Or perhaps "Queso de Valdeon" or "Picos de Europa". And isn't it just like Europe to have multiple names for something. Anyway, Valdeon (vahl-day-ohn) is a remarkable blue cheese from the Valdeon Valley on the edge of the Picos de Europa Mountains in the Castilla-Leon province of northwestern Spain; an agricultural garden place known primarily for cereals, grains, and vegetables along with wines that bear the DOs: Ribero del Duero, Rueda, Toro, Arlanza, Cigales, Arribes, amongst others.
I have a theory about places like this: It's all interconnected. Back on November 1st of 2011, we blogged about d'Auvergne, France, a garden spot so special great European chefs were disproportionately born there. Think about that. Closer to home, I have always thought Monterey County, California produced wines that reflected the long history of vegetable harvests there and please excuse me if I don't view vegetal characteristics as a flaw in wine. So if the vegetation that the goats, sheep, and cows consume in the Valdeon Valley helps to produce the remarkable cheese there, then why can't the same earth that grew vegetables be praised for the wines from the same place?
Anyway...back to the cheese. What makes most cheese (and wine) special is complexity and Valdeon is nothing if not complex. The cheese is usually constructed from 80% cow's milk and 20% goat milk, but it could use sheep milk if necessary. The animals are mountain fed and that mixture, itself, is complex. The finished Valdeon product is a 5-6" tall, 8" diameter cylinder wrapped in Sycamore leaves which not only don't seal the cheese flavors within, but this wrapping also imparts even more earthiness from the leaves and ambient bacteria in the air to the cheese over time.
The flavor of Valdeon has been described as salty, rich and creamy, intensely flavored, spicy, baked bread yeasty, roasted meat, and chocolate. Chocolate? Aromas are damp earth, tobacco, and vanilla. Vanilla? Underlying all of this is a basic caramel-like essence. Caramel? And just like fine wine, the flavors are long and fine, nuanced, and piquant. And again just like fine wine, if you hold the cheese in your mouth and savor it for a while, the rewards are lasting.
Visually, blue cheeses are artistic beauties, by definition. This one is an ivory-cream colored paste with greyish-green mold, which is, of course, penicillium roqueforti. The cheese gets its first infection in the form of spores injected into the curds while still in brine. After draining and molding, the cheese is salted and pierced with long needles to create air channels, soon to become its blue veins. The cheese is then aged for one and a half to two months in dry caves so as to inhibit too much blueing from undue humidity. Before wrapping in leaves, the thin exterior rind is a visually splendid mosaic of life in blue cheese.
Valdeon finds a suitable companion in Riesling or Muscat still white wine, sturdy red dinner wine, desserts like Sauternes, or the fortifieds like Port or Sherry. Valdeon also likes fresh fruit and/or dribbles of honey, cream, or butter poured on it. Ooh-la-la!
This Friday, January 24th, between 5 and 7pm we will meet here for a tasting of Red Bordeaux, Gascogne Cabernet, Lodi Petite Sirah, Castilla-La Mancha Tempranillo, and more. Please join us and ask to taste the Valdeon.