During my continually ongoing education as a cheesemonger, I have often compiled lists of my ‘top 10 cheeses’, based on what I was in love with at the time. The list would invariably change each time, but certain cheeses remained constant members of this exclusive list. One of those is the Spanish cheese Monte Enebro. If a young, fresh crottin represents one end of the goat cheese court, Monte Enebro has its proverbial feet planted firmly in the other. Full flavored and definitively goaty, it’s not for the faint of heart or the anti-goat crowd. On the other hand, those looking for a punchy cheese with superb texture and flavor can look no further.
As I researched this cheese, I found a bit of conflicting information about the rind of this cheese. The roughly mottled exterior is covered in a layer of grey mold, commonly thought to be ash. The truth is that the multi-hued mold is penicilium roqueforti, that loveable mold commonly used in blue cheese. Essential to the flavor of Monte Enebro, the mold imparts a unique peppercorn-like spiciness, further accentuated by its distinct sharpness.
Lush and lingering, Monte Enebro waves its goaty flag for all to see. It is also pasteurized, making it an almost essential choice for those looking to avoid raw milk, but not give up flavor. When young, the cheese will be the consistency of very dense cheesecake (and so rich it should be eaten in even smaller quantities, lest you get a stomach ache like I did when attempting to make a lunch out of a quarter-pound of Monte Enebro and some bread). As it ages, it gets creamier and stronger, concentrating its flavors into a progressively saltier bite.
Monte Enebro was invented about 15 years ago and is one of the flagships of the new artisanal movement in Spanish cheese. Far from the popularity of Manchego, it is also just as removed from Manchego’s current, mainly factory, production. In fact, Monte Enebro is only produced by one dairy, Queserias del Tietar, located in Avila, a town near Madrid. It is the brainchild of Mr. Rafael Baez, who still produces it with help from his daughter Paloma. Monte Enebro is a cheese to be proud of, to be sure: gold metal winner at the London International Cheese and Dairy competition 3 years in a row, as well as the World Cheese Awards in 200 and Gourmet Quesos in 2003.
Like many Spanish cheeses, I love a smattering of olives and spicy cured meats to accompany my cheese, but watch out for excessive saltiness. An over-aged Monte Enbro and olives will have you guzzling water instead of sipping a glass of White Muscat wine, a pairing which seems to have across the board consensus, unlike the moldy exterior.
Artisanal offers it for $27.75/lb. My old cheese friends at Murray's Cheese will cut you some for $21.99/lb, while at my new new cheese counter, Cobblestone Foods, it's yours for $24.00/lb. Online shoppers will find the lowest price at iGourmet for $21.98/lb.