This story was initially featured on Saveur.
When Pedro, my host father, provided me some cheese, I didn’t anticipate him to succeed in into the kitchen cabinet. The earlier weeks as an American teenager in Castilla-La Mancha had felt like Spanish culinary hazing: I’d survived blood sausage, octopus, even pig ears a la plancha—however unrefrigerated cheese on a 100-degree day? That sounded downright hazardous.
Then Pedro handed me a jar. Crammed with glistening white cubes suspended in yellow-green olive oil, it didn’t resemble any cheese I’d ever seen. “That is my mom’s queso en aceite,” he mentioned with a wink, “and I believe you’ll prefer it.” He twisted the jar open, handed me a toothpick, and motioned for me to fish out a hunk of cheese. It was wealthy, nutty, and thrillingly salty—nothing like the tasteless manchego I’d tried within the States. I felt the urge to scamper off to my room with the entire container.
Queso en aceite (actually, “cheese in oil”) is what occurs when manchego and olive oil get cozy. Left to intermingle for weeks or months in a jar (historically an earthenware orza jug), the oil progressively permeates the creamy sheep’s milk cheese, softening it and imparting a compelling, throat-catching piquancy. Little did I do know that just a few months prior, that very cheese would’ve been too dry to eat out of hand. The oil, in essence, had resuscitated it.
“Cheese has been oil-cured as a method of preservation for hundreds of years in Spain,” says Clara Díez, co-owner of Quesería Cultivo, a boutique cheese store in Madrid. She explains that the fats acts as a barrier to undesirable yeasts and micro organism, maintaining the cheese contemporary and suitable for eating, even when temperatures soar. The protect is such hardy stuff, actually, that Christopher Columbus packed it alongside salt cod and hardtack on his transatlantic voyages.
However like many meals that have been created for his or her indestructibility—we’re you, duck confit and jamón Ibérico—queso en aceite has endured into the refrigeration period for its distinctive taste and texture.
“It actually sings on a cheese plate,” says Alex Raij, chef and proprietor of Spanish eating places La Vara, Txikito, and El Quinto Pino in New York Metropolis, who infuses hers with za’atar for a tapa served with crackers at at El Quinto Pino. “We reuse the curing oil, topping it up each time we have to, and the cheese is getting higher and higher with every batch. I consider it as a solera system of types.”
A part of the fantastic thing about queso en aceite is that it is dead-easy to make and infinitely adaptable. First, select a tough cheese. Parmigiano-Reggiano, aged gouda, or perhaps a crumbly cheddar will do the trick, however for the real-deal Spanish stuff, go for an aged manchego. Trim off any rinds, reduce the cheese into chunks or batons, and place them snugly in a glass jar together with any aromatics you fancy resembling rosemary, chiles, or citrus zest. Fill the jar to the brim together with your favourite extra-virgin olive oil, screw the lid on tight, and ya está—set it in a again nook of your cabinet, and overlook about it for as much as six months (although it’s going to be prepared for noshing after two weeks).
At the moment I dwell in Madrid, and Pedro and I are neighbors. We eat octopus, blood sausage, and pig ears collectively with out considering twice. However for him, queso en aceite, that humble but ingenious recipe from his birthplace, will all the time maintain particular that means. “In any case,” he says, ”a very good pink, some cubes of queso en aceite, a spot to take a seat exterior surrounded by good buddies—now, doesn’t that sound good?”