Last August, my wife and I returned from a vacation to northern Spain with a large wheel of Cabrales cheese. We’d been told that this blue cheese, which is still made in the artisan fashion (no huge factories) and stored in caves to cure, is the Real Stuff and would blow our socks off when it came to flavor. We chose the tres leches variety, which is made from the blended milk of goats, sheep and cows.
When we arrived home, we unwrapped the dark green foil from the wheel and the smell wafted forth. No, “smell” isn’t a strong enough word. The stench rose into the air and smacked us in the nostrils, resulting in some fairly incredulous swearing as we both expressed our amazement that any cheese could actually smell that bad. Being the lily-livered weenie that I am, I fled to the other end of the house and let my wife take care of cutting the wheel into quarters and wrapping two of them for the freezer.
We loved that cheese. It was soooo good on salads, and delicious on pastas as well. Something as simple as fettucine in olive oil with blue cheese and sliced tomatoes was bursting with yummy flavor. The smell nearly killed us every time we took the lid off the plastic container housing the cheese, but it was worth it.
Fast forward to yesterday. While rummaging around in our freezer, I came across the two wrapped quarters of Cabrales cheese, which we had completely forgotten about. “Oh, no,” I thought. “It’s been five months! It won’t be as good, and we’ll have wasted this fabulous cheese.”
I pulled one of the quarters out of the ziplock bag and set it in the fridge to thaw. Today I took it from the fridge and gave it a sniff. Nope — nada. No smell at all. What a shame. With a heavy heart, I unwrapped the foil and set about unrolling the cheese from its protective cover of cling wrap. And then the smell hit me. OH MY GOD. It was horrible! The cheese hadn’t degraded at all.
Gleefully, I crumbled a small handful into my salad and tucked in. That stuff is so strong that it makes the vinegar dressing on my salad taste sweet. I don’t know what sort of chemical voodoo is involved, but it’s impressive.
So I am toasting our Cabrales cheese, which has demonstrated amazing staying power even after five months in the freezer. I’ve heard of people going up to northern Spain just to buy this cheese, and now I know why. It is the Queen of Cheeses.