Day 2: Cheese and Olive Tasting at Mercado de San Miguel

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It is my second day in Madrid and I cannot wait to get back to Mercado de San Miguel for a Cheese & Olive Tasting afternoon. When I arrived, it was still a busy place but not as jam-packed as the other night. I bee-lined again to Quesos where I received a plate with a selection of five cheeses coming from five different places in Spain. Quesos is a cheese stall offering any cheese you fancy. Once I was near their shop, my nose twitched and danced because of the strong cheese aroma. A popular and very busy stall, it is normal to see hungry people mobbing this stall for their orders.

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Adjacent to Quesos is Encurtidos, a stall specialising in olives. The olives are prepared in different combinations, stuffed with peppers, cheese or skewered with anchovies and baby onions. I chose olives wrapped in thin slivers of salmon. I ordered Vermouth to accompany the different cheeses and olives I was sampling

(Tetilla cheese from Galicia)

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First was Tetilla, a cheese from Galicia. It is a mild cheese made of cows milk that derives its name from its unique form shaped like a small tit. It is served already sliced so you cannot fully appreciate the original shape. But trust me when I tell you that its shape reminded me of an ivory- colored Kiss chocolate, only bigger. I learned that taste can range from salty, slightly bitter to tangy, depending on how long the cheese has been in the maturing process. That day the tetilla felt soft and creamy and tasted slightly salty when eaten by itself. Eating it with a baguette balanced the taste then chased down with Vermouth. A wine that was aromatised with bitter herbs and different spices then slightly diluted with soda water. A perfect drink that cleansed and prepared my palate for the next cheese.

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(Manchego from La Mancha)

Manchego cheese is a product of Castilla la Mancha, an autonomous community located in the south-western region of Spain. Yes, the same place where Don Quixote’s story originated. Manchego cheese has this distinctive taste that tells you that it is made of sheep’s pasteurised milk. It is an oily cheese with a pleasant, light yellow color and a highly developed taste. Despite its intense aftertaste, I loved it and found myself wanting more. But I had to keep reminding myself that this was cheese appreciation and not cheese feasting.

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(Payoyo cheese using goat’s milk)

Payoyo is an organic, Andalusian cheese from Cadiz and is made from the payoyo goat’s milk, sometimes blended with sheep’s milk. Because of its unique name, it is a very easy cheese to remember. But once you taste it, its rich and, well rounded flavor will pleasantly haunt you even in your dreams making you look forward to the next tasting. I prefered my Payoyo served plain, but some are innovatively infused with rosemary and red peppers. I loved the flavor of this cheese, both tangy and slightly sweet on my tongue. I wonder if this cheese is available in the delicatessens in Manila?

(Stinky but heavenly Cabrales cheese)
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Next in the selection was Cabrales, a rich and blue cheese from Asturias. This strong cheese is a blend of cows, goats and sheeps’ milk . The light yellow flesh is marbled with green to blue mold caused by the varying conditions in its maturing process in limestone caves. I was prepared to be shocked and flabbergasted by the strong flavour and aroma but when I tasted it, I was unprepared to actually like this cheese. Yes it was stinky and very ripe flavoured, however once I got past that icky smell and taste, it melted in my mouth and won me over. I actually regretted that my little serving of Cabrales was instantly gone and finished.

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(Gooey Torta del Casar cheese)

The Torta del Casar cheese from the Extremadura region is both a very interesting and entertaining cheese to eat right from the beginning Once this cheese is opened, it is stirred to make it creamy then scooped out for easy spreading on a baguette. A soft cheese with really strong flavor and aroma that tickled my nose, it left a distinctive strong cheese aftertaste coming from the blend of unpasteurised Merino and Entrefina sheeps’ milk. I may not be loving this cheese, however, the Torta del Casar broadened my overall cheese tasting experience. The Vermouth helped a lot in washing the strong taste away.

My cheese-tasting day was educational and exciting. If ever one day you find yourself in Madrid, you must visit Mercado de San Miguel and experience its offerings. Open your mind and welcome all gustatory experience. If you encounter a really funky smelling cheese, do not close your mind and say no. Savor the taste, the texture and let the smell recoil you, then fascinate you. Let the taste take you one step higher until you come back to earth a more enriched person.

(Do watch out for my next article Eyeballing With Picasso at Museo del Prado.)

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