Menorca (Balearic Islands) – Spain
- Composition: Raw cow’s milk
- Coagulation: enzymatic
- Texture: pressed paste
- Ageing: 60 to 150 days
- Shape: Traditional cushion shape, with characteristic cloth print.
- Weight: 3 kg. (approx. 6.6 lb.)
By the mid 19th century, the indigenous but low yielding, “vermelles” cattle, were still the main breed on the island. In 1860, Queen Isabella II of Spain sent a herd of selected cows and bulls to cross with these Minorcan cattle to improve the breeding stock of the area.
During the same period, the increase in milk and cheese production and its influence on the island’s economy, together with the vacuum left by departure of British occupants and specialists, gave rise to suitable circumstances for the appearance of what was to become a characteristic figure in the Minorcan cheese industry: the cheese collector-ripener, who collected the young cheeses from different makers around the island in order to mature them in his own installations under uniform, controlled conditions.
The final purpose was the distribution and sale of the cheeses under the ripener’s own brand name in markets both on the island and the mainland. The first recorded cheese ripener began work around 1914, but it was not until 1922 that it became a more extended trade. This profession still exists, although nowadays its relative importance has decreased. This is due, among other reasons, to the existence of a large factory and an industrial cooperative, together with the increased ability for self-management of farmer-cheese makers, many of whom struggle to fulfil their wish of having their own, prestigious brand.
Of one thing, however, there can be no doubt: the work of the ripeners has had a profound influence on the development of a regular, homogenous cheese type from which the vast majority of the differences in quality present in cheeses produced by independent makers have been eliminated; albeit logical that such differences should exist since each cheesemaker worked according to his own ancestral recipe, convinced that his was the best.
With the benefit of hindsight, we now know that the development of the cheesemaking industry has been a continuous process to which numerous improvements have been made and which has culminated in an emblematic product: Mahón cheese; the true representative of the farmhouse cheese tradition of the island that nowadays everyone knows and enjoys.
The rind is rubbed with vegetable oil and paprika. The inside shows a variable number of small eyes never larger than a pea. Easy to cut, it presents a firm, flat and shiny surface. Soft and elastic, the paste goes from white to light yellow, becoming darker when mature. It has a smooth flavour, faintly acid and salty, sometimes reminiscent of milk or butter.
Semi-cured Mahón cheese, more buttery and a little acid, can be combined with bread or biscuits, anchovies or ham. As a dessert it pairs well with jam, honey or dried fruits. Red wine, especially if it is young and subtle, also makes a good accompaniment.
- Fat content: 63%
- FDM: 53%