Top
Sera Da Estrela Cheese Workshop

Learning How to Make Serra da Estrela Cheese from Scratch

We recently took a trip around the Central Region of Portugal. The places we visited were charming. The people were kind. But the food, oh the food, that was the absolute highlight of it all! In a way, it’s all connected. The beautiful ingredients and preparations we got to taste are a direct product of those places and, because of craftsmanship and centuries of tradition, of the local people who keep working to make sure these foods stay relevant in the gastronomic panorama of my country.

Inspecting wheels of Serra da Estrela cheese before they are sold

Inspecting wheels of Serra da Estrela cheese before they are sold

 

Serra da Estrela cheese is, quite probably, the most famous cheese in Portugal. Made from sheep’s milk, these pungent Portuguese cheese is adored all over the country. When you visit a supermarket or cheese shop, you may find queijo da serra of different prices. But beware! Not all of those cheeses are in fact from Serra da Estrela. They may be “tipo Serra”, that is, “Serra type”. And that’s not exactly the same. Serra da Estrela cheese has been granted PDO (protected designation of origin) by the European Union.

For a Serra da Estrela cheese to be considered legit, only 3 ingredients can be involved in the cheesemaking process. The first and most important is raw sheep milk from the bordaleira breed, that is originally from this region. Bordaleira sheep produce milk which is very high in fat content, giving the cheese the strong flavor that it is well known for.

Bordaleira sheep. Thank you guys for sharing your milk with us! <3

Bordaleira sheep. Thank you guys for sharing your milk with us! <3

 

To curdle the milk, only thistle flowers are to be used. For flavor enhancement, sea salt is also added. About 14 grams of salt per liter of milk is customary.

Thistle flowers (locally known as "flor do cardo") are used to curdle the milk to make Serra da Estrela cheese

Thistle flowers (locally known as "flor do cardo") are used to curdle the milk to make Serra da Estrela cheese

 

Sheep are milked twice a day, and a healthy creature will give you about 800ml of milk each time. Once you have a total of 5 liters of milk, you can make a cheese of 1 Kg. There is a lot of work involved, both from the sheep and from the humans taking charge of the situation, from the milking to the cheesemaking process. No wonder a kilo of Serra da Estrela cheese will go for at least 20 euros. It makes sense, as this is a very manual process, thankfully still not done on a massive scale.

Milking sheep for cheese making

Milking sheep for cheesemaking

Sheep "breakfast cereal"

Sheep "breakfast cereal"

 

In Penalva do Castelo, I had the chance to join a Serra da Estrela cheesemaking workshop. Casa da Ínsua Hotel has an incredible property around its hotel, where they grow food to be served in their own restaurant and to sell too.

Casa da Ínsua Hotel

Casa da Ínsua Hotel

Casa da Ínsua grounds

Casa da Ínsua grounds

 

Their estate includes a dairy farm, where you can buy a variety of Serra da Estrela cheeses (soft, semi-hard or hard) or even learn how to make your own cheese. Needless to say, I went for the latter option…

With the man who taught me how to milk sheep

With the man who taught me how to milk sheep

Serra da Estrela cheese workshop: milking sheep & flaunting my cheese before it hits the curing cave

Serra da Estrela cheese workshop: milking sheep & flaunting my cheese before it hits the curing cave

 

During this workshop, we were given the opportunity to do everything from scratch. That included milking the sheep at 6AM, and getting our hands “dirty” making wheels of cheese.

This is how it all went down:

 

During this hands-on class, you get to squeeze the curdled milk and shape it inside plastic molds that will dictate the appearance of the cheese. Before the molds hit the cheese cave, they are placed in a press that will squeeze the preparation even further for 20 minutes, ensuring the water content is released and only the creamier stuff gets left behind.

Serra da Estrela cheese on the day it is made - before it hits the press and is cured in the cheese cave

Serra da Estrela cheese on the day it is made – before it hits the press and is cured in the cheese cave

Cheesemaking facilities at Casa da Insua - cheese press in the background

Cheesemaking facilities at Casa da Insua – cheese press in the background

 

After the workshop, the cheese stayed at Casa da Ínsua’s curing chamber. During an initial stage, the Serra da Estrela cheese went through the fermentation process, in a room at between 6°C to 8°C, and 90 to 95% humidity. Afterward, for its correct curing and aging, my beloved wheel of milky goodness was put in a different room with a lower humidity between 80 and 85%, and a higher temperature of 12°C to 13°C.

The cheese guardian

The cheese guardian

 

Two months after the workshop, I was happy to receive the fruit of my work in Lisbon. Behold this buttery beauty:

After a couple of months, me and my Serra da Estrela cheese unite again!

After a couple of months, me and my Serra da Estrela cheese unite again!

 

This kind of workshop gives you a renewed appreciation for the things you eat on a daily basis. Once you see all the hours, effort and resources that go into making a piece of cheese, you can rest assured that it will taste better. Being there with the animals also make you value and respect how they contribute to putting gloriously nutritious food on our plates.

 

If you’d like to try your hand at Serra da Estrela cheesemaking, book a workshop with Casa da Ínsua or contact Simplyb so that they can organize this and other activities in the region for you.

If you’re curious about other foodie delights in the Central Region of Portugal, check out more photos from our trip in the region!


Subscribe to the Backpack ME Newsletter

Tips, fun stuff, and TONS of inspiration! Straight to your inbox!

5 Comments

  • Eva Portugal Travel Says

    Once we were in Portugal, i imagine myself there every time. It was my very first trip, from that time I like to travel and find waves that I have never been to. Appreciate the article, estrela cheese looks yummy!

  • Great to read this after your previous post about the central region of Portugal, and the Portuguese loving whatever it is that they do for a living. I’m sure there’s a lot of love and pride that goes into each product they make there. And of course cheese = <3

    • Zara Says

      Yes! I think it’s very true that people get very attached to what they do for a living, especially in smaller towns. It was such a pleasure to see the cheese ladies doing their work. They would do it happily, and with expertise. The way they handled the cheese would show a certain “respect” to the product itself if you know what I mean..

  • Ahmad Shumayal Says

    I saw such cheese sold in continent. They dont need plastic cover? Can we eat the outside, RIND? or throw it? What do mostly do?

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

Subscribe to Backpack ME