Tradition and Craftsmanship at El Gran Cardenal Spanish Cheese
El Gran Cardenal is one of the stalwarts of artisan cheese making in Castile-León, the region where the company made its home in 1975 after the increasing demand for its cheeses caused it to relocate from the town of Torrelaguna, Madrid, where it had been established in 1951.
It was here in Medina del Campo (Valladolid), on the meseta (central plateau) of this great Spanish region that this cheese-making company came into its own. Much of this had to do with the ancient tradition of rearing Churra and Castellana breeds of sheep here—sheep that thrive in this climate and on the vegetation found in this area, which lends their milk its characteristic aromas and flavors.
Today the company’s line of Gran Cardenal Queso Castellano cheeses is its most acclaimed. Made with 100% sheep’s milk from these two breeds that has been produced on local farms and brought to the factory daily, this cheese boasts the Protected Geographic Indication status of PGI Queso Castellano. It has also racked up an impressive collection of awards over the years at prestigious international cheese competitions like the World Cheese Awards, particularly for the cured Etiqueta Negra (Black label) cheese made with pasteurized sheep’s milk (there is also a raw-milk version).
This is however just one of the several product lines that this Spanish company now produces under the El Gran Cardenal brand. The others include the line of two Queso Ibérico cheeses, which are based on another traditional style from this area and typically made from a mixture of sheep’s, cow’s and goat’s milk; the Queso Mezcla line of cow’s and sheep’s milk cheeses that comes in four different varieties with different aging times; and the two versions of San Isidro cheeses, which are mostly cow’s milk, with a minimum of 10% sheep’s milk.
It is also important to note that within these different categories, El Gran Cardenal produces a number of specialty cheeses, the most famous of which is undoubtedly its Oveja con Trufa (sheep’s milk cheese with truffles), which won the coveted “Super gold” award at the 2016-17 World Cheese Awards. Other specialty sheep’s milk cheeses include a Queso Castellano with olive oil and another with rosemary. Among the goat’s milk cheeses, the Cabra con Ajo Negro (black garlic) is a favorite, while others include a creamy cheese made with DO Ribera del Duero wine and a mixed goat’s and cow’s milk cheese covered in pimentón. Finally, the company also makes a lactose-free cheese for people with certain dietary needs.
Despite their different styles, ingredients and maturations, these cheeses all share in the company’s dedication to only using fresh milk collected daily from local farmers, as well as the meticulously carried out aging processes, during which the cheeses are turned daily for optimum ripening.
In this video, El Gran Cardenal’s export manager Jaime Mejías explains both of these aspects, as well as how the cheeses are made from start to finish by this company whose quality cheeses are now available in thirty-two markets around the globe.