Miracle Cheese

After teaching a class on Spanish cheeses last fall, I had a hefty leftover: several pounds of excess Mahón. Muchas gracias, Spanish Trade Office. For the past several months, I have been slicing off wedges of this aged cow’s milk cheese to share with guests. Each time I take the package out of the fridge, I’m sure that I’m going to unwrap a moldy or slimy or dried-out chunk. Instead, this miracle Mahón refuses to die.

I often advise people not to buy more cheese than they need because a wheel never improves after it is cut. But my Mahón experience reminds me that dry aged cheeses can have awesome longevity—if they’re stored carefully. And I’ll get to that.

Made exclusively on the wind-swept Spanish island of Menorca, Mahón is a cow’s milk cheese from a country better known for goat and sheep cheeses.

Some artisan producers still use raw milk but industrial producers pasteurize. The cheese has an unusual square shape, like a thick cushion, and can weigh anywhere from one to four kilos (2.2 to 8.8 pounds). You can identify an artisan Mahón by the surface wrinkles from the cloth bag it was drained and pressed in. Industrial cheeses are drained in molds, and their thin rind is tinted orange with paprika or annatto.

Mahón isn’t particularly compelling when young, but after six months or more in a cellar, Mahón curado (aged Mahón) becomes a cheese to savor: dense and brittle, with crunchy protein crystals here and there, and a nutty butterscotch or caramel aroma. Serve it before dinner with sparkling wine or fino sherry, such as Bodegas Hidalgo La Gitana, and some warmed green olives. At the end of a meal, enjoy aged Mahón with dates and toasted walnuts and pour Dios Baco Amontillado.

As for storage, wrap the cheese in waxed paper or coated cheese paper, then tuck it inside a lidded container, preferably alone. Change the wrap every time you take the cheese out, and your Mahón should live long and prosper.

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