El Mahón es un tipo de queso originario de Menorca, una isla de las Baleares del Mediterráneo. A pesar de su amplia difusión, un número considerable de personas desconoce este exquisito queso de leche de vaca, que se presenta en variantes frescas y maduradas. El sabor del queso viene determinado por su maduración, que puede ir de delicada a fuerte, y su textura, que puede ir de blanda a dura. Existen versiones crudas y pasteurizadas, pero el queso pasteurizado suele ser menos sabroso. Es un lugar impresionante, ¿verdad?
¿What exactly is Mahón cheese?
Mahón is a cheese with a rough, grainy texture and is available in varying degrees of maturation, ranging from two months to over a year. Fresh Mahón (aged for less than four months) is relatively soft and semi-hard, with a buttery, spicy, and salty flavor. As Mahón wheels mature for four months or longer, they develop a more complex, herbal, and salty taste, with a discernible acidic aftertaste. After a year or more of maturation, the cheese has a texture resembling that of Parmesan, with a rich, salty, and caramelized flavor.
¿What is the shape of Mahón cheese?
Mahón has a rectangular or square shape with rounded edges and a natural rind. Young Mahón (and usually, pasteurized varieties) have a vibrant orange rind that adds to its appeal. As the cheese matures, the color of the rind fades to a golden, brown, or rust hue. The color of the paste, which is the cheese’s interior, also changes from white to yellow as it ages.
¿What distinguishes Mahón from Manchego cheese?
Despite both originating from Spanish regions, these two cheeses have significant distinctions, beginning with the milk used to produce them. Mahón is created with cow’s milk, while Manchego uses sheep’s milk. Their taste and texture also differ substantially. Mahón has a creamy, nutty flavor with a spicy kick, while Manchego is drier, smoother, and finishes with a slightly spicy note.
Finding an appropriate substitute for Mahón cheese can be challenging due to its diverse flavors and textures, which vary according to its aging. Gouda is the closest match, but it will not have Mahón’s distinct salty taste. Those who enjoy spicy cheese tend to opt for Manchego or Pategrás cheese.
Types of Mahón cheese
Mahón cheese is classified into three categories based on its aging: mild, semi-cured, and cured. The cheese’s color darkens, and its texture becomes firmer and drier as it ages, intensifying its flavor.
Tierno is the youngest variety, aged for just 21 to 60 days, and is pale with a soft, springy texture. It has a mild flavor with a slightly buttery and salty taste and a hint of acidity, making it ideal for creamy cheese sauces.
The semi-cured variety is aged between two and five months, with a golden hue and a slightly spicy flavor, along with some buttery and nutty notes. It has irregularly shaped holes when cut, making it a popular choice for desserts due to its sweet and salty mix.
The most complex Mahón cheese is the mature variety, aged for over five months. It has an orange-brown color, is brittle and hard, and older versions have a crunchy texture due to lactose crystals. The cheese has hints of smoke, wood, caramel, nuts, spice, and even leather, making it perfect when served sliced with fruits and nuts.
How Mahón cheese is made
The art of making Mahón cheese has been passed down through generations on the island of Menorca, where it is the second most important industry. This cheese can be made from either pasteurized or unpasteurized cow’s milk. The curd is wrapped in a cotton cloth called fogasser and tied with a string before being pressed to extract the whey. Pasteurized Mahón is molded into a rectangular shape, while unpasteurized Mahón retains its natural pillow shape. The cheese is then placed in brine for around a week, taken out to dry, and stored in cheese caves for ripening. During this process, the cheese is brushed with a mixture of oil, butter, and paprika, which gives it its characteristic reddish-orange rind.
Mahón cheese is a versatile ingredient that can be used in both hot and cold dishes or enjoyed on a cheese board by itself. It is commonly eaten by slicing it into thin pieces and drizzling it with extra virgin olive oil. The cheese is also frequently grated and added to pasta dishes, salads, and risottos. It pairs well with other cheeses like Sardinian or Sbrinz.
To ensure that the cheese stays fresh and does not dry out, it should be wrapped in plastic wrap or a damp cloth and stored in the coldest part of the refrigerator. If mold appears on the cheese, it can be safely removed by cutting off the affected portion.
Recipes with Mahón
A classic way to eat Mahón is dressed with extra virgin olive oil and garnished with black pepper and tarragon. Fresh Mahón usually harmonizes well with chorizo and beer, as well as with sherry, dried fruits and nuts, and aged Mahón goes well with red wines such as Tempranillo and Malbec.
- Mahon Cheese and Potato Croquettes: Mix mashed potatoes with grated Mahon cheese, roll into balls, coat in breadcrumbs and fry until golden brown.
- Mahon Cheese and Tomato Tart: Layer sliced tomatoes and Mahon cheese on puff pastry and bake until crispy and golden.
- Mahon Cheese and Spinach Quiche: Mix eggs, milk, spinach and grated Mahon cheese and bake in a pie crust for a delicious savory breakfast or brunch option.
- Mahon Cheese and Chorizo Stuffed Peppers: Cut off the tops of bell peppers, stuff with a mixture of cooked chorizo, Mahon cheese and breadcrumbs, and bake until tender.
- Mahon Cheese and Mushroom Risotto: Sauté mushrooms in butter and garlic, add arborio rice and cook until tender, then stir in grated Mahon cheese for a rich and flavorful risotto.
These are just a few ideas, but there are many more delicious recipes that feature Mahon cheese as a key ingredient.