When I was picking up this cheese from the shop the other day a stranger next to me with the air of Mr. Knowitall approached me and said, “Don’t buy that.”
I’m game so I asked what he was on about.
“It’s gone bad… clearly, it’s all… moldy… and…. GRAY.”
“Yes. Yes it is.” I replied. “S’posed to be that way, you know.”
He stood his ground and started to amp up his argument… I threatened to shove Cabrales up his nose…. OK, not really… when the cheesemonger said, “he’s right you know… it IS supposed to look like that.”
With Mr. Knowitall dispatched, I thought about what most people who fear blues must think when they see Valdeón. After all, it is one of the more frightening cheeses to behold (click for in-your-face moldiness):
Surely, this was found behind the fridge, right? Look at all that blue-gray powdery mold infesting every crag and crevice.
On looks alone, you’d expect it to be strongly-flavored, difficult, off-putting. Certainly, many reviews explain that while it is certainly not Cabrales, with that most-powerful of Spanish queso’s ability to dissolve rust, start fires and bring back the dead only to put them down again, those same reviews say it’s stronger than Stilton.And I’ve never quite found that to be true. I think it’s the dryness of Valdeón. While it tastes creamy and barnyard-blue like Stilton, and while it’s generally somewhat saltier and spicier than it’s British cousin, Valdeón is, I’ll claim, a fairly modest blue. Looks can be deceiving.
Queso de Valdeón is an ancient cheese. It originated and is still made in the rugged northwestern province of León, established in 29 BC as a Roman military encampment. The city and region are dotted with examples of architecture from the earliest, most primitive to the glorious Gothic cathedral to modern structures. León grips tradition and heritage. It’s true of the cheese as well. The cheese is always made from cow’s milk but is typically blended with goat or sheep or both. This example is cow and goat. After the curds set, Valdeón is wrapped in plageru or sycamore leaves; they add an autumnal earthiness to the creamy, rich, herbal flavors. It’s meaty in a way, plenty of the umami of grilled steak. The depth of flavors without overbearing make Valdeón an excellent cheese for cooking. It’s a show-stopper on any cheese plate. Imagine to uninitiated at your holiday party staring at it… “I will if you will.”
For pairings, Moscato always works well with blues… a sweeter Spanish Cava or off-dry Riesling can work here as will youthful reds and wines built around Gamay. And remember- if you still find Valdeón a bit too strong, a drizzle of light honey does wonders. Buen provecho!
Cheese: Queso de Valdeón
Where: León, Spain
Milk Type: cow, goat, pasteurized
Shape: ~4.4 lb drum
Tasting notes: earthy, salty, silage and hay