Your Guide To Portuguese Cheese
When you think of countries that produce delicious cheese, you might think of France and Italy.
But don’t forget about Portugal, as here you can find a variety of artisan cheeses. Some cheese in Portugal also has a protected designation of origin to preserve its history.
What does a protection designation of origin mean?
This ensures that the cheese produced in a certain region is made with traditional methods and ingredients.
With that in mind, let’s explore how cheese is made in Portugal. We’ll also feature some famous cheeses you should sample when you’re there.
Brief History Of Cheese Production In Portugal
Cheese has been produced in Portugal for centuries. Although technology and equipment used in the cheese-making process has been changed and modernized over the years, the craftsmanship is the same.
There are about 15 styles of Portuguese cheeses, with many being under appellation law. This designation regulates the stages of the cheese-making process, such as the production methods used, how long the cheese is aged for, and how it’s labelled.
Traditional cheese in the country is handmade in small cheese shops called queijarias. Since the terrain in Portugal isn’t suitable for cattle breeding, shepherds mainly focus on rearing goats and sheep. This is why so many Portuguese cheeses will contain milk from sheep, goat, or both.
There is an exception to this rule, though. Cows are popular livestock on the island of Azores, so cheese you’ll find there is usually produced with cow’s milk.
Three Types Of Cheese Categories
In Portugal, you will find different cheese categories. These are:
- Cheese made with sheep’s milk: This is the largest cheese category in Portugal, with the cheeses mainly made in the mountainous region of Serra da Estrela, located north of Lisbon.
- Cheese made from goat’s milk: Interestingly, many farmers in Portugal will make cheese for their own consumption that you won’t usually find on the market. There are two types of cheeses that are made from goat’s milk: rabaçal and cabreiro de castelo branco.
– Rabaçal: this is made in the Beiral Litoral province. It’s a cheese with white curd.
– Cabreiro de casteloo branco: This cheese is soft and white when fresh but its curd hardens and becomes saltier when aged for longer.
- Combination cheese: In Portugal, you can also find cheese that’s made from a blend of different milks, such as sheep and goat milk, or sheep, goat, and cow milk. The proportions of the milk will be diferent from one location to the next, but you can find these blended cheeses throughout Portugal.
- Fresh cheese: These types of cheeses can be found in every region of the country and they can be produced from cow, sheep, or goat milk. They can be eaten straight out of their molds and are sometimes used as a palate cleanser when eaten between two ripened cheeses.
Famous Types Of Portuguese Cheese
There are many delicious Portuguese cheeses to enjoy.
Here we feature six of the most popular and unique ones to try during your next trip to Portugal.
Serra da Estrela
This is considered to be the most famous Portuguese cheese. It originates in the mountainous region of mainland Portugal that’s traditionally a location for pastoral farming. The sheep produce milk used to make this raw milk cheese that gets curdled with thistle flower.
Today, this cheese is considered artisanal and it’s got Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) status by the European Union.
Serra da Estrela cheese is matured for a minimum of a month. It can be cured until it becomes hard, but it’s usually buttery and soft. This enables you to cut an opening on the surface and scoop out its gooey insides so it’s ideal for spreading on bread.
Queijo São Jorge
This type of cheese hails from the Atlantic archipelago of Azores. It gets cured at room temperature until it becomes firm, and it’s usually cured for a minimum of three months. It becomes even more popular the longer it’s aged.
This cheese has been produced since the 15th century and today it’s still one of the most famous cheeses to eat in Portugal.
It has a waxy, firm texture and a mild yet buttery flavor. It also has an underlying flavor that becomes tangy as it matures. It’s ideal to add to the table when you want to bring a full, tangy flavor to meals. Queijo São Jorge is best enjoyed with a glass of full-bodied red wine.
Queijo de Nisa
This cheese is popular in the Alentejo region of Portugal. It’s a semi-hard cheese that’s made with Merina Branca sheep milk. It has a lovely creamy flavor.
This is another cheese that contains thistle rennet, so it’s good for vegetarians to consume, but unlike other cheeses containing thistle which can be a bit sour Nisa has a sweet, walnut-infused flavor. This cheese can be enjoyed with a crisp white wine and should be served with fruits like plums or apricots.
Traditionally, this cheese is eaten as a snack or used as an ingredient in traditional Portuguese dishes such as quiche de legumes, a quiche that contains zucchini, carrots, and cheese.
Queijo do Pico
This cheese is unique in that it’s only made on the island of Pico in the Azores. Pico cheese is made with cow’s milk and the curd gets salted before being formed into cheese that’s left to mature for about a month in humid, cold conditions.
This type of cheese is flat, smooth, and round. It has a soft white interior and a yellow rind. Since it has approximately 50 percent fat content, the cheese is moist and has a salty flavor.
Pico island has perfect conditions for raising livestock for milk, which gave rise to the production of cheese such as queijo do pico. Historically, the first references of this cheese go all the way back to around 1867 when it was recorded just how important cheese production was on the island.
This cheese comes from the Trás-os-Montes area that borders Galicia in Spain. What’s special about it is that it can only be made from a sheep breed that’s native to the region.
Terra Quente, where Trás-os-Montes is located, has abundant natural vegetation and the breed of sheep has thrived here since the 19th century. Today, it makes up 98 percent of the sheep in the Alto Duoro Valley.
Terrincho cheese is cured with rye, and it has a palatable, mild flavor that’s beautifully enhanced with the use of paprika.
There are three types of this cheese. The regular cheese is matured for 30 days, and the old terrincho version is matured for 90 days so it has a stronger taste. The third type of terrincho has paprika- or red pepper-covered rind.
Four Cheese-Producing Regions In Portugal
Serra da Estrela
This region, which is located in the highest mountain range of the country, has 210 milk producers and 40 cheese-certified shops.
There’s also a cheese museum in Pêraboa, where you can sample cheese by the same name – Serra da Estrela – which is sometimes referred to as the king of Portugeuse cheese.
The Azores are an independent region of Portugal. This region is renowned for its butter, cheese, and milk production, and it makes up around 50 percent of Portugal’s cheese production.
Examples of cheese produced here include Queijo São Jorge and Queijo do Pico.
Cheese from this area of Portugal, which is located in the northeastern region, gets served in restaurants that are located all over the country.
Every year, this region produces approximately 140 tons of well-known cheeses that are typically made with goat or sheep milk.
This region of the country has been called the Tuscany of Portugal. It’s so well-known for the cheese it produces that it hosts an annual fair to present and sell all of its cheeses to locals and tourists.
This region has three PDO (Protected Designation of Origin) cheeses: Queijo de Evora, Queijo de Nisa, and Queijo de Serpa.
What’s one of the most famous cheese dishes in Portugal?
Make sure you try the Francesinha sandwich that contains cheese as it’s one of the most popular dishes in the country. Read our article, “Is Fracesinha The Best Sandwich Ever?” to learn more about it.
Is there cream cheese in Portugal?
Requeijão is a milk-derived product that’s produced in Brazil and Portugal. It’s a bit like ricotta and is used to make cheese spreads.
Portuguese cheese comes in a variety of forms, with some cheese being hard and others having a gooey center that you can scoop out and eat.
In this guide, we’ve featured a variety of Portuguese cheeses to know about and ensure you sample when travelling to Portugal.