Permit me to share a tribute to one cheese I consider great: Azeitão. This little Portuguese sheep’s milk drum makes me really happy. First, there’s the anticipation, laced with curiosity: Every Azeitão is a bit different; not one has ever disappointed. When I get my hands on one, I can’t wait to cut into it. A ripe Azeitão is a cheese I can enjoy on its own – no bread, no wine, not even any company required. And there’s always the temptation to eat one whole, right down to the rind – it’s just that good.
Ideally, an Azeitão will be a little plump and quite soft. Its aroma, exuding from the rind alone, will be green and grassy with a note of olive. To be in a room thick with the scent of several of these tender young things transports me to the south of Portugal in a heartbeat. If it’s soft and melting and nobody’s looking, I’m tempted to cut out the top of my Azeitão, scoop out a delicious dollop with one finger and quickly pop it into my mouth.
The Azeitão’s first taste impression is buttery, with a scarce bit of salt thrown in. The flavors widen quickly, however, offering vegetal notes; a trace of avocado appears, with a few drops of lemon juice for accent. Then, a meatiness descends further back on the tongue – filet mignon…no, tenderloin of lamb, yet with a light fullness balanced by a lingering hint of bitterness. Essence of ripe mango comes into play, its juices visiting the outer edges of the tongue. This is getting really interesting: I don’t want it to end! The thick, creamy Azeitão falls away gracefully with a touch of peach and ground almond lending a tantalizing and refreshing sweetness to the finish. I might try some of the rind to make sure I didn’t miss anything. Then I’ll dive back into the paste to savor another leisurely mouthful of its delights.
- from Mastering Cheese, by Max McCalman and David Gibbons