Every essential cheese plate refuses to fly solo. Accompanying the star of the show, or the plate, in this case, are well-known dance partners … jam, mustard, crusty bread, crackers, along with the occasional almond or olive, and let’s not forget the wine. Cheese and wine, like peas and carrots, are a classic combination and beautifully exemplified at the Spanish table.
If you love Spanish cheese, this part of the Iberian Peninsula most likely found its way into your heart via La Mancha, the region known for the iconic sheep’s milk cheese, Manchego. Manchego takes its name from the region, and not only does it have to be 100% sheep’s milk cheese, but it must also be of the manchega breed. Spain has a plethora of cheese offerings throughout the country, so let’s give your next cheese plate a pop , and go beyond the Manchego.
1. Ibérico – Love Manchego? Try Queso Ibérico! A hard cheese of cow, goat and sheep milk, but delivering a bit more nuance, than its sister cheese of the La Mancha region. The three kinds of milk shine here: creamy and mellow from the cow, sweet and nutty from the sheep, and herbaceous notes from the goat.
Pairing: While we recommend drinking bubbles with everything, Cava is our go-to pairing, as the effervescence cuts through the richness while Brut styles complement the creamy, nutty, sweet notes of the cheese.
2. Idiazábal – An ancient cheese from the Basque region of Spain, made of sheep’s milk. A cheese showing classic seasonality, the sheep graze on grass in the high mountains. Once made the cheese is stored in huts, traditionally, where the semi-soft cheese takes on a smoky flavor.
Pairing: What grows together goes together, so stick with the Basque region and drink either the cult wine Txakolina (also known as Txakoli) or Basque cider.
3. Tetilla – A cheese to easily please everyone at the party. Tetilla is a semi-soft cow’s milk cheese hailing from Spain’s Galicia region, a cooler, greener area than the rest of the country. Sweet, clean and buttery makes for a cheese to either begin or end the meal.
Pairing: Crisp dry whites, especially the celebrated Albariño of Galicia. Looking to get adventurous? Go for a dry Sherry such as Amontillado.
4. Monte Enebro – A family business, in Avila, Spain, from Rafael Báez and his daughter, this goat’s milk cheese was the first in Spain to gain international recognition as a modern, artisan cheese. Creamy, hints of lemon zest and a bit of a bite for those who adore goat cheese.
Pairing: Rosé makes this cheese a perfect picnic addition, specifically those from Ribera del Duero, which is just north of Avila.
5. La Peral – A mild blue cheese of cow and sheep’s milk, make a creamy and salted butter blue, that’s gentle on the nose.
Pairing: La Peral is an excellent excuse to drink Mencia, a red grape from the northwest part of Spain. The fruit and spice of Mencia will play off of the creamy, salty aspects of the cheese. But our favorite way to end a meal is blue cheese and a bit of sticky wine, so we can’t think of a better way to sign off than recommending La Peral with either Moscatel or Pedro Ximenez Sherry.
While financing her education at DePaul University, Elizabeth Mendez began to wait tables at some of Chicago’s most well known restaurants, the passion of the food and wine bug hit, and Elizabeth never looked back. Gaining a reputation for her unwavering commitment to hospitality throughout the restaurant business, Elizabeth worked her way up through the ranks of the Chicago restaurant world from a server to Wine Director and now owner of her own restaurant, in Chicago’s red hot West Loop neighborhood, Vera. On most days, you can find Elizabeth working the floor at Vera chatting with guests about her many passions between food, wine, photography and music.