This week, I return from my goat cheese hiatus to bring you one of my favorite Spanish cheeses, Queso de la Garrotxa. Despite the fact I've tasted hundreds of cheeses, it remains a completely unique offering and one I find myself unable to resist.
This cheese would make a great posterboy for the artisanal cheese movement in Europe. Industrial cheese factories had basically put the rustic Garrotxa out of production until about 20 years ago, where it was revitalized by Spanish cheese expert Enric Canut. These days, thanks to his efforts, it's becoming increasing popular (and easy to find).
Garrotxa has not yet received DOP protection, meaning that anyone could come about and make a cheese called Garrotxa at the factory level. They would have a hard time of it though. The mold which produces the suede-like grey rind that is the signature of this cheese's appearance grows mainly in the area of Catalonia where it is aged. Without that rind and ivory white interior, it would not be the same cheese at all.
Despite this restriction, I've found quality of this cheese varies wildly based on producer. At its best, Garrotxa is sweet and wonderfully herby with a tanginess that reminds me of sour cream or buttermilk. The worst examples I've found to be simply mild and nutty. Either end of the spectrum has a distinct lack of that citrus-like goaty flavor associated with younger goat's milk cheeses, making it perfect for those looking to win over the "I don't like goat cheese" crowd.
Though some might disagree, Garrotxa is one of those cheeses I just don't want to cook with. Its firm texture and complex taste lend itself perfectly to enjoying simply sliced and served as a table cheese with some olives or shaved over a light salad and drizzled with a balsamic vinagrette.
Garrotxa is available from Artisanal for $26.25/lb, $19.00/lb at Cobblestone Foods and at iGourmet for $17.99. These are, by far, not your only options. Look for Garrotxa at your neighborhood cheese shop.