Serra da Estrela cheese, a delicacy from Portugal
Serra da Estrela cheese, coming from the highest Portuguese mountain, has a unique and singular taste that makes it one of the best cheeses in the world.
In the green and cold highlands of Serra da Estrela is to be found one of the best cheeses in the world and one of the most emblematic symbols of the Portuguese gastronomy – the Serra da Estrela cheese. In fact, it was elected as one of the seven Portuguese gastronomic wonders by the Portuguese in a contest intended to promote our gastronomic heritage, along with alheira de Mirandela (Mirandela sausage), caldo verde (Portuguese cabbage soup), grilled sardines, seafood rice, leitão da Bairrada (Bairrada suckling pig) and pastéis de Belém.
The unmistakable texture and flavor of Serra da Estrela cheese given mostly by the thistle used in its confection turns this delicacy into a gastronomic sin no one can resist. When it melts in the mouth, it’s a real gustatory paradise!
One may say that Serra da Estrela cheese is the parent of all other Portuguese cheeses made with sheep milk, due to the transhumance carried out in winter towards Beira Baixa area. From there shepherds passed on the production techniques to other regions, given rise to other delicious cheeses such as the Serpa cheese or Azeitão cheese.
The unique taste of Serra da Estrela cheese hides millennial techniques and is due to the delicate balance between the high quality of the pastures, responsible for the amazing milk of the Bordaleira da Serra da Estrela sheep, and the mastery of the hands that mix with wisdom the milk with the thistle and separate and remix the curd. The maturation process, which lasts for about 60 days under strict humidity and temperature conditions, gives the final touch. At the end, we have a round cheese with slightly bulging sides and top, a soft and yellow well-formed rind, traditionally bound in a white cloth. Its paste with few wholes may vary according to the cheese’s age, from a smooth and semi-liquid when young, to a more solid, yet sliceable, when older.
Serra da Estrela cheese was granted with the PDO status by the European Union; therefore, its production follows tight rules and is confined to a specific region limited to the municipalities of Celorico da Beira, Carregal do Sal, Fornos de Algodres, Gouveia, Mangualde, Manteigas, Nelas, Oliveira do Hospital, Penalva do Castelo, Seia and Tondela. Some parishes of the municipalities of Aguiar da Beira, Arganil, Covilhã, Guarda, Tábua, Tondela, Trancoso and Viseu are also part of the recognized geographic area of production of this cheese.
Even though the one of the best ways to enjoy Serra da Estrela cheese is to put it on a slice of bread with a spoon, combine it perfectly with another top Portuguese product, the honey. Serra da Estrela and honey pastries is one of the several ways to taste the unique Serra da Estrela cheese experience.