June 15, 2016 – Day 5 – Afuega’l Pitu
About the Cheese:
Afuega’l Pitu is a power player in the Spanish cheese lineup and absolutely deserves some special mention with an entire cheese review. Not only is it one of the oldest Spanish cheeses, but also one of the most widespread from the Asturian region (around the Northern Coastline).
Specifically, it is made “in towns that dot the lower basins of river Narcea and river Nalón in the central Asturias-Northern Spain” ¹. The name literally translates to “stick in the throat” or “drown the throat” which is due to its tart, creamy and compact texture that heightens with age. The meaning is not literal, of course, but refers to how the texture can sometimes cause the cheese to ‘stick’ to the palate of tasters. It is produced from raw or pasteurized full-fat cow’s milk of the Friesian and Asturiana de los Valles breeds. The cheese making process involves curdling the milk at a temperature averaged around 27°C (81°F). This method involves strongly relying on the naturally occurring bacteria to convert the lactose of the milk to lactic acid, which then causes the proteins to “stick” together and form curds. Harder cheeses often employ the use of rennet instead of this process. This lasts anywhere from 10-48 hours after which the curdled product is added to molds and salted, all by hand. Depending on the milk used, cheese is considered fresh if aged a minimum of 5 days for pasteurized milk or 60 days for raw milk. Two primary shapes exist for Afuega’l Pitu; either a squash-pumpkin shape (Trapu) or a cone (Atroncáu). Afuega’l Pitu is categorized based on these shapes and the presence of (Roxu) or absence of (Blancu) a smoked Spanish paprika that can be added. This paprika gives the cheese a red hue and distinctively characteristic spiciness. It can either be kneaded into the cheese during the cheese making process or the cheese can be rolled in it. Similarly, Afuega’l Pitu can be considered cured (matured), semi-cured, or soft (fresh) depending on the aging duration. There are 4 types of Afuega’l Pitu: Atroncau Blancu, Atroncau Roxu, Trapu Blancu and Trapu Roxu. All of the above are molded by hand with the exception of Atroncau Blancu. The Blanco cheese is usually eaten fresh, while the Roxu-paprika version is eaten once matured. It is also suggested that the best time to make this cheese is during the spring and summer months because the cow’s milk has a higher fat content than during the rest of the year. Yet, regardless of what seasons’ varietal you get, this is sure to be an interesting cheese which will make a lasting impression on your palate.
Tasting Notes and Pairings:
Since the blancu or white version of Afuega’l Pitu is usually served fresh, it has a creamy, yogurt-like consistency. There is a slight degree of salinity and the pate easily spreadable. The rind is often termed as “pasty” and can often have mold on it if the cheese is by chance of an older vintage. Earthy notes, a noticeable acidity and the accompanying texture make this a nice appetizer or dessert cheese that would pair well with something sweet. Figs, honey, and dried fruits with low acidity would be nice food suggestions. A sweet red or white would compliment this cheese best.
The roxu version of Afuega’l Pitu has the previously mentioned spiciness that must be taken into consideration. Similarly, since this style of the cheese is usually aged longer, it has a stronger flavor profile with noticeable hints of grass and mushrooms. A crunchy, hearty bread or cornichon would pair best with this. It needs something to maintain its heat level. As far as a drink is concerned, it seems a dry sherry may do just the trick.
If you discover a location in the Augusta, GA area that happens to sell this cheese, then please drop a line and let it be known! Until then. Cheers!
Source 3 – World Cheese Book, Juliet Harbutt, New York, New York, 2009, 148.