured cheese with a characteristic oval shape. This cheese is a semi-soft raw sheep’s milk cheese. Supple and cedar-y with hints of vanilla and caramel. Ari says this cheese is “fresh and vibrant, but not long-aged or Parm-like in texture, but firm enough to stand up to slicing. It’s definitely super delicious. It has an earthy aroma but shockingly gentle and sweet for a sheep’s milk cheese. Its semi-firm texture makes it easy to cut thin slices with a sharp knife. The flavor is, I’ve been saying, fantastic—kind of caramelly, with a bit of vanilla and butterscotch, and delicate sheep undertones. Creamy texture. Lovely finish.”
This cheese is named after the capital and port of the island of Menorca, Spain, in the Mediterranean Sea. Mahón has been crafting its signature cheese with ancient techniques dating back to around 3,000 BC. Sea winds, heavy rainfall, and high atmospheric humidity on the rocky island irrigate the pastures, giving the milk a high acidity and a touch of saltiness. The one we stock on our cheese counter comes from the Quintana family, one of the many family dairy farms on the island who raise the old breed of Mahónese cows and produce this soft cheese. They use ancient ripening practices to create tangy, sharp, lemony cheese that has a hint of spice from a paprika rub. Locals enjoy it with extra virgin olive oil. Ari describes this cheese with the “texture of an aged Gouda, and a nutty, almost smoky flavor.” He suggests pairing the aged Mahón with almonds or dried fruit and fresh bread, or just let a chunk come up to room temperature for optimal flavor and nibble away!
The Alain family operates their dairy farm in the Navarra Mountains of Spain. They begin production in 1984. Despite the modernization that has taken place on their farm to meet demand, they still source their milk from several small local Latxa sheep herds. The Idiazabal is a raw sheep’s milk cheese, made with milk from wild-grazing herds and smoked over local beechwood. It has a gentle smokey aroma and a taste that will remind you of the wild grasses and herbs growing in the region.
You could turn your cheese board into a combo with charcuterie with some slices of Jamon Iberico de Bellota or El Cerro Serrano Ham. Add some crunchy Piparra Peppers, traditional peppers of the Basque region, piparras are yellowish green in color with a mild, half-pickled flavor. Marcona almonds are the king of the almonds–rich, meaty almonds from Spain are skinned, oil roasted, and then kissed with sea salt. Instead of bread, consider traditional Spanish tortas. We love the ones made by Ines Rosales, made with 100% natural ingredients— wheat flour, premium quality extra virgin olive oil, sugar, and spices.
Add a touch of sweetness
A drizzle of honey over cheese is one of our favorite combinations. Holm oak honey from Marqués de Valdueza is our recommendation for your Spanish cheese board. It’s a rare honey that comes from the same oaks that feed the pigs that make the region’s famous jamon iberico. This honey has a deep rich floral, malty and toasted flavors.