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More DO.s: Cabrales Urgelia Mahón Majorero Manchego Murcia al Vino Nata de Cantabria Roncal Tetilla

The Taste of Castille

"Scrumptiously Zesty"

Cheese-makers of Zamora are famous in all of the Castilian-Leonesa plateau, to the northwest of Madrid. For centuries, entire families would move with their flocks of sheep to new grazing lands. Wherever they settled (temporarily) they made cheese from the milk of their own livestock or from milk purchased from local farmers. Oftentimes they sold the same milk back to the farmers in the form of cheese. When they returned to their homes in the province of Zamora, they sold their cheeses in local markets, leaving the remainder to ripen for long periods in underground cellars previously used for wines. These cheeses were later either consumed by their producers, bartered or sold.

In the second half of this century, these nomadic farmers became sedentary and either farmed their land or continued to produce cheese.

Zamora cheese enjoys great prestige for its quality and character, resulting from the breeds of sheep predominant in the region (Churra and Castellana), the climate conditions (cold and humid) and its long aging in the cellars.

Labeled "Denominación de Origen Protegida" (D.O.P.)

Origin
  • The province of Zamora, in the Autonomous Community of Castilla y León.
Characteristics.
  • Zamorano and Castellano, produced in close geographic proximity, are cheeses of similar characteristics. However, it is possible to make clear distinctions between both cheeses, since each one has particularities that define its personality.
  • For over a century Zamora has enjoyed fame for its ewe's milk cheeses. At the beginning of the century, through spring and summer, families from Zamora travelled to the south, to central Castilla, offering their services as cheese producers to the sheep stock-farmers. They would also carry with them the utensils needed for the production of cheese, and spend months producing the cheeses that locals would keep for the winter.
  • The roaming Zamoran cheesemakers would be paid in money, as well as with cheeses. They would return to Zamora with these cheeses and leave them to age in the same caves where they aged their wine. The caves are cold and humid, and encouraged the development of mold on the rind.
  • The cheeses would be turned often, and rubbed with olive oil, all this giving the cheese its characteristic dark color.
  • Eventually these families, in Zamora and other provinces of Castille, began small artisanal cheese factories, and worked only seasonally. Theses farms grew to become the modern cheese factories that produce pressed paste cheese, most of them keeping the tradition of curing the ewe's milk cheeses in caves.
  Production process.
  • Zamorano is an aged cheese, ranging from cured to very cured, made with ewe's milk. The coagulation of the milk is enzymatic, and the paste is pressed and uncooked.
  • The process of production is similar to the Castellano cheese, but Zamorano cheese uses milk primarily from Churra ewe breed. These ewes are fed in dry pasture lands of northern Castille, and produce milk with a higher fat content.
  • The animal curd is added to the milk at a temperature of 28 a 33ºC (82 a 92ºF) to obtain a compact curdle in a minimum of 30 minutes. The curdle is then cut with wires to obtain corn-kernel or rice-sized lumps.The paste is reheated to 36-38ºC (96-100ºF) stirred and dried, until the lumps are loose and bright.
  • The paste is left to settle, and then moved to a large container where it must finish drying. Finally it is placed into molds where it must be pressed for one day.
  • The salting is achieved by immerssing the cheese in dense, highly salted water for at least one day. It is then left to age for about three weeks, at mild temperature, and then for at least six months in cold humid caves, letting mold form on the outside rind.
  • The rind is dark grey and oily. The inside is closed and compact, with tiny crystal-like dots spread evenly throughout. The cheese is compact, not easy to melt, of a straw-yellow color. The taste is intense although not too strong, slightly piquant, and buttery. The taste stays long in the mouth, with a feeling of cave and a slight aftertaste of nuts.
  • The shape is cylindrical, with a well engraved rind, similar to Castellano or Manchego, but the top and bottom faces are flatter and dark. The size is medium, weighing about 6 lb. (3 Kg.) in average.

 

Uses.
  • Zamorano is a fine snacking cheese that can be easily enjoyed alone with a full bodied wine.
  • It is also delicious accompained by crackers or olives.
  • Zamorano is delicious with grilled or roasted meats, burgers and salads.
  • Try it melted in a hearty omelet with onions or peppers.
  • Combined with sherry, the sweetness of the wine mixes with the piquant tones of the cheese, so that both are toned down. The final result is complex, very pleasant, full of nuances, and very persistent on the palate.
 
 
Recipe.

Shrimp and Zamorano Cheese Croquettes

4 tablespoons sweet butter
1 tablespoon salad oil
6 tablespoons flour
1 teaspoon minced shallots
3/4 cup milk
3 medium shrimp (2 ounzes, ~60 g.) shelled, finely chopped
2 ounces ( 75 g.) of Zamorano cheese
Salt & white pepper, preferably freshly ground
A grating of nutmeg
1 egg yolk
1/2 cup bread crumbs
Oil for frying.

Melt the butter and oil in a saucepan, then sauté the shallots for a minute or two. Stir in the flour and cook, stirring, for another minute or so. Pour in the milk gradually and stir constantly until the mixture is thickened and smooth and has reached the boiling point. Add the shrimp, cook for another 5 minutes then remove from the heat. Stir in 3 tablespoons of the cheese, salt, pepper and nutmeg (the mixture should be well seasoned). Cool, then chill for several hours. (The chilling process may be speeded up by spreading the mixture in a thin layer on a flat dish).

With floured hands, shape the dough into walnut-size balls. Cover with egg yolk, then roll the bread crumbs which have been mixed with in the remaining 2 tablespoons of cheese. Refrigerate.

Fry in the hot oil (about 390ºF or 200ºC) at least 2 inch deep until golden turning once. Or better, use a deep fryer. Drain (may be kept warm in 200º F - 90ºC - oven up to 30 minutes).

Author: Penelope Casas,
from the book, "Tapas, the Little dishes of Spain" (C) 1985

Where to find Spanish Cheeses in USA Most of the Gourmet Food Stores in the US carry some or most of the best Spanish Cheeses.

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