Valdeón is a rich, creamy, intensely-flavored cow and goat's milk blue cheese, saltier than Stilton and tamer than Cabrales.
The Valdeón wheels are wrapped in Sycamore leaves, which contribute to their distinctive appearance and complex flavor.
Valdeón was named best blue cheese in Spain's 2003 national competition
A mild, creamier and more approachable product, Valdeon can still curl the toes of people who aren't primed for it. Salty and sharp, it's an in-your-face blue that may take a few encounters to love.
Produced in the mountainous northwest region of Leon, Valdeon is a mixed- milk cheese. Cow's milk predominates, but producers can add goat's or sheep's milk, too. After the curds form, they're inoculated with Penicillium spores to initiate the blueing. Then they're cut smaller, drained and molded. Once they are firm enough to unmold, the wheels are salted and pierced with needles to create the air channels where the blue veins will form.
The milk for Valdeon may be raw or pasteurized. Raw-milk wheels age at least two months; pasteurized versions get a minimum of a month and a half. Maturation takes place in mountain caves of at least 85 percent humidity. According to Spanish cheese authority Enric Canut, Valdeon is less intense and has fewer blue veins than Cabrales because the Valdeon caves are a little drier.
At the retail level, these two cheeses are occasionally confused. Retailers sometimes label Valdeon as Cabrales, possibly out of ignorance, or because they think it will sell better under the more familiar name. One sure indication that you're getting what you want is the wrapper. Cabrales is always foil wrapped; Valdeon is enveloped in sycamore maple leaves, which makes it especially attractive on a cheese board.
The Valdeon wheels vary in size, but 5 pounds would be about average. Under the leaf wrap is a thin natural rind. The paste is ivory colored, richly veined and creamy, yet also a little gritty. The flavor is salty, pronounced, piquant and long lasting, definitely not for wimps.
I like to tone down Valdeon's pungency by drizzling it with honey. Serving it with a little butter also softens its punch. I was pleased to read that this is not heresy;
The semisoft interior displays plentiful blueing against a golden background. The rich, creamy, intensely-flavored cow and goat's milk blue cheese, is saltier than Stilton and tamer than Cabrales.
Valdeon pairs well with wines made from the gamay grape, such as Beaujolais cru and Muscat.
This cheese is delicious with smoked and cured meats and divine melted on top of a hanger steak.
With such a potent cheese, dry wine doesn't work. A tawny port or a sweet sherry is a better companion.