Iberico is one of the best known and most purchased cheeses in Spain, but it does not have very much exposure in the United States. Here in the states Manchego is the most familiar Spanish cheese followed by Mahon and Idiazabal. So we hope to shed a little light on this wonderful cheese and expose our readers to it.
Iberico cheese is produced only in the province of Valladolid in central Spain. In order to maintain some semblance of order and control of its large cheese production the Spanish government created the Denominations of Origin Certification. This designation controls the name, area, and standards of production to insure a consistent quality product. Iberico is not yet DOC certified but it has applied for certification and hopes to receive it soon. However the dairies that produce this cheese have maintained their own high standards and guidelines since 1987.
Iberico is made with a blend of pasteurized milk from cows, goats and sheep. The combination of these three milks varies from season to season based on the weather and the breeding patterns of the goats and sheep. However the following minimum guidelines are strictly adhered to by the producing dairies. The blend minimums are: cow milk 50%, goat milk 30% and sheep milk 10% In general the cows’ milk provides the flavor and acidity while the goats’ milk provides the slightly tart flavor and the whiter color and the sheep milk adds the richness and buttery consistency due to its higher fat content. With that said, the fact is that the higher the content of the sheep’s’ milk the better the cheese. Iberico’s flavor is herbaceous with a very mild goat tang that blends with the buttery sheep milk to produce a very comforting flavor and aroma. The interior paste has a light yellow white to slight beige color and a mild sheepy aroma. Once the aging 2 month process ends the cheeses are covered with a plastic outer rind that is inedible. This rind is similar in appearance to the one that covers the popular Manchego so Iberico can and is sometimes confused with it, so be careful when you are shopping for it.
In Spain Iberico is usually used as a table cheese served with quince paste (membrillo) but it is also a great melting cheese so it can be used in many recipes. Here are a few suggestions: shred it in an omelet, slice into your favorite salads, melt it over pasta or potatoes and rice entrees. For a tapas serve it with Chorizo or Serrano ham and a hearty bread.
Wine parings: Medium Spanish reds or a good Pinot Noir or Beaujolais or for a white wine try Sauvignon Blanc