07 February 2011

La Quesería Gazul: Alcalá's prizewinning cheeses

 “Pan y queso saben a beso” [Bread and cheese taste like a kiss]
 “Pan, queso y uva, saben a beso de cura” [Bread, cheese and grapes taste like a priest's kiss]
(Alcalá children´s sayings, as recalled by Juan Leiva)
Of the eighty or so cheese-producing dairies in Andalucía, fifteen are in the Province of Cádiz and our own Quesería El Gazul was recently identified as a model example of agricultural industry, combining traditional cheesemaking techniques with innovative products and helping to sustain the viability of Alcalá's numerous flocks of goats.  The regional government is keen to support such local businesses and help their products reach their full market potential.

Local bigwigs inspect the cheese-making process
Owner Jorge Puerto first had the idea of opening a dairy for goat milk products back in 1998.  Starting completely from scratch, it took four years to set it up.   All the products are made from the pasteurised milk of payoya goats (a breed native to the Sierras of Cadiz) which graze freely on the pastures in the Alcornocales Natural Park, eating plants and shrubs such as wild olive and lentisco. This gives their milk a very special flavour. The cheeses are moulded by hand and matured, then rubbed with oil - a technique employed in this area for generations, in contrast to the high-tech sanitary equipment used at the factory.  

Since 2002, when El Gazul started up, Jorge has backed traditional methods of cheesemaking along with innovation in order to be more competitive. The first certified organic cheeses in the Province were made here. One recent gamble which is starting to pay off is organic yohgurt, made and sold in the dairy and gaining a very good reputation amongst customers.  The latest idea is cheese made with edible flowers, but this is still in its experimental phase.

Cabra payoya, turning grass into cheese
“What characterises our cheeses is that they are a local product, made with a natural crust based on olive oil, and to which no chemical products are added”, says Jorge.  For him, they have a distinctive “home-made” flavour which customers appreciate. Moreover, because the whole process takes place at the dairy and there are few third parties involved, they can offer items accessible to all pockets.   You can buy the products directly from the dairy shop (behind la Querencia restaurant on La Palmosa, next to the A381 junction 45), and they also offer a home delivery service.  Many of the small food-shops in town sell the cheeses; the curado sells at around 10€ a kilo, and some places will cut off a smaller portion for you if you don´t want a whole cheese.

Like other small cheese-producers in Andalucía, El Gazul is working hard to reach new markets. They are now getting orders from outside Andalucía, which is a key objective, just as products from other regions are sold here.  El Gazul now has an annual production of 80,000 kg, and in spite of the economic crisis they hope to continue expanding. In 2010, sales increased by 3.3%.

Products on offer at Quesería El Gazul
Queso curado

Cured and semi-cured cheeses
These are firm, dense, pale yellow cheeses with different flavours according to their treatment. They are available vacuum-packed in pieces of 800g, 1.3kg or 2.5g. They will keep for up to a year, but once they have been cut they should be wrapped in film and kept in the refrigerator.

Queso con pimentón
Queso curado: matured for at least three months then coated in a thin layer of olive oil and left to form a light brown crust. Tangy and full of flavour. An organic version (curado eco) is also available.

Queso semicurado: matured for about six weeks, this has a mild flavour and delicate aroma. An organic version (semicurado eco) is also available.

Queso con manteca y romero
Queso curado con pimentón: The matured cheese is rubbed with two kinds of paprika – sweet and spicy - to give it an intense piquant flavour. Its texture is a little firmer than the other varieties.

Queso curado con manteca ibérica: matured for three months then rubbed with the fat from the Iberian pig.

Queso curado con manteca ibérica y romero: As above but then coated with rosemary, a herb which grows in abundance in the area.

Queso con aceite de oliva
Queso curado con aceite de oliva virgen extra: This cheese has a powerful, vigorous flavour and a slightly crumbly texture due to its having been submerged in extra virgin olive oil for 30 days after maturing.

Traditionally this was known as queso emborrado and was often made in metal churns in the kitchen.  The sediment from the oil helps to add body to the cheese.  It is served as a tapas in some of the bars round Alcalá and is well worth a try if you like a cheese that bites back.

Queso fresco
Fresh” (non-cured) goat's milk products

Queso fresco: a firm white cheese with a delicate flavour, available in vacuum-packed portions of 500g, 1kg or 2kg. Once opened, keep in the fridge and consume within 10 days. This cheese is excellent served with fruit.

Requesón: A ricotta-style or cottage cheese, slightly grainy and very mild, with a low fat content. Sold in plastic tubs, it will keep for up to ten days in the fridge.

Requesón (ricotta)
Yogur: A creamy, firm, natural yoghurt, similar to Greek yoghurt. Sold unsweetened in small plastic tubs which will keep for 15 days in the fridge.

Awards and prizes:
2009 - Queso Montes de Alcalá. Bronze medal, World Cheese Awards
2005 - Queso de cabra en aceite de oliva El Gazul. 3rd prize, Concurso de queso de la Asociación de Queseros de Andalucía
2004 - Queso de cabra en aceite de oliva El Gazul. 2nd prize, Concurso de quesos artesanos de la Comarca de Guadalteba
2003 - Queso de cabra. 1st prize, Concurso de queso artesanos de la Comarca de Guadalteba

Poligono Industrial La Palmosa, Parcela 20 
Alcalá de los Gazules, Cádiz 11180
Tel: 956 420 307 / 617 401 215


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