Spain’s notable cheeses number more than 100, but many are not exported to the U.S. Below are a dozen that are reasonably available and definitely worth knowing:
From goat’s milk
Garrotxa: From Catalonia, this smooth, semi-firm cheese is nutty and sweet, almost like a goat gruyère. Serve with sherry—a dry fino before dinner or a sweet oloroso or amontillado style at the end of a meal.
Majorero: Enric Canut, the Spanish cheese authority, believes this is his country’s finest goat cheese. No argument there. Made on the island of Fuerteventura in the Canary Islands, majorero is firm and tart, with a faintly lemony taste. Pair with a white verdejo or oloroso sherry.
Monte Enebro: Made in the shape of a large flattened log, monte enebro (or montenebro) hails from the province of Avila. The interior is dense, creamy and herbaceous; the dimpled rind looks like birch tree bark. Pour a verdejo.
Nevat: A bloomy-rind cheese from Catalonia, nevat is molded in a cheesecloth bag and resembles a snow-covered mountain, with a flat bottom, sloped sides and a peak. A ripe nevat will be creamy under the rind and firm at the core.
From sheep’s milk:
Caña de Oveja: An unusual soft-ripened sheep’s milk cheese from Murcia, an area known primarily for goat cheese, caña de oveja ripens from the outside in, so it should be soft and luscious under the rind. Expect mushroom aromas and a tangy finish.
Idiazábal: A smoked cheese from the Basque region, idiazábal is firm, salty and piquant when aged, more mellow and buttery when young. Enjoy before dinner with green olives, Marcona almonds, and dry sherry.
Queso de la Serena: Made in Extremadura from the rich raw milk of Merino sheep, queso de la serena becomes creamy, even molten, when ripe. Tradition calls for slicing off the top and scooping out the runny interior with a spoon.
Roncal: Spain’s first DO (denomination of origin) cheese, roncal comes from the Navarra region. It must be made with raw milk and aged at least four months, which practically guarantees that it will have mouthfilling flavor. The aroma is herbaceous and undeniably sheepy, with that wet-wool scent.
Torta del Casar: One of Spain’s most expensive cheeses, torta del casar comes from Extremadura and greatly resembles queso de la serena. It has a buttery interior that becomes progressively molten as it ripens, aromas of mushroom and truffle, and a bitter finish.
Zamorano: Similar to manchego but with even more intense flavor, zamorano is a raw-milk cheese aged at least three months and sometimes much longer. The aroma suggests the fat on a lamb chop; the flavors are robust and tangy.
From cow’s milk:
Mahón: From the Mediterranean island of Menorca, mahón continues to be made on many small farms as well as in large dairies. For the most concentrated flavor, look for the raw-milk farmstead wheels aged for several months. The exterior of mahón is typically rubbed with olive oil or butter; some producers add paprika for eye appeal.
Valdeón: One of Spain’s most esteemed blue cheeses, valdéon is less piquant than cabrales, but it’s still no shrinking violet. You can distinguish the two by their wrapper: cabrales in foil, valdeón in leaves. The texture is creamy, the flavor bold, salty and not for the faint hearted.