Saturday, December 1, 2012


Fresh goat cheese.
I’ve just made fresh goat cheese, start to finish. I attended a workshop where a master cheesemaker showed us all the steps, from curdling the milk to pressing the curds.

Well, everything but the goat. The cheesemaker, Juan José Ocaña Mateo of Quesos Sierra Crestillina ( , brought 31 liters of fresh, pastereurized goat’s milk from his dairy farm in the Sierra Crestellina, near Casares in Málaga province (southern Spain).

My little cheese is a bit lumpy, but it tastes wonderful. Fresh and sweet, with just a light salting. It keeps up to two weeks, refrigerated. I love fresh goat cheese for breakfast, with toast “buttered” with olive oil, maybe a slice of tomato. It’s also delicious drizzled with honey and sprinkled with walnuts as a dessert.

I learned a lot about the cheese making process and about how different types of cheeses are made.

Fresh cheese is made with pasteurized milk to insure that it has no nasty bacteria (such as brucellosis, a disease that can be transmitted in raw milk). Pasteurization also destroys good bacteria, those that give matured cheeses their particular aroma and flavor. For cheeses that are to be aged, various fermenting agents and molds are reintroduced to the milk. For our fresh cheese, no additions are necessary.

Juan José Ocaña, master cheesemaker.
Juan measures out a tiny amount of liquid cuajo, rennet, a substance taken from the stomach of suckling animals. The type and quantity of rennet influence the cheese’s characteristics. Diluted with distilled water, the rennet is stirred into milk that has been warmed to 38ºC (100ºF).

Then we wait, about an hour and a half, while the milk curdles. Juan shows us a Power Point presentation about the dairy and cheesemaking. It is a family business going back several generations. He describes himself as a cabrero, a goatherd, but, in fact, he does everything from milking goats to marketing cheese. The family has 450 goats of the Payoya breed, autochthonous to the Sierra. A goat produces an average of 1.8 liters (just under 2 quarts) of milk daily, but not all are producing milk at a given time. Pipes carry the milk directly from the milking barn to the cheesemaking facility.

Cutting the curds with a lyre.
We return to our cheese making. After everyone washes hands, Juan tests the curds by cutting them with scissors. Then we take turns cutting the curds with a lira, a lyre-shaped paddle. Clumps gradually separate into smaller and smaller “beads.”

The suero, or whey, is drained off, leaving the curds. On the farm, the whey is fed to pigs that are raised for meat or made into requesón—ricotta cheese—by heating the whey until the protein coagulates into a smooth cheese.

Next step, to mold and press the curds. Cheesemakers, both artisanal and industrial, today use hygienic plastic forms, but in former times, they used strips of woven esparto grass to shape the cheeses. That’s what we are using for this workshop.

We twist the strips into small circles and place them on top of a grooved cheese board that allows the whey to drain into a bucket. Using our hands, we fill the molds with milky curds and gently press and compact them, gradually tightening the cinch. When the cheese holds its shape, it’s ready.

 Cheeses to be cured are submerged in salmuera, a brine, for a period of time. Ours are lightly sprinkled with salt, wrapped and ya está—ready to eat.

Semi-cured goat cheese.

Our workshop finishes with a cata, a tasting, of aged cheeses from the Sierra Crestellina farm. The semi-cured (aged two months) is creamy with a mild lactic tang, a natural rind, perfect for a cheese sandwich. Juan said it’s a good melting cheese. 

Good melting cheese.

The cured cheese is matured five months. It has a stronger aroma, is fattier and drier in consistency. The third cheese is a raw milk añejo, aged eight months. (Raw milk cheeses aged more than 60 days are safe.) It has a thick moldy rind, is saltier, drier, more pungent than the less mature cheeses. It is my favorite. It seems to be calling out for a copita of fino Sherry.

Raw milk añejo cheese has a thick rind, sunken shape.


  1. I think that people in Spain have a better knowledge of where their food comes from than we do in America. This is just my anecdotal observations but I see a lot more on TV in Spain about the origins of what ends up on the table. Of course I've been here a while and perhaps things are changing in the USA. I'm off to the market to buy some goat cheese.

  2. Leftbanker: You may be right. I love the TV cooking programs on Spanish TV that take viewers to villages where products are grown or produced. At the cheese workshop, one older woman remembered making cheese as a young girl; a young woman keeps goats and was starting out in the cheese making business. The others were just curious.

  3. What fun! That course looks like such a great experience. How cool that you got to use esparto! I love fresh goat cheese a la plancha, and it's also pretty delicious on top of a piece of bread thinly spread with sobrasada and then broiled. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Ansley: Sobrasada on top of goat cheese sounds yummy--fat and flavor.