Abrigo is a Spanish cheese that looks like an old piece of stone that has come from an old Celtic Cathedral and has a dark and mysterious flavor. Nobody wants to see mold on fruit or bread, but on a cheese rind, mold bodes well for flavor. For some cheese styles, the producer adds cultures to the milk to encourage mold to colonize the rind. For others, the cheese maker assists the ambient fungi by aging the wheel in a humid place. The molds that eventually bloom on the rind impart aroma to the interior and, in some cases, help transform the texture.
From time immemorial the unique characteristics of climate, flora and land have made the Maestrazgo an ideal area for grazing. The Cooperative uses the milk from many herds of Murciana goats that have a varied diet of the local flora. The Cooperative has a strict policy that insures that only milk from healthy grass fed goats is used. When you buy this cheese you are in fact helping to maintain this natural territory and its herds.
Abrigo, a Spanish goat cheese, boasts a splendid cloak of mold in hues from white to gray to black. In fact, the cooperative that produces the cheese chose the name because it means “coat” in Spanish, a reference to the abundant external mold. It just goes to show what you can do with a little goat’s milk and a lot of hard work and some salt.
Made with pasteurized goat’s milk from the Murciana breed of goats and matured for about five months, Abrigo is the co-op’s rendition of a centuries-old local cheese known as Tronchón. This cheese won the silver medal in its category at the World Cheese Awards in London in 2007 and the gold medal in the same contest held in Las Palmas De Gran Canaria 2010.
According to the importer, the co-op has been making Abrigo for 40 years and distinguishes it from Tronchón a cheese mentioned in Don Quixote by nurturing its lavish blanket of mold.
But the most obvious signature of both Abrigo and Tronchón is the peculiar shape, a 2- to 3-pound wheel resembling a doughnut with a concavity instead of a hole. Even the importer had no idea why tradition demands this shape, but it’s amusing to imagine that Don Quixote and Sancho Panza shared a cheese similar to the Abrigo.
Inside that riveting rind is a semi-firm, pale ivory paste with a few pinhead-size eyes. The texture is a firm dry paste, the aroma reminded me of damp cement and mushrooms, with some caramel and nutty notes. On the palate, the cheese is complex and multilayered and at first it is a very muted buttery and salty sweet taste and then you get the wonderful milk proteins that explode in your mouth and then finishes, with that familiar citrus , acidity, crisp goat cheese tang.
In many respects, this rustic cheese from the area around Valencia resembles Garrotxa, an aged Spanish goat cheese from nearby Catalonia. Both are sublime aged goat cheeses that, in my experience, have no equivalent in the United States.
Abrigo might work with a creamy white wine, but a medium-weight California Cabernet Franc matched the cheese in intensity. The cheese doesn’t want a lot of tannin, but a high-acid red wine of moderate heft should suit it well.
How to enjoy
1) Eat it at the right temperature (at least 65 degrees)
2) Smell it first, distinguishing the crust from the inside.
3) Chew it slowly, let your mouth enjoy all the nuances distributed throughout the cheese.
4) Once you have swallowed it, wait for the aftertaste.
5) Eat other food between the different cheeses, some will complement the flavor (grapes, apples, quince, jams and honey) others will neutralize it (bread, wine and water).
How to store
Good cheese, like fine wine, must be pampered. To stop the cheese from cracking or drying up, it should be kept in a slightly damp cloth and stored at the bottom of the refrigerator (the warmest part) or in a cellar that has 85 to 98% humidity. Remove it a couple of hours before eating it to give it time to warm up and be at its best flavor. Be sure to visit us on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/FloridaCheeseClub.
Weight: 2.2 lb (1 kg)
Format: Traditional Maestrazgo Mould — Wheel
Origin: Calí, Valencia, Spain
Aged: Five Months
Paste: Ivory White
Crust: With Mold
Texture: Firm, No eyes
Smell: Characteristic; low to medium intensity depending on degree of maturation
Flavor: Slightly Sweet With Enough Salt Balance
Manufacturer: Quesos de Catí COOP.V
Origin: Catí, Valencia, Spain