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Top Tips from one of Spain’s great cheese experts

Top tips from one of the Spains great cheese experts

From Christmas eating, to Madrid markets and tapas, to must-try Spanish cheeses.

Here, he gives us the lowdown on Spanish cheese, from his top tips for Spanish cheeses to try, to his favourite cheeses for a Christmas cheeseboard. José Luís has a cheese shop in the San Miguel market in Madrid that is well worth a visit, as are the tapas bars nearby.

Introducing José Luís Martín: what is the Brindisa connection?

Brindisa´s founder, Monika Linton, and José Luís have known each other for 20 years, almost since the very beginning of Brindisa. Monika has met and got to know José Luís over the years at countless cheese workshops, shows and on cheese producer visits in Spain.  Jose Luís has also invited Monika and other Brindisa people to judge cheese at competitions and award ceremonies in Spain. Strangely it turned out that Rupert, Monika´s husband, had worked on José Luís´s farm and dairy in the 1980s as a goat herder and cheese turner when he was a teenager. More recently, José Luís, Monika and Rupert all contributed to the Juliet Harbutt book on World Cheeses published by Dorling Kindersley.

How did you become involved in the world of cheese?

I bought a Farm in Extremadura in 1980 and I spent 16 years dedicated to organic agriculture and farming. This is an area of goat farming and cheese making (famous for Ibores cheese) and goats´ cheese has been very present in the local food. I started making this same style of goats´ cheese but I ended up developing one that was completely different, with a soft interior and “flor” to the rind, which won seven gold medals in the Trujillo National Cheese Show in Cáceres.

There are hundreds of cheeses from the different regions of Spain. Manchego is becoming better known in the UK now, but what other Spanish cheeses would you recommend trying?

Zamorano is a great alternative to Manchego. The Catalan Cheese makers are the most innovative when it comes to varieties, mainly making cows´ and goats´ milk cheeses.  A goats´cheese worth highlighting is the Majorero from the Canary Islands and another traditional cheese is the Ibores from Extremadura. Monte Enebro (available from the Brindisa shop at Borough Market), is something like the country´s modern “star” cheese. It pairs very well with an aromatic white wine like Rueda or Albariño, and with figs. The Cuello Dama figs grow locally in the Sierra de Gredos and of course are the best pair, if you can find them.

Tell us about your shop, La Fromagerie in the Mercado San Miguel.

We have a very wide range of Spanish and European cheeses and it is funny to see how the Spanish customers head for the French and British cheeses and the foreigners head for the Spanish ones, of which Manchego is the great favourite.

The San Miguel market is in the centre of Madrid, next to the Plaza Mayor. It is the flagship food market of Spain so it is an obligatory stop on the tourist trail. Every stall is a speciality and the cheese shops are the busiest. We sell some 300 cheese types  per year and we have one of the best ranges of artisan cheese in the whole of Spain. We offer 20 different cheeses per day for tasting as tapas, which are very popular.

We do have a small selection of British cheeses, from Neal´s Yard Dairy and it is curious to see how some British people are surprised, in Spain, by a Montgomery Cheddar or Stichelton. They believe cheddar is just the typical industrial cheese you can find in the supermarkets, not with the depth of flavour of an artisan cheese.

Around the market there are some of the best areas of Madrid to visit for tapas. La Cava Baja is one street, where there are also flamenco shows as well as the area around the Plaza Mayor and the Palacio Real which is the “old Madrid”.

If you could create your dream Spanish Christmas cheeseboard, what would you choose and why?

  • Tetilla made with raw cows´ milk
  • Artisan Mahón, cows´ milk with 4 month cure, at its best at this time of year (Brindisa´s Mahón is cured to perfection by an award-winning afinador)
  • Monte Enebro, a very special goats´milk cheese created by Rafael Báez
  • Payoyo, a semi-hard goats´milk cheese, cured for 4 months
  • Torta de Barros sheeps´ milk torta from Extremadura
  • Vicente Pastor Zamorano
  • Valdeón Picos de Europa blue cheese

(All the above are available from the Brindisa shop at Borough, although in the case of the Tetilla, we stock a pasteurised one).

I would serve the cheese board with nuts (almond and hazelnut) and a good country loaf. I would drink Spanish cava which would go very well with all the above cheeses. The Picos blue cheese pairs perfectly with a sweet Pedro Ximenex wine.

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