We received a call this morning from a customer who said that the Azeitão we sent her was bad. Of course the customer is always right; however, I have strong doubts that there was anything wrong with the cheese. The last two shipments we received were some of the loveliest specimens I have ever tasted. I was reminded of why I chose to write an ode to Azeitão in Mastering Cheese; the cheese can be incredibly delicious!
The thistle renneted sheep milk cheeses may not be for everyone. Many people simply can’t stomach them. This leaves more for the rest of us. The Queijo Azeitão has a very agreeable texture: buttery, velvety, smooth, and unctuous. The aroma/flavor is full but not funky. Some people detect a fishy flavor; I prefer to call it maritime. The cheese is gently salted and it exhibits a little bitter note, though its overall pH is well below 7. These type vegetarian rennet cheeses undergo extensive proteolysis which releases extra aroma on top of that provided by their generous helping of short chain fatty acids. Along with maritime flavors you may detect olive oil, grass and vegetal aromas, as well as an underlying meatiness.
At other times of the year the Azeitão may not be quite so lovely; right now they are at peak. No surprise there – these cheeses were produced in the fall when the vegetation in this part of warm southern Portugal is relatively full. The animals eat well in the fall, hence the full-flavored and especially nutritious Azeitão at this time.
Like most sheep milk cheeses, the Azeitão marries well with many wines, and exceptionally well with some, such as Chenin Blanc, Albariño, Sangiovese, Baco Noir, Tempranillo, Syrah, Ports, and some Pinot Noirs. I recommend that you be careful with throwing any old wine its way though, a full flavored cheese such as Azeitão can thrash certain elegant wines; white Burgundies and Cabernet Sauvignon-dominant Bordeaux are two examples you might reserve for a different cheese selection. Similarly, neither of these wine types enhances the Azeitão.
That could have been the problem with her Azeitão. She may have tasted it with an inappropriate wine partner, or it may have had something to do with other residual flavors from other foods and beverages, or the cheese may have been tasted outside of its recommended progression in a grouping of cheeses. We place the Azeitão on the medium quadrant of the CheeseClock™, as big as it may seem. It is less persistent than most cheeses but a better successor to others. If a poor wine partner was not the problem it may have been when it was tasted among other cheeses.
We would love to keep these several Azeitãos to ourselves but that wouldn’t be nice.