Spanish Cheese

The Scoop on Spanish Cheese

While Spanish cheese may not be as well-known as varieties from European neighbors like France, Italy, Switzerland, and Britain, there are hundreds of delicious cheeses made in Spain. Manchego is the most famous and a perennial cheeseboard favorite. But Spain also produces lots of other rustic beauties – cheeses with bold and distinctive flavor profiles and with variety that reflects the wide diversity of the country's history, climate, and terroir.

Cheese is an essential ingredient in Spanish cuisine and a popular option in Spanish tapas. But until the 1990s, very few of Spain's great cheeses were exported to the U.S., so American cheese lovers have just begun to appreciate the long tradition of locally made, artisan Spanish cheeses.

Wisconsin's Own Spanish-style Cheese

In Wisconsin, Roth Cheese has won national awards year after year for its Spanish-style, limited production Canela cheese. Named after the Spanish word for “cinnamon,” this variety inspired by manchego cheese is made with fresh cow's milk from Wisconsin's fertile dairy land. It's then hand-rubbed with a cinnamon and paprika blend, producing a signature reddish-orange rind and one-of-a-kind flavor profile. Aged for 15 months or more, Canela features a dense, crystallized texture with intricate flavors of brown butter, candied pineapple, and salted caramel.

The top Spanish cheese types

Spanish cheeses can be divided into three categories: Cheese made from cow's milk in the North and on the Balearic Islands, from sheep's milk in the middle, and goat milk in the South and the Canary Islands.

The most well-known Spanish cheese types include:

  • Manchego cheese from the La Mancha region is made with milk from the Manchega breed of sheep. It's aged for two months to two years and has an iconic herringbone pattern etched into its rind. Manchego has a dry yet creamy texture and an unmistakable, rich flavor with hints of Brazil nuts and caramel.
  • Cabrales – Spain's most famous blue cheese. This sharp and tangy cheese is heavily streaked with blue veins and irregular cavities. It's made with milk from cows, goats, and sheep and aged for 3 to 6 months.
  • Mahón is a cow's milk cheese with a nutty, fruity flavor, a dense texture, and an orange rind made by rubbing the exterior with butter, paprika, and oil. It's Spain's second most popular cheese.
  • Idiazabal is an unpasteurized sheep's milk cheese from the Basque mountains. Often smoked with Beachwood, this hard and chewy cheese has tiny holes, a coppery rind, and a light smoky flavor.
  • Tetilla is a fresh cow's milk cheese with a sweet, clean, buttery, and unctuous flavor with hints of lemon and herbs. It's produced in a unique conical shape resembling a woman's breast.
  • Zamorano is a hard sheep's milk cheese with an intense, slightly tart, nutty flavor.
  • Iberico cheese is another one of Spain's most popular cheeses. This mixed milk variety is aged a minimum of one month and combines the creamy and mellow flavors of cow's milk, the sweet and nutty taste of sheep's milk, and the herbal notes of goat's milk.
  • Marjorero is an exceptional cheese made in the Canary Islands. With a supple to firm texture, Marjorero offers flavors that range from creamy fresh to sweet, robust, nutty, and almondy.
  • Roncal is a dense sheep's milk cheese with hints of dried fruit, a lingering aftertaste, and piquant flavors that grow sharper with age.
  • Murcia al Vino is a goat's milk cheese that's washed in red wine during the aging process, giving the rind a deep burgundy color and a distinct, aromatic flavor with hints of almonds and fermenting fruit.
  • San Simon is a cow's milk cheese that's smoked over birch wood to impart a smoky flavor with buttery aroma and taste and a pleasant balance of acidity and sweetness.
  • Ibores is a raw goat's milk cheese that's aged for two months or more to produce a cheese with aromas of lavender and thyme and a hint of paprika from the cheese's pimentón, the Spanish word for paprika, rind.

Videos: Discover Your Next Favorite Cheese

What to Sip and Savor with Spanish Cheese

When pairing Spanish cheeses, keep these principles in mind.

  • A hard, aged cheese like manchego goes well with a robust red wine like tempranillo, while softer, creamier varieties like tetilla are better with light, crisp whites.
  • Pick wines that match the intensity of the cheese's flavor – otherwise a mild wine can be overwhelmed by a bold cheese.
  • Pair wines and cheeses from the same region. This “what grows together, goes together” rule is based on research that suggests food and wine from the same geographical area share chemical compounds that make them naturally complementary.

Generally, Spanish cheeses pair well with meats like chorizo, Iberico serrano, or Iberico jamon. For vegetables, try olives, red peppers, marcona almonds, and slow-roasted tomatoes. A bit of raw honey complements the strong flavors of many Spanish cheeses, and Spanish torta crackers or crusty breads let these rustic beauties shine.

  • Manchego pairs easily with an aged rioja or tempranillo. An effervescent cava can also work, as the sparkling wine's brightness contrasts with manchego's rich flavors. For food, try marcona almonds, a little honey or quince paste, or slices of jamón Ibérico.
  • Cabrales pairs well with full-bodied reds that can match the cheese's big profile or with a sweet sherry that contrasts the spicy flavor of this blue cheese. For food, bacon-wrapped dates or crusty bread with honey provide a sweet contrast to the blue cheese.
  • Idiazabal goes down well with a medium-bodied red like garnacha – the wine's berry notes provide a nice contrast to the smokiness of the cheese. Pair Idiazabal with a slice of crusty bread and black olive tapenade or grill it with roasted peppers.
  • Mahón pairs nicely with sparkling wine or an acidic white that can cut through the buttery texture of the cheese. Alternately, try a sweet fortified variety from Malaga. Mahon is perfect with a pear and arugula salad.
  • Iberico cheese wants a medium-bodied red like rioja – the fruit and spice in the wine will balance the unique flavor of the cheese.


Why aren't Spanish cheeses more well-known?

It's thought that Spanish cheese has not received international recognition because of the movement away from artisan cheese production following the Spanish Civil War and World War II. The government required that dairies produce a minimum of 10,000 liters of milk per day, effectively industrializing cheesemaking and pushing many artisan cheesemakers out of business or underground. Since the repeal of this legislation in the 1980's, artisan cheesemakers have been encouraged to apply their craft and Spanish cheese has begun to find its place in the world markets.

Do Wisconsin cheesemakers produce Spanish-style cheeses?

Wisconsin cheesemakers have not yet produced many Spanish-style cheeses. Canela from Roth Cheese is one of the few true Spanish-style cheeses originating from Wisconsin. However, Wisconsin cheesemakers have been producing award-winning versions of Hispanic-style cheeses, including Mexican cheese types like cotija, oaxaca, queso quesadilla, and queso fresco.

What's the difference between Spanish manchego and Mexican manchego?

Spanish manchego is a hard, ivory-white sheep's milk cheese with an iconic herringbone rind that must be ripened for several months to two years. Mexican manchego cheese is made from cow's milk and has no minimum maturation – it's often sold quite young and has excellent melting properties.

Are Spanish cheeses spicy?

Most Spanish cheeses are not naturally spicy. Most types of spicy cheese tend to be varieties like cheddar, jack, or gouda, which have ingredients like peppers added to create more heat.

Craving award-winning aged cheddar, pining for parmesan, or searching for a new cheese to try? The world’s best cheese is just a click away! Explore our directory of Wisconsin cheesemakers and retailers who offer online cheese shopping and get cheese shipped right to your door. What are you waiting for?

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