Portuguese Cheese

Portuguese Cheese
Portuguese CheeseIngalls Photography

Roquefort, Manchego, Stilton—these are household names for American cheese lovers. And if I get my way, Zimbro, Serpa, and other Portuguese cheeses will soon be as well. Portugal's glorious lesser-known cheeses first caught my attention on a trip to Lisbon, where I fell in love with a handful of queijos made from the distinctive earthy, tangy milk of sheep and goats that graze the country's rocky terrain. I discovered (A) amarelo da Beira Baixa, a washed-rind cheese that marries goat and sheep's milk for a smooth semisoft texture and a salty flavor with subtle hints of grass. Some traditional Portuguese cheese makers start their curd with cardoon thistles instead of animal rennet, which lends** (B) Zimbro** and (C) Serpa a sharp, vegetal quality. Zimbro has a golden rind that protects a luxurious interior of puddinglike raw sheep's milk cheese that I enjoy by the spoonful. Younger wheels of Serpa have bright notes of butter and yeast, though I prefer the concentrated piquant flavors that develop a year into the aging process. Firm-textured (D) Terrincho Velho is rubbed with paprika and olive oil, the smoky flavor intermingling with the nutty bite of the aged sheep's milk. But the pillowy goats' milk center of the iconic (E) cabra raiano may provide the best introduction to the world of Portuguese cheese. Gently tart, sweet, and herbaceous, it's best enjoyed smeared on rustic bread alongside a cool glass of vinho verde. Perfeito.