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Whether you’re a self-confessed cheese connoisseur or you just go ga-ga for the gooey stuff melted all over your food, these Portuguese cheeses are perfect for quelling those cheese-seeking cravings you get on the road.
The world of Portuguese cheese may not be as world-renowned as the likes of French or Italian, but when you look at the awards won by Portuguese cheeses and just the sheer number of them, it’s clear to see that the Portuguese have a love affair with cheese that burns wildly to this day.
Saddle up for a whirlwind tour rife with herby, salty, sweet, savory, and fruity flavors, along with so much more, as we put ten of Portugal’s must-try cheeses under the spotlight.
Before we begin, you’ll see the following terms (often Portuguese words) used throughout this article. For reference, here’s what they mean:
- Queijo – Cheese
- Ovelha – Sheep
- Vaca – Cow
- Cabra – Goat
- Curado – Cured (meaning the cheese has aged)
- Artesanal – Artisanal (referring to a product made in a traditional, handmade, non-mechanized way)
- DOP or PDO – Protected Destination of Origin – Awarded by the European Union, products with PDO status are protected by EU law, meaning they are only produced in a certain geographical location using particular ingredients and processes.
1. Queijo de Azeitão (Sheep)
An award-winning semi-soft cheese with PDO status, renowned throughout Portugal, Azeitão cheese brings intense sour and herby tones to the palate, largely due to its production process.
Not only is the cheese made from the unpasteurized milk of the sheep that graze on the sprawling green pastures of the Azeitão region, but also a type of local wild thistle is also used in the curdling process. This laces the sour and salty flavor with a fresh herbiness.
Typically you slice the top of the hard cheese rind to reveal the thick, gooey white cheese inside, which can be very pungent and is ideal for spreading on fresh, sliced bread, crackers, and other sweet and savory treats.
2. Queijo Serra da Estrela (Sheep)
The bulging wheels of Serra da Estrela cheese, commonly bound in cloth, are a very common sight at supermarkets and delicatessens across Portugal.
Granted PDO status in 1996, the cheese has been made in the mountains of Serra da Estrela for hundreds of years, made from the milk of ewes that graze on the land.
The process of making this cheese is a true labor of love, which includes manual filtration of the milk, curdling with thistle ground with salt, and daily washes of the molds throughout the maturation process.
The result is a cheese with a strong aroma and salty, somewhat spicy flavor profile. Typically you’ll find it either with a semi-soft buttery texture, with a yellow-white color, or in its more mature form, as a semi-hard to hard cheese with a brown-orange color.
3. Queijo São Jorge (Cow)
Hailing from the island of São Jorge in the gorgeous archipelago of the Azores, São Jorge cheese is a semi-hard to hard cheese made from cow’s milk, known for its smooth, firm texture and dark yellow color.
Its strong flavor, with a mild sweetness and undertones of nuttiness, spice, and tang, make for a diverse cheese that is used in, or with, a wide range of dishes.
A good cheese to enjoy with both Portuguese red and port wine, São Jorge cheese’s use in food is vast. You’ll find it added to make bean-based dishes in Portugal, eaten with fruit and bread, and even used in São Jorge pudding, one of the island’s most beloved local desserts.
4. Castelões Queijo Curado (Cow)
Castelões are hugely popular across Portugal, and while they produce a handful of different cheeses, their cured original recipe flagship cheese, made from cow’s milk, is a tried and trusted go-to for so many Portuguese.
Very much a must-have on dinner tables and cheese boards for celebrations like Easter and Christmas, the buttery, mild flavor and semi-hard texture of this cheese make it very versatile.
Hence, it has become an everyday cheese for the Portuguese, perfect for eating by the slice in sandwiches, on top of beans or stews, or as part of a cheese board. Its pleasant flavor isn’t overpowering, and it is a good choice if you don’t like your cheeses too strong or intense.
5. Quinta do Olival Queijo de Cabra Curado (Goat)
Best enjoyed at room temperature, the award-winning Quinta do Olival cured goat cheese is very much the cheese you bring to the table when it’s time to entertain friends and dinner guests.
