The cheese of the month for February 2022 is: Las Arenas from Yolanda Egocheaga in Asturias/Spain

This a monthly series which I have been publishing for quite some years. You can subscribe here, to get the latest cheese delivered directly on to your screen.

Crumbly and rather dry, made from cow’s milk, with some irregular spots of blue. The rind brown, grooved, thin, with a distinctiveness smokiness – the Las Arenas didn’t really jump at me at our first encounter. A friend had bought it in Madrid from the glorious Cultivo cheesemongers (thank you Florian!). Theoretically, everything about it was just right: raw milk, natural rennet, spontaneous blue mould, a family’s small artisanal production in Asturias. But to be totally honest with you: after our first encounter I forgot about its ongoing existence in the large brown paper bag that acts as cheese vault in my fridge.

Fully three weeks later I came across it while sorting leftover bits and bobs, dutifully put it on that night’s cheese board – and ¡Hola! It still crumbled rather dryly, but now I liked that, it reminded me of Salers from Auvergne and Bleu de Termignon from Savoie. I felt that we understood each other, whereas before there had been just silence. I was almost sad when I picked up the last crumbs.

The next day, I chanced upon the following passage in the latest book by Cees Noteboom, that fine observer and describer:

Every single time, you have to surrender to Spain, have to overcome something, an invisible border that consists of history … It’s never been an easy country, it never gives you anything for free, I sense … how it wants to be conquered, and that is, according to its own laws. Landscapes of grimly determined beauty, wide and open, made for traversing armies, passes, fords in rivers long dried-out, old bridges made from massive stones, everything smells of history, of the Iberians, the Arabs, Visigoths, Romans who left behind their genes in the people who belong to these landscapes.

Cees Noteboom, 533: A Book of Days, 43 (my own translation as I couldn’t get hold of the published English edition – apologies got the translator in question!)

¡Hola! again. Noteboom would hardly have thought of cheese, but this pertains to so much of the real stuff I’ve tasted from Spain. Love on second sight, or rather bite, with the intellect actively involved – which certainly doesn’t do any harm.

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