Monday, 31 March 2008

Cheese of the Month - Monte Enebro

This may knock my foodie credibility a bit with some factions, but I have to admit I've never been the biggest fan of Spanish cuisine. I've had the odd pleasant meal here and there, and who doesn't like a bit of chorizo or croquetta every now and again. But where French food has the ability to be both sophisticated and flavourful, Spanish is either fussy and bland or soaked in oil and salt and hugely overpowering. This is a generalisation of course, and I probably haven't tried the best either here or abroad, but give me La Trompette over Barrafina any day.

Cheese, however, is another thing entirely. It seems that anyone, even - shock horror! - a Brit, can knuckle down and make a fantastic cheese given enough time, passion and energy. Some of my favourite cheeses recently have been Spanish, and in trying to figure out why this is I've started thinking that perhaps some of the things that make Spanish cuisine as a whole unappealing to me - the overseasoning, the relatively unsophisticated balancing of flavours - are exactly the reasons that their cheesemakers appear to be able to take bigger risks and produce more exciting cheeses than elsewhere.

Monte Enebro is, first of all, a visually appealing cheese, a goat's with a lovely dry-ash rind (the same mould, I'm told, as used in Roquefort) and a subtle ring of slightly darker flesh whitening and becoming more opaque towards the middle. It's powerful, salty and acidic but with a satisfying smooth flesh and the little bits of gritty ash from the rind provide an extra crunchy texture. It's made from pasturised milk, and as such is a very approachable cheese, but it just lacks that extra 'farmy' taste that you can sometimes get from unpasturised milk. However it's certainly more interesting than something like a Valençay, which is made from unpasturised milk, so they must be doing something right.

What shouldn't be a surprise to learn by now is that Monte Enebro is handmade by retired builder turned artisan cheesemaker Rafael Baez and his daughter Paloma, who for 25 years have shipped their product from their base in Avila to all around the world. For all good cheeses - all my favourites, at least - more important than pasturised vs. unpasturised, large vs. small batches and goat's vs. cow's milk is that individual attention and love of the craft shines through.


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