Made from the milk of goats that roam in the pastures of Quinta do Olival in the north of Portugal, this aromatic cheese has a somewhat deep and intense, but not too overpowering, flavor.
While a hard cheese, its texture is relatively soft and is best enjoyed sliced, making it ideal for serving on platters as a starter or dessert. It also pairs well with white wines.
6. Queijo de Nisa (Sheep)
Any cheese that was once voted one of the 100 best in the world (2008) you know has to come with plenty of prestige and clout, and that’s very much the case with Queijo de Nisa.
Made from the milk of Merino sheep in the east of Portugal, this PDO status cheese has a semi-hard texture and a hard rind that is either smooth or wrinkled, and it has a strong, sharp flavor with mildly acidic, almost alcohol-like, notes.
Very much a cheese to pair with red wine, Nisa cheese is also a beloved snack eaten at all times of the day. It is also used in several dishes, notably quiches such as Quiche de Legumes com Queijo de Nisa, a savory vegetable and cheese tart.
7. Queijo de Évora (Sheep)
A cheese of great significance in the Évora region of Portugal, Queijo de Évora has been made in the villages for generations, using the unpasteurized milk of Merino sheep.
Historically, farmers and people in this region were poor; hence this cheese was a huge part of the local diet and sometimes even used as a form of currency.
Once the milk has been filtered, salted, and heated over an open fire until the curd forms, it is left to mature for up to a month. The result is a cheese with a thick, yellow crust and hard-yet-crumbly texture.
Its flavor profile is fascinating, lacing the mildly bitter and salty taste with fresh, herby, and even fruity notes, all of which become more defined as the cheese ages. It’s a great snack cheese, often eaten with fresh bread and wine.
8. Queijo Rabaçal (Sheep and Goat)
Mixed milk cheeses are some of the most distinctively flavorsome and unique in Portugal, and there are many cheesemakers that will blend cow, sheep, goat, and even a combination of all three kinds of milk to create some sumptuous cheeses.
PDO status Queijo Rabaçal, made from a blend of sheep and goat’s milk in central Portugal, is one of the country’s most beloved blended milk cheeses. This white semi-hard cheese has a smooth, slightly oily yellow rind, and its mild, delicate flavor, with hints of spice, makes for a showstopping pairing with bread, nuts, and plenty of jams, along with red wine.
9. Serra de Penela Queijo de Vaca e Ovelha (Cow and Sheep)
Made not too far from Queijo Rabaçal in the neighboring mountains, Serras de Penela cheese is made from a blend of cow’s and sheep’s milk.
It is slightly sweeter, with less spice, than Queijo Rabaçal, and its delicate taste makes it a versatile cheese that can be enjoyed with bread, fruits, and plenty of other dishes.
10. Queijos Artesanais
To complete our list, we have not so much a specific type of cheese but more a suggestion for how to find new, exciting, and delicious cheeses in Portugal.
There are so many regional artisanal cheeses in Portugal, and you can find lots of them at farmer’s markets. The Sunday market at LX Factory and Time Out Market in Lisbon, for example, are just two of the many places you can discover new styles and brands of cheese throughout the country.
Often the vendors will encourage you to try the cheeses and will tell you about their flavor profiles and how best to eat them. Many of them are used to selling to tourists, so they are also often able to vacuum pack them for you and give you advice about how best to store and travel with them.
You may not have been aware of it prior to traveling to Portugal, but Portuguese cheese really is a thing. The Portuguese have a deep, passionate connection to cheese, and throughout the country, you can find so many different kinds of award-winning cheese to enjoy with wine, as a snack or appetizer, or to be used in plenty of different dishes.
These ten kinds of cheese are an excellent place to start and cover some of the country’s most iconic cheeses and how best to enjoy them. But beyond our choices, I encourage you to get to the markets, delicatessens, and cheesemongers and ask the cheesemakers and vendors to recommend their products to you. Many of them will be more than happy to take you on a cheese-themed culinary journey to discover new flavors and tastes.
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