We're trying out a new feature about cheese written by a cheese-monger friend whose identity we're keeping a secret for now. Just as we're selecting a different wine to try each week in the Vino column, how about a different cheese each week? Let us know what you think: keep the cheese coming? Or hold the cheese?
So, you're at the cheese counter and you're thinking about getting something Spanish. I can almost guarantee that you're contemplating the big M, Manchego. While the French have their Brie and the Swiss their Gruyere, Manchego dominates the world of Spanish cheese for most people.
But Spanish cheese does not begin and end with Manchego. In fact, the county produces some amazing cheeses, most of them made from the supremely palatable sheep's milk. Among my favorites is a lush, creamy cheese called Queso de la Serena.
When I started working the counter at one of New York City's most venerable cheese shops, subtleties were not my forte. I was looking for cheeses with brash, strong and memorable flavors. The Serena is just that. Creamy and moist when ripe, its mild looks disguise a sharp tanginess, due to thistle rennet. In fact, the flavor profile leans more towards the Portuguese family. This is not too odd considering it hails from the town Cáceres, which sits on the border with Portugal.
As with most sheep cheeses, in particular the ones from Spain, I find it pairs very well with a nice red wine. Match a glass of Rioja with some olives and a bit of the Serena and you have a culinary trip to Spain without having to brush up on those high school Spanish lessons.
Queso de la Serena is available for $17.99 per pound at Murray's Cheese (254 Bleecker Street between 6th and 7th Avenues, in the Grand Central Market, and online).