Producer: Various (Castile-León, Spain)
Milk: Raw Cow's, Goat's & Sheep's Milk
Age: 2-4 months
Amongst the towering wheels of Stilton and Roquefort, one blue cheese often gets overlooked. Valdeon, sometimes sold as Cabrales, is a bit of an underdog in the realm of blue cheeses. Even though it's one of Spain's top cheeses, it somehow has not gained the notoriety of its English and French counterparts.
Valdeon is a mixed milk cheese. Its recipe primarily involves using cow's milk, with a bit of goat's and sheep's milk added. This formula is only generally followed, with some examples having a only little bit of goat and others being completely cow. Despite the milk variety, I've never had a wheel I didn't like. Produced in the Castile-León area of Spain, Valdeon is briefly aged before being wrapped in sycamore leaves, giving the cheese its unique look (which is stunning presented on a cheese plate).
Since real Cabrales is legal in this country, why do some shops sell Valdeon as Cabrales? It's all about the leaves. Originally, like Valdeon, Cabrales was wrapped in leaves. However, the European Economic Community has dictated that Cabrales must now be wrapped in either plastic or foil. The cheeses are very similar, so some shops have opted to use the better-known name to sell their cheese. Rest assured, no matter what they name it, you will never find a leaf-wrapped Cabrales in this country. Taste-wise, Valdeon is milder, with less blueing. Cabrales can be a very intense, almost metallic affair and, despite the better notoriety, Valdeon is an overall more palatable cheese.
Don't be mistaken, though it is milder than Cabrales, Valdeon is not a toothless animal. It has a good acidic bite to it. The green-ish blue veining, spread amply throughout the cheese, delivers a complex flavor, with notes of dark chocolate, coffee beans and even a lightly charred aftertaste, along with its strong saltiness. Valdeon crumbles and melts easily and is my number one "go to cheese" for sprinkling over salad. It is also a favorite addition to grilled cheese sandwiches. Like Pt. Reyes Original Blue Cheese, which I reviewed previously, Valdeon is just as suitable on the cheese plate as it is in the oven.
Valdeon is widely available at most quality cheese counters. At its low price (often hovering around the $15.00/lb. mark), it's probably one of the best cheese deals around and any shop that doesn't carry it should be viewed with a bit of suspicion. Murray's Cheese carries it under the name Cabrales, for $12.99. Artisanal would be happy to sell you some for $16.25. While, over at Cobblestone Foods, it's available for $16.00/lb. Online, iGourmet has it for $13.99/lb (though the accompanying photo is of the wrong cheese).