More than Manchego: Cheese in Barcelona


 
In April I took my first trip to Barcelona. It wasn't the warmest time of year to visit the seaside city, but my traveling buddies and I thoroughly enjoyed the sun, art, palm trees and culture. 
In three short days we visited the main tourist attractions such as Sagrada Familia, Gaudi's epic masterpiece of a church, Las Ramblas, a main street leading to the ocean filled with shops and restaurants, and Barrio Gotico, the old city of Barcelona. Wandering the skinny streets of the Barrio Gotico was by far my favorite part of the trip, and I would recommend that anyone spend most of their Barcelona time in this area. In the maze of tiny alleyways you can find the most obscure shops, restaurants, and people, all coexisting successfully despite their shockingly close quarters. While exploring these countless twists and turns, I discovered a myriad of exceptional cheeses from Spain and beyond.

This cheese plate is an example of the random awesome cheese we came across. We snacked on these cheeses and other tapas from a carry-out restaurant while watching a Barcelona vs. Madrid football match at a tiny bar in the old town.
The plate was made of cardboard and the cutlery was plastic and flimsy, but the cheeses were delightful. I wouldn't have expected so much flavor from such an unassuming presentation.


For most people, Spanish cheese is synonymous with Queso Manchego, a semi-firm sheep's milk cheese produced in the La Mancha region. I couldn't wait to try the world famous cheese in its home country, so we ordered this plate during on our first night while feasting on paella and patatas bravas. The flavor was much more robust and complex than the imported Manchego in the USA, which I often find to be too mild for my taste. While still smooth, this Manchego was bold and sheepy. I understand why this cheese is praised globally, because it's a true crowd-pleaser.

Vila Viniteca
My favorite cheese experience of the trip was a recommendation from Dimitri Saad, the extremely knowledgeable Fromager at Casellula Cheese and Wine Café in Manhattan. He told me that on a recent trip to Barcelona he had a very good experience wandering into a small specialty foods shop called Vila Viniteca and asking for a sampling of the best cheeses in the place. I decided to do the same.

The server seemed delighted to make up a special cheese plate for us, and even provided wine pairings for each of the cheeses he presented. These are the cheeses
 we tasted in order from freshest to most aged, with my notes:

Capri Sevilla (Spain)
great cream line, flavor very goaty, not the best ever.


Bauma (Leeida) (Cataluna)
so f***ing good, smoked rind.


Brillat Saverin (France):
melt in your mouth. sooo 
delicious. like liquid.


Payoyo (Cadiz) (Spain) :
softer than expected, very "spanish". payoyo = name of the sheep.


Shoppshire Blue
(England):
SO SPICY. with sherry it is SO GOOD --> perfect blend of sweet and spicy smooth. 
"I couldn't eat the cheese by itself and I couldn't drink the sherry by itself but together they compliment each other... it works." - Lea G. 
All the cheeses were intriguing but I was most excited by the Shoppshire Blue. I made sure this cheese was included on my plate since Dimitri Saad had recommended it by name. Even though it's technically a blue cheese, the color is orange, with greenish streaks of mold running through the creamy body. It hails from the British Isles but is obviously a favorite in Barcelona. As my notes say, the cheese is quite spicy but mellows out when paired with a good sherry. I brought a block of the Shoppshire Blue back home and shared it with my friends, and by pairing it with a random American sherry I was able to achieve the same third flavor that so amazed me at Vila Viniteca.

I left Spain with a great appreciation for Spanish culture, weather, food, and cheese. I hope to return in the very near future to eat and experience even more.


Ahora salga y comer un poco de queso.