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 TORTA DEL CASAR  (A Gastronomic Delight)

Dear friends,

We are pleased to offer you the Torta del Casar as our cheese of the month, a real gastronomic jewel. It is produced in a small artesian dairy in the southwestern town of Almoharín, Cáceres (Extremadura). We have selected a red wine and a brut cava which will both go very well with this cheese.

 
1 Torta del Casar

 
Here we offer you a description of this interesting cheese and the history that surrounds its creation. Enjoy.

Technically, the torta is a cheese that has not been properly made, due to an error in the production of it. There are various factors which influence the creation of the tortas: the coagulant used to produce the soft curd and which favors the proteolysis, fresh milk which is low in acidity, the relatively low temperatures used to create the curd, the small amount of salt added and the curing process in a cold and rather humid atmosphere. With all these factors, it is not surprising that the shepherds who tried to make a harder cheese that could be conserved in oil all year round, when it rained and was cold, ended up with a cheese converted into a torta. These tortas used to be given to the pigs because they were hard to conserve and eventually acquired an unpleasant and intense smell of ammoniac. Numerous gastronomic fans “discovered” the torta at its optimum moment for consumption and began to speak so favorably of it that nowadays it has become one of the true jewels of our gastronomy. Last year its very own Guarantee of Origin (Denominación de origen – D.O.) was created and very soon it is likely that the first tortas will appear on the market with their own brand.


Area of Production

Beginning with Casar de Cáceres (in southwest Spain), the area of production goes from the region of Trujillo to Almoharín in the south and the area of Brozas in the north.

WE HAVE SELECTED:

Torta del Casar from Pajuelo Brothers


The Torta that we suggest for this month is produced at a small artesian dairy in the southwestern town of Almoharín, Cáceres (Extremadura), also famous for its figs, used to produce an exquisite sweet.

From left to right: José Luis Martín, cheese expert for Quesos.com, Santiago and Ignacio Pajuelo, owners of the dairy, Javier Carbajo, general manager for Quesos.com.

The Pajuelo brothers (Santiago and Ignacio) are relatively new to the cheese world.
had always been dedicated to farming, but in 1987 they decided to buy a flock of sheep in order to produce lamb. Within a few years they began to milk the sheep and almost at the same time to produce cheese.
There were hard times at the beginning (there was no family tradition), but their efforts and dedication finally paid off when they received first prize at a cheese tasting competition in Trujillo, at its annual cheese fair. The following year they won a gold medal once again and repeated the feat last year, in 2.000.
Under a façade of apparent simplicity, they hide a life philosophy which is transmitted through their cheese. They only use milk taken from their own flock, so the production is limited. They affirm that their vacations are really the time they spend taking special care of each and every one of the tortas made throughout the year.


Description:
This cheese is produced from fresh merino sheep’s milk. It uses an enzymatic coagulation produced from the action of a vegetable rennet.
It all begins with excellent pastures...
... and a 365 working days per year.

We begin with fresh sheep’s milk taken from stockbreeding ranches within the D.O. region. The main breeds permitted are the Merino and Entrefina, while crossbreeding with others from around the country is also allowed.
The coagulation is done at between 26º and 28ºC (ºF) during an hour and a half to two hours. Until recently, the curd was cut and broken up with a stick in order to separate the whey, then the cheesemaker would press it with his hands in an esparto belt until he managed to obtain the proper shape.

A daily task.
Daily production of Pajuelos's Brothers 

Nowadays this operation is carried out with utensils called “liras de corte” (cutting lyre). The esparto belts have been replaced by polypropylene molds used in food production. The hand compacting of the torta has been replaces by pneumatic presses.
What has not changed is the rennet, which is obtained from the dried flowers of the wild thistle (cynara cardunculus and cynara humilis). This is left to macerate in warm water for several hours. The resulting liquid is strained and the rennet is ready for use.
The salting is carried out in the traditional manner, rubbing both sides of the wheel with salt. Curing occurs in cool places (6º -10ºC – º-ºF) and with a humidity controlled at 85% for a minimum of 60 days.

The curing process of the torta:
This is the fresh torta. Mold is very good for
the cheese. It is necessary and gives
the torta a special
flavor.
The torta cures.

Torta del Casar.  

The tortas must be cleaned and turned over every day.
Properties:
This cheese has a soft paste and a waxy and smooth rind.
It is fatty to extrafatty.
Dry extract: 50%.
Fatty material over dry extract: 45-50%.

Exterior aspect:
It’s shape is that of a flattened cylinder with a smooth top and bottom. The side of the wheel has slashed marks and little squares produced by the net that holds the cheese as it cures so it doesn’t get flattened out.
It is medium-sized and weighs a little more than one kilogram (2.2 lbs.).
The rind is thin, smooth, waxy and shiny. It can have small cracks from which the paste flows out.

Interior aspect:
The paste is a pale yellow color.
There may be a few irregular small holes which are produced during the fermentation.

Smell:
Medium intensity; also smells of sheep and clean wool.

Texture:
Soft, not very firm.
Highly or very highly creamy; the paste can become liquid in some tortas due to high proteolysis.
It is spreadable to the palate.
Served at 25º to 30ºC, the paste becomes very elastic and melts very well.

Taste:
Medium intensity. Somewhat lactic. Not very salty. Floral and herbal (hay) aromas. A slightly sour taste stands out at first, and a somewhat sourish aftertaste, all of which is still harmoniously integrated in the taste of this exquisite cheese.
Gastronomy:


Raw or slightly toasted nuts (walnuts, almonds, hazelnuts and pistachios).
Non-acidic or slightly sweet fruit (fresh figs, kiwis, apples, cherries).
Quince and not very sweet jams.
Toasted whole wheat bread (like crackers)
Cava “brut nature”, fruity white wine (Chardonnay, Gewurztraminer, Riesling, Verdejo).

RECIPE:
We can take advantage of everything with this cheese, even the crust.

We have to open it in a cross-sectional way with a fine and long knife, to take out the crust of above, and remove the cream from his interior.

Once all the cream has been taken well care of, the remain can be filled up with skipped vegetables, pricked meat, etc. and be put it to melt in the oven. The result will be a compact body where the aromas and flavors of the crust of the cheese are melt with the ingredients that we have added.

Useful advice:

In order to choose the Torta it is necessary to put a light pressure on it with the fingers when the Torta is cold, and the more soft it will be at cold temperature the more soft and creamy it will be when tasting it at consumption temperature that must oscillate in between 20 - 22º Celsius.

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