© Estúdio Lemonnier

PDO SERPA CHEESE

A PRODUCT OF EXCELLENCE

The PDO Serpa cheese is one of the most emblematic products of the Alentejo and has ancestral roots in the region. It was once a gift for kings and also a valuable currency. The people of the Baixo Alentejo expertly protected the secrets of making this cheese of excellence that is now certified and produced in 12 municipalities and finds its highest expression in the municipality of Serpa.

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THE SERPA CHEESE IS CERTIFIED WITH A PROTECTED DESIGNATION OF ORIGIN (PDO)

and is probably the descendant of the most ancient cheese produced in Portugal. Its buttery texture and subtly spicy flavour make this cheese perfect to be served as an entree or to end a meal, accompanied by a good red wine. Cheese, bread and wine are old table partners and find in Serpa excellent representatives.

 

It is a cheese produced from pure sheep's milk, curdled by an infusion of cardoon (Cynara Cardunculus L.), a spontaneous plant that grows in the Mediterranean scrub, abundant in these southern territories. The excellence of this cheese comes not only from the quality of the ingredients but also from the mastery of the cheesemakers, who follow an ancient art.

© Eco Sapiens

THE PRODUCTION

The production of the Serpa cheese begins with the straining, to remove any impurities that may remain in the milk. In the traditional process the milk passed through the "coadeiros", superimposed cloths that were specially woven for this purpose and that originated the terms "rouparia" - to designate the place where the cheese was produced - and  "roupeiro" - the cheesemaker. These designations still stand today.

The milk is seasoned with salt, warmed and added the cardoon flower infusion. Then the curdling process begins, an operation that is fundamental to the quality of the cheese and that deserves special attention. The whey is gradually drained in the tilted francela (runoff table). The paste is pressed until it is ready to be placed inside the moulds.

 

The whey that drains from the paste is then used to make the almece and also the excellent requeijão, the main ingredient of the famous Queijadas de Serpa.

© Eco Sapiens

The moulded cheeses are then ripened in a controlled environment and at different degrees of humidity and temperature, so that the perfect consistency is obtained.

HOW TO RECOGNISE THE PDO CHEESE?

 

The PDO Serpa cheese has a numbered marking on the rind and a certification seal on the label that attests to its authenticity and can be bought in cheese dairies or in local shops. Outside Serpa you can buy it in specialty stores and in supermarkets and hypermarkets. 
 

HOW TO CUT? 

 

The cutting is done in slices from the centre of the cheese to the periphery and the slices should be thicker with the buttery Serpa cheese and thinner with the more ripened version. It is best to use a knife with holes and not serrated, as it keeps the paste from sticking to the knife. 

© Eco Sapiens

HOW TO STORE?

The ideal conditions to maintain the physical and organoleptic characteristics of this cheese are: an airy, dark and relatively humid place, at a temperature of about 10 º C. You can use the refrigerator's vegetable drawer and keep the cheese in its original wrapper, turning it twice a day and removing it from the fridge 2 hours before serving.

You can keep the cheese at room temperature by placing it over wooden slats in a wooden box, airy and dark, and turning it daily. Freezing is not recommended for buttery cheese.

© Eco Sapiens

THE OTHER CHEESES

In the municipality of Serpa are produced other varieties of sheep and goat's cheese, also of high quality.

 

Sheep cheeses can be buttery, less ripened, or cheeses with a semi-hard or hard paste, with longer maturation periods. They can also be preserved in paprika, salt or olive oil.

Goat cheeses can be ripened or not and all are excellent as a snack or entree or used in the preparation of traditional meals and dishes. It should also be noted that the "Guadiana Goat Cheese” has the "traditional.PT" certification awarded by the Portuguese General Directorate of Agriculture and Rural Development.

Available all year round and with an extraordinary range of textures and flavours, the hard part is choosing.

During the Semana Gastronómica do Queijo (Cheese Gastronomic Week), which usually takes place in February, the municipality’s restaurants present appealing proposals prepared with cheese. And, before long, it will be possible to visit the Cheese Museum, integrated in the rehabilitated Serpa Municipal Market, which works are currently underway.

THE ALENTEJO CHEESE FAIR, IN SERPA

The ultimate event in the promotion and appreciation of this product of excellence is the Feira do Queijo do Alentejo (Alentejo Cheese Fair), held annually by the municipality of Serpa on the last weekend of February. It brings together the municipality’s various producers, as well as producers from other regions with cheeses of acknowledged quality. It also features other products of special relevance in the municipality, such as cured dry sausages, wine, olive oil, honey, bread and olives. During the Fair, a competition is held to distinguish the best cheeses and promote their access to the markets.

 

To taste these products and other delicacies of the traditional gastronomy you can participate in product samplings and show cooking events or go and taste them in the "tasquinhas" (taverns) area, where the snacks are superbly accompanied by exhibitions of Alentejo cante.

 

Come and visit!

© Estúdio Lemonnier

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