Finally, a bargain—and in a niche with slim pickings. La Dama Sagrada, an aged wheel from raw goat’s milk, cost me just north of $20 a pound. For cheese of such quality, that’s not a price I see much anymore. Predictably, demand for this newcomer has outraced supply, but the Spanish maker is trying to ramp up production. Did I mention that the cheese is a steal?
Like so many of the superb Spanish cheeses available in the U.S. now, this one comes courtesy of Forever Cheese, a New York-based importer. Michele Buster, who runs the company with her former husband, has a sixth sense for what’s missing in the marketplace, and she has the contacts in Spain and Italy to help her find it. She also takes risks (Croatian cheese, anyone?) and spends months every year on the ground in Europe.
Years ago, Buster introduced Americans to aged Murcia, a raw goat wheel that she rechristened Naked Goat (to distinguish it from the red wine-soaked Drunken Goat). She still imports that cheese but the producer has switched to pasteurized milk. Buster has been looking for a raw-milk replacement cheese ever since.
La Dama Sagrada (“Sacred Lady”) is a new creation from a small creamery near Toledo, in the region of La Mancha. This is the Manchego zone, of course, and the creamery makes sheep’s milk cheese, but it also purchases goat’s milk from a local cooperative. For La Dama Sagrada, the curds are cooked to firm them, drained and formed in the same basket-weave molds used for Manchego. The roughly six-pound wheels are pressed and brined, then matured for six months. This extended aging—longer than a lot of Manchego—contributes to the sweet, nutty aroma and produces crunchy protein crystals in the paste.
The ivory interior is firm and brittle, although not too dry to shave with a plane. The scent is milky, but more like cooked milk or cajeta (goat’s-milk caramel). The salting is perfect, and the sweetness balanced so nicely by a bright, tart finish that you just have to have another taste.
“This is the cheese version of quaffable,” my winemaker husband declared. I can eat way more of it in one sitting than I should. Marcona almonds are a good companion. (Buster introduced those to the U.S., too.) Pour an off-dry sherry to complement the cheese’s nutty sweetness. A rich porter, like Drake's Brewing Black Robusto, is another tasty option.
“We still get so little and have a long line waiting for it,” says Buster of this cheese, which debuted in the U.S. last December. She says she warned the cheesemakers about the quantities she would need if La Dama Sagrada took off. “They are super tiny,” says Buster, “and when I talk about volume, they tremble.”
Look for La Dama Sagrada at these California stores: Cal-Mart, Noriega Produce and Good Life Grocery in San Francisco; Pasta Shop in Oakland; Cal Mart in Calistoga; Foothill Produce in Los Altos; Vallerga’s in Napa; Oceana Market in Pacifica; New Leaf Community Markets (all locations); and Oliver’s Markets (all locations)