By Regina W Bryan in Barcelona—
When I first came to Spain over five years ago I didn’t know much about cheese. I remember my first trip to the Spanish market to buy some cheese slices to make a sandwich and being overwhelmed when the Cheese Man asked, “What do you want?”
I had no idea what I wanted, as I didn’t recognize anything in the glass case in front of me which held hundreds of cheeses. I think I told Cheese Man, “nothing,” and took off for the vegetable stand where I was able to name tomatoes, lettuce and carrots.
I’ve since been back to Mr. Cheese and know the drill when he shouts out, ‘What do you want!?’, though I’m still not great with estimating how many grams of cheese I need, and usually just tell him how many slices I want.
The point of this story being that the market is one of the best places in Barcelona, and in most Spanish cities, to pick up some cheese. You can also find a fair variety of cheese in your local supermarket, such as Caprabo or Bonpreu.
What sort of cheese should you buy?
In any region of Spain try the Manchego cheese, which is rich with plenty of sharp. Go for the semi-cured or cured Manchego for a robust cheese with lots of bite, perfect for a late afternoon snack with wine and dried fruit or even on a sandwich. Many times Manchego is served with olive oil drizzled over it and freshly-cracked black pepper sprinkled on top of it, which may sound like overkill but is really very delicious.
Other famous Spanish cheese include the breast-shaped Tetilla and the island cheese Mahon. Tetilla is a Galician cheese from northwestern Spain, though you can find it everywhere. It’s creamy, salty taste is goes well with a glass of sherry or a white wine from Galicia, which is well-known for whites. I prefer Tetilla to Manchego, and often pick up a breast or two for about €5 each.
Mahon cheese can be mild, medium or mature. The cured or mature variety is much sharper than Tetilla, with a dark yellow color and a spicy, intense flavor. Mahon cheeses are from the island of Menorca in the Mediterranean Sea, but are sold all over Spain. Usually, a small hunk of this bitter cheese is fairly expensive, but worth it to try this unique dairy creation.
Finally, I recommend trying the two cheese platters at La Tinaja (C/ Esparteria 9, El Born, Barcelona). They have a Spanish cheese platter with quesos from all over the Iberian Peninsula, and a Catalan cheese platter that shows off local cheeses. Many of the Catalan cheeses are goat cheeses, which are soft and potent.
Trying these cheese platters will give you an appreciation of the many flavors and textures available when you head to the market to make a purchase from the Cheese Man. To wash it all down, La Tinaja also has a fabulous selection of Spanish and Catalan wines.