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Originating in Portugal, this variety of cheese is made from unpasteurized sheep's milk and is sold after it ages for at least 2 months. Named for the coastal Portuguese village where the cheese is produced, the Azeitao cheese is formed into small rounds that weigh approximately 4 to 8 ounces. Instead of using animal rennet to make the cheese, cardoon thistle flower is substituted as a key ingredient. Dense in consistency with few or no air holes, Azeitao Cheese may be buttery soft and creamy to firm in texture. The paste provides a rich, herbal and slightly salty flavor which is achieved from the lush, sea salted grassland in the meadows where the sheep graze. An edible rind covers the paste and adds a tangy flavor to the cheese within. Young versions of this cheese provide a somewhat sour tasting paste while the older aged cheese becomes more intense in flavor. Azeitao Cheese goes well with fruits, vegetables, smoked meats, salami, and red wines such as merlot or crisp white wines with a mild fruit overtone.
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