All About Andalusian Goat Cheese
The ongoing revolution in American artisanal cheesemaking really had its origins in the "back to the land" movement of the 1970s and early 1980s. In 1979, Laura Chenel began teaching people in this country that cheese didn't have to be made from cow's milk. Even before that, in the fall of 1975, Mother Earth News ran this wonderfully detailed story about farmstead goat cheesemakers in Andalusia, Spain—an article that I happened to stumble upon this week thanks to the wonders of the web.
I'm assuming this article was aimed at hippie homesteaders experimenting with "off the grid" communal living, but for us plugged-in 21st-century cheese lovers, it offers an amazing glimpse into some truly regional and traditional foodways.
From the Andalusian mountains in southern Spain comes a variety of fresh and aged goat cheeses generically referred to as "queso de cabra" (goat cheese). Some are cured in olive oil, while others are rubbed with paprika and left to age. The article even mentions a cheese that "is placed in wheat and covered on all sides by a layer of grain at least a foot or so thick. Usually the round is just shoved back into the winter wheat supply (although chaff—the residue from harvesting—is also used with similar results). After three or four months of curing, the cheese is truly sharp and piquant with a slightly nutty flavor." Artisanal Cheese carries a rare Andalusian goat cheese called Queso de Aracena, which is described as having a "firm, moist texture and an earthy taste."
The piece also goes into some detail about how the Andalusian cheesemakers prepare their rennet, the enzyme mixture responsible for curdling the cheese. Such traditional preparations are losing favor all around the world, since it's difficult to maintain consistency from batch to batch. These days, many cheesemakers are opting for commercially produced rennet instead. If you're curious about how rennet is traditionally prepared (at least in southern Spain), here it is (vegetarians and squeamish meat-eaters, feel free to skip):
To produce rennet, the stomach is removed from a freshly killed suckling kid or lamb which has eaten no grass or other solid food. The organ's opening is tied securely and the stomach is rolled in ashes to coat it well. It's then hung to dry away from the direct sun generally from the roof beams of a thatched cottage or in the shade of a grape arbor, but any warm, moisture-free, well-aired place is adequate. When the sac has dried thoroughly, the milk within will have been reduced to a brown powder.
Spanish cheese isn't all about Manchego. Like its neighbors to the north and east, Spain has a rich and interesting tradition of cheesemaking that expresses the breadth of that country's regional variety.