In Spain there are basically three types of milk that give rise to the respective types of cheese:
COW’S MILK CHEESE
Cow cheeses are typical of Green Spain, a long, narrow strip extending over 1,000 km (620 miles) along and about 100 km (62 miles) wide from the Cantabrian coast, from Galicia to the Country Vasco in the north of Spain. Its climate is cool and rainy, and the typical landscape is of green valleys and mountains. This makes it a very suitable ecosystem for cattle, of which there are more than 15 breeds, including some local breeds. Its milk is used to make a wide variety of cheeses, produced in many different ways, with different shapes, sizes, methods of curing, etc. However, cow’s milk cheeses are also produced in other parts of Spain, such as the island of Menorca (in the Balearic Islands) and the Pyrenees, but although dairy cattle are also found in other regions, along with other types of Livestock, is not as relevant to the manufacture of cheese as in the north.
SHEEP MILK CHEESE
These are probably the most representative of Spanish cheeses since sheep have always played an important role in Spain because for more than seven centuries, Spain exported wool throughout Europe through its powerful organization of sheep farming – La Mesta – which dominated agriculture well into the nineteenth century. At that time, large herds covered vast distances in search of fertile pastures during the cold months of winter. This has resulted in sheep now being present in almost all parts of Spain, although especially in the central plateau, its true ecosystem with very cold winters and hot summers, where they abound. With the decline of the wool trade, the sheep began to be used more for their milk and, to a lesser extent, for their meat. At present, Spain produces large quantities of sheep’s milk that are used to a great extent to produce a great variety of high-quality cheeses. All of them tend to have the same shape and with the imprint shell brand of esparto strips traditionally used to squeeze the whey. However, there are some important differences as the races differ – merina, latxa, churra, manchega – each adapted to a different territory and a very important part of local grazing traditions. In addition to the well-known Manchego cheese we highlight the milk cheeses of some sheep from Extremadura – Torta de la Serena and Torta del Casar – which use thistle flowers as vegetable rennet.
GOAT MILK CHEESE
If we define northern Spain as the ecosystem of dairy cattle and the central plateau like sheep, goats will find their place especially in the ecosystem of the Mediterranean and the Canary Islands. For goats are resistant animals that adapt well to warm and dry climates that are not adapted to other types of livestock, feeding on young shoots and vegetable residues. Goats are the most representative species of livestock in regions such as Andalusia, Murcia, Catalonia and Extremadura, as well as the Canary Islands. Goat’s milk is used to make a variety of exquisite cheeses, some of which focus on specific breeds. In some cases, the cheese receives a special finish – ashes, red wine, paprika (a type of Spanish spice), herbs, roasted corn flour (a Canarian specialty), etc. Which gives them character and distinction.
As in other Mediterranean countries, Spanish livestock farming includes three species – sheep, cows and goats – where in many cases the herds are intermixed. Therefore, it is a common practice to produce cheeses in some regions mixed milk, although this is unusual in the Mediterranean and Northwest area. The largest dairy industries in this sector, most of them in the central plateau occupied by the two Castillas: Castilla y León and Castilla-La Mancha – specialize in the production of Iberian cheese – the most widely consumed cheese in Spain, from Of cows, sheep and goat’s milk. The proportion of milk of each species gives the cheese its most distinctive feature. But there are also others produced on an industrial scale of less than mixed milk, some of which are sold only during certain times of the year.