On Menorca, the northernmost town in Spain’s Balearic island chain, a stratified cheesemaking industry produces some very popular product in an unusual manner.
For centuries, a specialized class of artisans, los recogedores-afinadores (the gatherer-ripeners) have taken young cow’s milk cheeses from local farmers and put them in subterranean cellars. There, the cheese undergoes a maturation period of two months to two years.
The younger versions aren’t as distinctive as the well-aged ones. But as it ripens, Mahon assumes a complexity that’s hard to resist. Sweet to the nose, it is just a bit sour when you taste it.
In its youthful form, Mahon is sold as fresco (two weeks’ aging) or curado (two months), and the rind is orange. The skin becomes brown over time, and the amber flesh grows sharp and fruity.
Look for duro (ripened six months) or, best of all, añejo (18 months or more). Where the young Mahon tastes like slightly tangy milk, the matured ones are dry and sharp, even piquant. Think of them like the salty old men you might encounter in an island community, always ready to impart the wisdom that comes with age.
PAIRINGS: In the Balearics, they serve Mahon dressed with olive oil, fresh tarragon, and salt and pepper. It’s so simple yet sublime, even more so when paired with a easy-drinking white wine.