I have given up numbering these reviews; there will eventually be too many, and I know I’m going to lose count. You probably aren’t keeping count either, dear reader!
In any case, today was extremely busy at the store, which meant I could only get a good taste of the next blue cheese after my workday was over. This cheese, Valdeon, has become one of my favorite blues in the store, although, in all honesty, it is extremely difficult to choose any one favorite cheese!
So, what is there to know about the Valdeon cheese?
Country of Origin: Spain (Picos de Europa mountains, Leon region)
Milk: Cow and goat
Rind: brushed, and wrapped in sycamore leaves
Age: 2 months (approximate)
Believe it or not, a discussion of something as sensual as cheese can also lead to a discussion in intellectual property. Both areas were of great interest to me when I was at school, and here, I can combine them. When you go to a store and see some products (cheeses, but also other food and alcohol products) marked AOC, for instance, that stands for “appellation d’origine contrôlée.” This designation means that the product has met certain production requirements. In the case of cheese, it means that a certain type of milk or breed of animal was used, the animal was raised in a certain geographical location, that it was aged in a certain place, etc. In essence, the product satisfies a specific standard of terroir. This is true with Valdeon cheese, or Queso de Valdeon. While trying to research this cheese, I stumbled across the website of the European Union, which does indeed keep a record of these AOC-labelled products. Queso de Valdeon was actually registered at the same time that “Fraise de Périgord” was registered. You can see the declaration here. (For the curious, these strawberries [fraise in French] are from the Southwest of also France, known for its Bordeaux wines, truffles, and foie gras. Another type of strawberry from the region, the gariguette fraises, are quite possibly the best thing I have ever tasted in my entire life. These fraises de Périgord are probably not bad either!) For the record, this type of indication is known in IP law as “geographical indicators.” More on this later.
As for its production, Valdeon is produced in the Leon province in Northwest Spain, in the mountains of the Picos de Europa. If you want an idea of what the landscape looks like where this cheese comes from, check this. This is a high-altitude, high-precipitation area.
How is it made? The process, and the history, are quite similar to the production of Roquefort. Just like in the case of Roquefort, we have evidence that some kind of cheese was produced in the region before Roman times. The curds of Valdeon are injected with the Penicillium mold, just like Roquefort. Also like Roquefort, the cheese is sprinkled with a fine layer of salt to promote drying of the rind, which in turn protects the moisture inside the cheese. The natural caves in which the cheese is ripened are kept between 40 and 50 degrees Farenheit (5-10 degrees Celsius).
When you first encounter the Valdeon, you will notice that it is covered in sycamore leaves. Not only does this protect the cheese in a similar way to the foil around the Roquefort, it makes a rustic yet elegant visual statement. This is a gentleman farmer among cheeses. Those sycamore leaves cover the soft, slightly salty natural rind. The paste is a yellowish and beige color–almost grey in some places. The “blue” mold of this cheese didn’t seem blue to me, but almost black. Visually, the Valdeon is quite impressive, and would add some drama to the plate. The cheese’s aroma is quite earthy, almost musty, also because of the sycamore leaves. It is the kind of smell you’d find in the middle of a forest, just after the rain. Because this is a blue cheese, you’ll also likely smell a yeasty smell, from the mold.
On the tongue, the Valdeon resembles the Roquefort in many ways. The mouthfeel is similar, slightly crumbly, but a little bit creamier than the Roquefort. The taste begins softly with a slight saltiness, but then develops to become smoky, then spicy. However, the smoky and spicy elements are more subtle than the Roquefort. Like the Roquefort, the Valdeon has a long finish.
For pairing, wines similar to appropriate wines for Roquefort would be in order. That would include Sauternes, or sherry, or tawny port. I would be curious to try it with champagne also. Of course, what I consider a subtle blue might be strong to someone else. If you want to temper the spice, you can always pair the cheese with honey.