Visiting Our Producers in Menorca

Published : 01/19/2018 15:00:23
Categories : Eatapas & more , Eatapas News

Our usual summer break in Menorca gave us the perfect opportunity to pay a visit to one of the most important partners of the Eatapas project – Sa Cooperativa del Camp. Consisting of people passionate about Menorca’s traditions and culture, Sa Cooperativa is extremely active when it comes to promoting and supporting all local artisan productions.

We met Tolo, Cati and Lucia, all of whom gave their best efforts to create an unforgettable experience for us. It’s safe to say they nailed it!
After introducing us to local artisan producers, it reaffirmed the spirit that convinced us to create Eatapas in the first place.

Sustainability at the Heart of Menorca

Menorca’s economic development and growth is deeply tied to the use of local resources.
Thanks to its extremely sustainable style of expansion, Menorca was declared an UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in 1993, and is a model to follow when it comes to balancing natural environments with human activity.

That’s why at Eatapas, Menorca is not just a holiday destination, but also a place we want to help preserve and maintain.

How is artisan Mahon Cheese produced?

To find out how real artisan Mahon Cheese is created, Tolo and Cati organised a private session for us at one of their associate cheese-makers farms.
After a twenty minute drive from Alaior, we arrived at the farm of Jaume and Pili, an impressive 80 hectare-large pasture. Their Friesian Cows were able to graze freely amongst a stunning Mediterranean backdrop.
Coming from a family of farmers, Jaume has been producing Mahon Cheese for 25 years with the help of his wife Pili. Their 13 year-old daughter even lends a helping hand during the school summer break.

In less than three hours we saw 260 litres of milk from the family’s own herd be converted into 30kg of Mahon Cheese. It’s stated by the Designation of Origin regulatory board that artisan Mahon Cheese must be produced immediately after a cow is milked. The milk itself cannot be stored in cooled tanks.
It’s all part of the reason this cheese is so unique.

The Artisan Process of Mahon Cheese

First, milk is put in a steel tank for curdling. These curds are then poured into immaculate white, hand-made cloths called “Fogasser’s”, all of which are made by Jaume’s mother. No moulds are used.

Next, Jaume and Pili use just their hands and cloth to drain the whey and achieve the typical flattened shape of Mahon Cheese. They have to be accurate and thorough to ensure no air is trapped inside the cheese.

Once this phase is finished, the cheese is kept for eight hours under 5kg weights. It’s then put in brine for 24 hours.

Here, modernity comes to help. Jaume and Pili told us that before the use of technology, the only way to indicate the level of brine acidity and saltiness was to drop in an egg, adding salt until it partially floated.  Once the correct level is established, the cheese needs at least 12 hours before its ready for ageing.

Nowadays a machine automatically controls the temperature and acidity of the brine.

Though technology and innovate provide their contribution, there’s no denying that experience, know how, patience and passion are still the most important elements when creating a good artisan Mahon Cheese. There are no shortcuts or breaks. It’s a 365 day long activity that has to be carried out thoroughly and with a great motivation.

After being shown the entire cheese-making process, it was time to say goodbye to Jaume and Pili as we followed the journey of their cheese across the island and into the plates of consumers.

What happens during the ageing process of Mahon Cheese?

We had another host waiting for us in the suburbs of Mahon, Menorca’s main city. Our host was in charge of one of the few Mahon Cheese curing chambers that still operate on the island.

The ageing of PDO Mahon Cheese always occurs in these curing chambers. The tasks carried out here are a vital part of the overall process, and are just as important as any previous phase.

Stored on wooden shelves, the cheeses are periodically turned around, drizzled with olive oil and spread with Pimenton, the famous Spanish paprika which gives it its typical orange colour.

Our host’s experience and ability is absolutely essential in this phase. He controls the quality of each single piece of cheese and decides which ones are good for ageing, which ones are good for immediate consumption and which ones don’t comply with the criteria of the Designation of Origin.

What are the types of Mahon Cheese?

PDO Mahon Cheese can be made with pasteurised or unpasteurised cow’s milk. For the latter, cheese is labelled as Artisan Mahon-Menorca Cheese.

The shape of Artisan cheese is generally not as regular as industrial cheese, and typically shows the wrinkles left by the cloth used to mould it.

The Board of the Mahon Cheese Designation of Origin sets out the following types:

  • Tender: aged between 21 and 60 days. Its texture is smooth and its colour is white-yellowish.
  • Semi-aged: cured for up to 5 months, its rind is orangey, its texture firm and its aroma is strong with hints of hazelnut.
  • Mature: cured for more than 5 months. Its rind is brownish and its taste is complex, intense and slightly spicy. This is a real delicacy for cheese fans.

Efforts to Sustain the Local Economy by Sa Cooperativa del Camp

While Mahon Cheese is undoubtedly one of the most important artisan products of Sa Cooperativa del Camp, their mission is to support and promote all artisan producers in the area.

Created in 1945, Sa Cooperativa currently has 600 associates.

Tolo and Cati were particularly proud to introduce us to their Farmers & Co. Project, launched in 2016 with the aim of internationally spreading knowledge on Menorca’s artisan products.

They recognised the need to promote their goods outside of their island in order to keep the rural economic model alive. This way, the agro-business of Menorca could persist within full respect of the territory and its traditions.

We have spent our summer breaks in Menorca for many years. We’re passionate about this magical island, as much as Tolo, Cati and all the associates at Sa Cooperativa del Camp. We don’t want to see Menorca turning into a new Ibiza or Mallorca.

Projects like Farmers & Co. look to preserve this natural environment and its artisan products, and we couldn’t be happier.
Craving an authentic taste of Spanish cheese? Have a browse of our cheese section and order today!

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