Anna is a New Yorker writing about her globe-trotting, culinary, and healthy living adventures.
I'm a huge cheese lover, so when I moved to Portugal two years ago, I was psyched to find that it has a wide variety of artisan cheeses produced throughout the country. Who knew? I had only been familiar with European cheese varieties from France and Italy, but moving to Lisbon definitely put Portuguese cheeses on the map for me.
Portugal has a rich tradition of cheese-making, and different regions have their own types, much like Portuguese wine. And just as wines have protected designation of origin labels, so do cheeses. In fact, 12 cheeses have this honorable designation called denominação de origem protegida (DOP), which awards the cheeses name-protection and ensures that they are produced within the demarcated area using traditional methods and ingredients. The 12 cheeses that have DOP designations have the name of the area where they're produced and the DOP marking on their labels.
Portugese Cheese Lingo
Before I introduce Portugal's delicious cheeses to you, I'd like to acquaint you with some useful Portuguese cheese lingo.
- Curado: aged
- Queijo: cheese
- Queijo fresco: fresh cheese
- Cabra: goat
- Ovelha: sheep
- Leite: milk
- Vaca: cow
Portuguese Cheeses With DOP Designations
The following Portuguese cheeses have Denominação de Origem Protegida (DOP):
- Queijo de Cabra Transmontano
- São Jorge
- Serra da Estrela
- Castelo Branco
1. Azeitão Cheese
- Azeitão is one of my personal favorite Portuguese cheeses due not only to its unique taste but also due to the way it's served and the fact that it's completely vegetarian-friendly.
- This creamy cheese is made from raw sheep's milk in the town of Azeitão, located just about 25 miles (40 km) east of Lisbon.
- Azeitão cheese is made with thistle flowers, rather than animal rennet. Rennet is used to coagulate the milk in the cheese-making process and most cheeses use animal rennet which comes from the stomach lining of the animal that the cheese's milk comes from.
- I love this cheese's earthy aroma. My boyfriend and I like to cut open the top, grab a spoon and indulge in this special cheese while we watch TV.
- If we're having company, we scoop the soft cheese on crusty bread and serve it as a snack.
2. Cabra Transmontano Cheese
- Cabra Transmontano cheese is an extra-hard cheese made from goat milk in Bragança and Vila Real (in northern Portugal).
- The Serrana Negra goat breed is used.
- It's matured for a minimum of 60 days.
- This cheese is great for grating or just slicing and eating as is.
3. Evora Cheese
- Évora, located about 90 miles (150 km) east of Lisbon, has its own delicious cheese variety: Evora cheese.
- It is semi-hard or hard unpasteurized sheep's milk cheese.
- It has a creamy and salty flavor and the sheep taste develops as the cheese ages.
- You can also find Évora cheese preserved in olive oil, and it's called, "Queijinhos do Alentejo."
4. Nisa Cheese
- Nisa cheese is firm-textured, unpasteurized, and made from raw Saloio breed of sheep’s milk (read: high quality).
- Vegetarians would be happy to know that this cheese is produced from vegetable rennet.
- It's earthy before becoming herb-y and citrus-y.
5. Pico Cheese
- Pico cheese is produced on the island of Pico in the Azores.
- This cheese is made from either just cows' milk or a mix of cows' and goats' milk.
- Its interior is soft and has a strong smell. The exterior rind is yellow.
6. Rabacal Cheese
- Rabaçal cheese is semi-hard to hard and comes from sheep in the province of Beira Litoral (central Portugal).
- It can also be made from a mix of sheep's and goat's milk.
7. São Jorge Cheese
- Sao Jorge cheese is another cheese that comes from the Azores.
- This one is named after the island that shares its name.
- São Jorge cheese is made with cow's milk and is also referred to as Queijo da Ilha (island cheese).
- This one is the largest of Portuguese cheeses, weighing up to 15 pounds!
- It's semi-hard to hard, crumbles, and has a strong smell and spicy flavor.
- The maturing process for São Jorge cheese takes from 30 to 60 days.
8. Serpa Cheese
- Sepra cheese is one of the most popular traditional cheeses from southern Portugal. T
- This cheese comes from sheep's milk and vegetable rennet is used to produce it (which is done only from February to June).
- As part of this cheese's production process, it's wrapped in cloth to mature in cellars for two years.
- The rind of Serpa cheese is brushed with olive oil and smothered with paprika, hence this cheese has a strong spicy aroma and flavor.
- Inside, this cheese is firm, creamy and has tiny holes.
9. Serra da Estrela Cheese
- Serra da Estrela is referred to as the ‘King of Portuguese Cheese’ since it's undoubtedly the most popular.
- This cheese is made in the Serra da Estrela region, where the highest peak of Portugal is located.
- For centuries, it's been made by shepherds who roamed the hills of Serra da Estrela with their sheep.
- The cheese has a smooth consistency and a delicate flavor. It's similar to Brie cheese.
10. Terrincho Cheese
- Terrincho Cheese is another one of my personal favorite cheeses.
- It's semi-soft, unpasteurized, and comes from the Churra da Terra Quente (Terrinchas) breed of sheep in the Tras-os-Montes region of Portugal.
- This cheese is cured in rye and covered with paprika. It has a mild flavor.
11. Castelo Branco Cheese
- Castelo Branco cheese is made either from sheep or goat's milk.
- It's yellow and has an intense smell with an accompanying spicy taste.
- This cheese is produced only in the fall.
12. Requeijao Cheese
- Requeijão cheese is actually made from the leftovers of cheese production.
- Milk is added to the whey, which gets heated and then placed in baskets and drained.
- It's usually sold in plastic packaging where it's soaking in a clear liquid.
- The most popular Requeijao is from Serra da Estrela.
Questions & Answers
Question: We are going to Lisbon for the first time in November. Are there certain restaurants or markets you recommend to try the best of Portugal cheeses? Preferably with wine.
Answer: Many restaurants offer cheese platters. One market that comes to mind is Time Out Lisboa (Ribiera Mercado) which has a collection of various amazing vetted restaurants all in one spot and some offer cheese tastings. Sorry I couldn't be of more help. You can also go to El Corte Ingles that has a lot of different cheeses to choose from, and you can taste them at the counter.
Question: In regard to the rind, or outside coating, on cheeses: do you know if it's edible?
Answer: Cheese rinds are edible on Portuguese cheeses as they're all natural. It's just a matter of your personal taste whether you like it.
Question: We were in Portugal a couple of years ago and had an amazing soft cheese. We think it was a homemade cheese. When we told her we liked strong, sharp cheeses she stopped trying to sell us one and recommended another one. It was one of the best cheeses I ever had. Do you have any ideas what it might have been?
Answer: Do you remember in what region you tried the cheese? My all time favorite Portuguese cheese is called Azeitao and it's also a soft cheese. It's actually names after the town where it's make, which is just 30 minutes south of Lisbon.