June 17, 2017 – Day 8 – Azeitão
Since we will be spending some time in Portugal as well, it only seemed right to throw a few Portuguese cheeses into the mix. The Portuguese Cheese of the day is Azeitão!
About the Cheese:
Named after its originating village at the foothills of the Arrábida mountain range, Azeitão is produced in the Portuguese principalities of Palmela, Sesimbra and Setúbal. This is roughly 25 miles to the east of Lisbon, Portugal, where we will be staying during our visit. The cheese is cylindrical in shape and is wrapped in a white hessian gauze which gives it an aesthetically-rustic appearance. Made with raw sheep’s milk, this is a strictly vegetarian cheese for an interestingly ‘local’ reason. Rather than coagulating the milk with animal rennet, a vegetable-based rennet substitute is used. Thistles grow in the Arrábida National Park, and this vegetarian ‘rennet’ is produced from the stamens of these thistles! Not only does this open up the availability of the cheese to strict vegetarians, but it also introduces local allergens to visitors/tourists sampling the cheese, which can prevent ensuing allergies (if you do a lot of traveling, you have most likely experienced a degree of allergy agitation due to local plants, etc.). Honey, breads, tea, and wine are also good ways to reduce the rick of allergies. The resulting curds from this coagulation are shaped using the hessian cloth and later washed in brine. Each cheese is aged a minimum of 20 days. Expect a semi-firm natural rind with a soft pate on the inside. The pate coloration ranges from a creamy white to pale yellow.
Tasting Notes and Pairings:
Since the cheese is produced using thistles, there is a distinctively “herbaceous” taste accompanied with each bite. Similarly, there is a hint of piquant (spiciness) that is noticeable yet counterbalanced by the creamy sweetness of the sheep’s milk and slight degree of acidity. A smooth and savory mouth feel will be accompanied by a tinge of salinity contributed by the added salt and brine wash. The best way to enjoy this cheese is via slicing off the top portion and scooping out the soft pate with a spoon or firm bread.
Suggestions for eating this cheese are strongly weighted towards an appetizer or dessert. This cheese goes well on nutty breads, dolloped into large (cooked) pasta shells, or with decadent and sweet truffles/fruits. It is best if washed down with a full-bodied red wine, Tempranillo, or local Albariño white wine.
Source 1 – World Cheese Book, Juliet Harbutt, New York, New York, 2009, 148.