You've scoffed cheddar, you've eaten a wheel of brie – now the cheese you need to try comes from the Azores, the Portuguese archipelago that sits in the middle of the Atlantic ocean.
The Azores — an archipelago made up of nine breathtaking volcanic islands — might be Portugal's best-kept secret, but we're letting the cat out of the bag. In addition to the quaint fishing villages, bubbling hot springs and whale watching potential, the islands are a treasure trove of culinary delights, due in large part to its agricultural prowess and delicious dairy products.
Though the autonomous region of Portugal is surrounded by the sea, the Azores has strong links to the land. Today, cows are a common sight on the islands, where the animals graze 365 days a year — the only spot in Europe that this is possible. It's also feasible that you could be outnumbered by the creatures, like on the stunning island of São Jorge, where thousands of cows munch happily on grass across its rolling hills.
Azores Cheese Pairings
1. São Jorge DOP: buddy up with red wine (bonus points if it's Azorean) – perfect for evening nibbling.
2. Ilha Cheese: a great partner with pineapple (the Azores is also well-known for their sweet pineapples).
3. Prato Cheese: drizzle honey over this cheese, which is the perfect appetizer any time of day.
Dutch Holstein-Friesian cows were first introduced in 1842, and the black and white cattle has been an icon of the islands ever since. By 1870, there were 12,930 cows in São Miguel (the most populated island in the Azores), but this number would triple in just 30 years. Farming began to spread to Terceira, then to Pico, São Jorge and Faial — and while the Azores' ethereal landscape continued to evolve, the pace remained slow and patient, yielding to the natural elements attacking its rugged isles and maintaining traditional methods of production.
Milk and cheese production has become a daily part of Azorean life — so it's no surprise that the autonomous region of Portugal is fantastic at making our favourite food. In fact, half of the southern European country's cheese is made in the Azores. The Enjoy It's From Europe Program (from the EU Free Grazing Dairy project) aims to bring the best Azorean cheese to Canadians — and with so many types and tastes available, it's time you started snacking.
From the hard são jorge cheese, which has a Protected Designation of Origin status, to the semi-soft Prato and the Ilha ('island') variety, there's a cheese for every occasion. Whether you're enjoying it as an appetizer on its own or adding something sharp and tangy to your mac n' cheese, the full-flavoured cheese, made from grass-fed cow's milk, will take your cooking to the next level.
If you want to try something a little different, we've shared a recipe for São Jorge pudding — a traditional dessert using the iconic cheese — plus an elevated mac 'n' cheese recipe (below).
To start your Azores cheese journey today, head to sayazorescheese.com.
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