Categories : Quesos
Mahón-Menorca cheese is probably one of the luxuries that Spaniards enjoy most. A delicious cheese whose production traces back to 2000 BC, and has converted this wonderful island into the centre of production, with an almost unrivalled density of cheese dairies. The production of cheeses, wines and meats from the island of Menorca are already mentioned in Arabic writings from the year 1000. The importance of Menorcan livestock and cheese is also reflected in the archives from the Crown of Aragon in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Following the Treaty of Utrecht, all trade was driven through the port of Mahón during the era of British rule. Thus the name of Mahón cheese was coined, despite being produced all over the island of Menorca.
The Mediterranean climate enjoyed by the island, including long hot summers, mild rainy winters favoured by the lush pastures, as well as the characteristic northern winds, set the ideal microclimate for the production of Mahón-Menorca cheese. This, coupled with the livestock on the island of Menorca including a large population of Menorcan and Holstein-Friesian cows, makes the Mahón cheese a unique product of unmatched quality.
Mahón-Menorca cheese is produced by introducing the curds through a porous cotton fabric called a "fagasser". This is suspended by its four corners in order to encourage the release of whey. Following this process, they are placed on workbenches and tied with a cord called "lligam" in order to release the remaining whey.
Once this process is complete, the cheese is soaked in brine prior to its aeration and storage in the curing rooms, where its rind is turned and treated in oil or oil and paprika.
Artisan Mahón cheese is crafted using raw milk from the dairy cattle, and produced using the above processes. Mahón cheese that doesn't qualify as artisan may be produced using pasteurised milk and processed in specific moulds instead of using the fogasser.
In 1985 the cheese was granted the Protected Designation of Origin status, and in 1997 this was expanded and renamed as Mahón-Menorca cheese. There are currently 23 cheese dairies with Protected Designation of Origin status, that produce more than three million kilograms of Mahón cheese P.D.O. with milk produced from 138 dairies granted with Designation of Origin.
The Designation of Origin establishes rules for the different stages of maturing. This means that mild Mahón cheese, which retains flavours of butter and is excellent when grilled, must be matured for 21 to 60 days. Semi-matured cheese with developed dairy flavours is matured for 2 to 5 months. Finally the cheese is left for more than 5 months in order to produce mature Mahón cheese, which is so brittle it breaks into flakes when cut. The flavour of mature Mahón cheese suggests evolved, complex and intense flavours, with a lingering oral presence, and evokes memories of aged wood, leather tanning or maturing cellars, often with a kick of spice.
Mahón-Menorca cheese is as well integrated into the cuisine from the island as it is in dishes from the peninsular: appetizers, fish, meat, pastas, and even desserts.