For a small Island El Hierro certainly does not get left behind in producing medal winning cheeses.
There are cheeses for all tastes, but unlike most of the British cheeses, the cheeses here are made of either goat’s milk, sheep and goat’s milk or cows, goat and sheep’s milk.
Traditionally the animals have been kept in mixed herds, hence the cheeses of mixed milk.
In 1981 the local shepherds formed a cooperative to import feed for their animals and from this grew other ideas. In 1983 came the idea of opening a factory where the shepherds could all take their milk and in 1985 saw the opening of the “Herreño” cheese factory on an industrial estatein Isora. Visitors are welcome to visit the onsite shop during most mornings. I managed a quick visit behind closed doors, and its huge inside. The smell of smoked cheese hits you as soon as you get out of your vehicle.
The mixed cheeses that they make are made from 85% of goat’s milk, 10% cow’s milk and just 5% of milk from the sheep.
Once the milk as reached the correct temperature a few ingredients are added for coagulation.
The cheeses are then allowed to mature for between 8 and 20 days depending on the recipe.
The majority once vacuum packed have a shelf life of 12 months, though obviously some will last much longer.
In total they produce 11 different products.
A cured Herreño cheese, a cured Herreño cheese which has been waxed, and also one with paprika added to the wax for extra flavour.
They then do a semi cured Herreño cheese, a semi cured Herreño cheese in wax and the same with paprika added.
Next you have a soft white cheese and the most popular of all the smoked white cheese. This is very often used for the traditional dish on the island of Grilled cheese with red and green mojo sauces, or sometimes with honey. Either way they are delicious.
Lastly you have a fresh cheese, which I always find squeaks when you eat it. And two types of grated cheese, one coarsely grated for sprinkling over potatoes or lasagnes and a very fine grated cheese. These options save your fingers on the grater.
Since 2007 they have been winning awards for their cheeses and in 2019 they have won a gold medal in the “Agrocanarias” event for their most popular smoked pasteurized milk cheese.
They also won gold in the “World Cheese Awards” for their cured Herreño Cheese. Quite an achievement to help putting El Hierro on the world stage.
The cheeses vary in sizes from a 1 Kg block, a medium of 3 Kg, and then the large at 4.6Kg, though you can buy it in wedges.
The El Barranco cheese factory gets its name from the steep valley it is located in which are known locally as “barrancos”. This was the first factory to be allowed to display the label on its cheese to show that it is an ecological product made in the Canary Islands. They only produce cheese made from fresh unpasteurized goat’s milk. The herds having been grazed on the hillside near the factory all year round.
Amongst the products they produce are a soft cheese, a semi cured cheese, a cured cheese and a cured cheese with a hot spicy paprika wax coating.
They also produce jars of “Almogrote” which is a soft spread, traditionally made from cured cheese, with olive oil, peppers and garlic. This produce is a traditional dish on the nearby Island of La Gomera.
In 2014 they won a silver medal in the AgroCanarias event for the best ecological cheese.
Again all the cheeses are full and flavoursome and great as a mixed cheese starter with fresh crusty bread.
Another of the local cheeses, Campos viejas is made in El Pinar and is also called “Granja Quintero” which is made on the farm of one of the many Quintero families on the island.
There cheeses are again only made from goat’s milk.
They are easily identifiable as they all feature, without being rude, old shepherds on their labels.
It’s a family run business which has gradually grown over the years and now features a number of different cheeses.
You have fresh goats cheese, and also a smoked version. I’m told they smoke their cheeses using only timber from the fig trees on the island, which gives it a distinct flavour from the other smoked cheeses. Some of the cheeses only have a short shelf life of about 1 month.
A recent addition to their selection is the “Granja Quintero” is the quark cream cheese.
This is made from milk that has been altered by the addition of lactic acid. This ‘acidification’ as it is known, causes the whey in the milk to split from the curd, and then the solids can be gathered up and turned into Quark. I’m told it is very low in fat and delicious. Spread it on crusty bread. Or use it to enhance many other dishes.
I love it on toasted bread sprinkled with a few herbs as a tasty snack.
I then came across a new variety of locally made cheese that I hadn’t seen for sale before. “Delicias de El Hierro”. It is made in Las Casas near El Pinar.
This cheese is made with a mixture of sheep and goats milk and the only one they seem to make is a semi cured version. It also seems to have a much shorter shelf.
The logo on the packet shows a butterfly, but in the shape of the Island.
A different taste again.
Whatever your taste is for fresh cheese El Hierro will not disappoint you.