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Anticipating your potential question or even complaint: no, chances are tiny that this cheese is available at your local super market, at least in the quality I am talking about. But hey, first, you’re used to that problem, second, last month’s Comté is super well distributed – and third: I assume you’re reading this blog because you’re interested in widening your cheese horizon! Therefore: Mahón.
Which started to really fascinate me since we experienced it at its absolute best during Heinzelcheesetalk #62, about a year ago, pairing beautifully with a Garnatxa from Capçanes in Montsant in northeastern Spain.
Mahón in its various states of ripeness, from soft and acid-driven mildness to its more solid, mature and very complex version, counts amongst Spain’s most popular cheeses. It stems from Menorca and its name refers to the seaport town Mahón, Maó in Catalan (as, by the way and supposedly, does mayonnaise, Spanish mahonesa). Majorca’s smaller sister has a quite turbulent and long history with a multitude of different cultural influences – Carthaginians, Byzantium, Cordoba, Britain, France… back and forth, forth and back, finally Spain. Initially there were as many sheep as cows (and economically it was mostly about wool), whereas today Menorca is one of the Mediterranean exceptions dominated by cows.
Really good, artisanal Mahón (as opposed to the more industrial stuff) is made from raw cow’s milk (with the occasional addition of a small amount of sheep’s milk, which has to be used up somehow) on around 600 small farms from October until June, when pastures are green and lush. The cheese merchants (affineurs) buy the young cheeses (in its origin this goes back to bartering between farmers and rural traders) who finish them in their caves. During that time, the square “wheels” the curd is shaped into using special cloths, typically are rubbed with olive oil and pimentón – not to give them any special aroma, but to protect the rind. Tastewise the vivid acidity rules high, somewhat similar to Lombardian Taleggio.
At this year’s Salon du Fromage in Paris, back in March (a former life…) I met J. Bosco Triay Barber, Master Afinador at Queso Quintana, one of the top addresses for Mahón. He had brought excellent semi-curado (two months old), delicious curado (five months) and a gorgeous añejo (ten months). It was a huge pleasure to taste those cheeses the other day with the first Heinzelcheesetalk group after the Corona break – and the fresh, vibrant Fino sherry in our glasses really hit the mark.
Why does Mahón fascinate me so? Because it first (enumerations seem to be today’s thing ;) embodies Menorca’s history, second it looks, smells and tastes – “works” – so completely differently than any German, French or Swiss cheese, and third his true, artisanal character is still alive and vibrant.
So: ask your cheesemonger for it, keep looking for it, and at some point you’ll find it… I wish you a quiet, sun-filled, glowing start into autumn – thank you for reading and being around.
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