Quesos Montealva, Spanish Craft Cheese Takes Payoya to the World Stage
Located in the town of Torrecera, Jerez (Andalusia) Quesos Montealva is slowly making a name for its excellent cheeses overseas, an achievement that this company shares with the Payoya goats from whence it gets its milk – a native breed from the Sierra de Cádiz mountains.
Text: Adrienne Smith/@ICEX.
After approximately a decade dedicated to producing quality, artisanal cheeses, the third generation of the local shepherding family behind Quesos Montealva is now exporting around 14% of its sales to the United States, with hopes to expand into more international markets in the future. In the meantime, its excellent, 100% Raza Payoya Autóctona certified cheeses are also piling up awards at both Spanish and international competitions, including one silver and two bronze medals for different varieties of its cheeses in 2017 at the prestigious World Cheese Awards.
Foods and Wines from Spain spoke to the company’s master cheese maker Isabel María Álvarez Aguilar, who took time away from the busy cheese making season to tell us a little bit more about Quesos Montealva.
What is the history behind Quesos Montealva?
Quesos Artesanos Montealva represents the same transcendence in cheese making that was fostered by my grandparents. To find our true origins, we must travel back in time nearly eighty years. My grandparents, who had strong ties to the countryside from a very young age, were responsible for the tasks involved in tending a herd of sheep that grazed in the Serranía de Cádiz (mountains), on horseback between Zahara de la Sierra, Algar and Alcalá de los Gazules. These tasks obviously included the making of artisanal cheeses the old-fashioned way. It may have been a yearning for those times that drove our initiative; a decade-long venture during which we have been dedicated to preserving this essence and cheese-making legacy day after day. On the whole, it is an authentic commitment to that which is natural, just as our tradition dictates.
What special characteristics does the milk from the Payoya breed of goats lend to your cheeses?
A good goat’s milk cheese doesn't just depend on the breed of sheep, rather it is the intervention of an infinity of factors that must be taken into account, such as their diet, accommodations, care, hygiene, etc. In a nutshell, making cheese starts with an exhaustive control of the quality of the milk.
However, it is true that the Payoya goat breed does deserve a special mention, as this breed is native to the Serranía de Cádiz. Thanks to both its morphology and ethnology, this species is perfectly adapted to a mountain environment, which gives its milk singular qualities that lend an outstanding flavor to its lactic derivatives, among them, cheese.
What is the elaboration process like for your cheeses?
The production process for these cheeses is much more mechanized now [than it once was], but its essence is the same, which is simply to make a completely artisanal, 100% natural product that is free from artificial preservatives and colors. In summary, I would go so far as to underline the fact that new technological advances have contributed a great deal, particularly with regard to improved hygiene, production time and food safety,... for its eventual consumption.
How many varieties of cheeses do you make and in what volume?
In our factory we make different types of cheeses that vary between fresh, semi-cured and cured. The latter of these are smeared with and aged in a coating of either wheat bran, pimentón, rosemary, pork lard or extra virgin olive oil.
The volume of craft cheese production oscillates depending on the season, since this profession depends in large part on the biological cycles of the goats.
Tell us a little bit about your experience in the export market.
We began exporting around four years ago, specifically to New York. The type of cheese most in demand for these exports is without a doubt our semi-cured, and the large degree of success of our [Payoya goat’s milk] cheeses has led us to believe that it must be due to its characteristic flavor, which is appealing to the most discerning palates in the dairy sector.