Tales from the Fairway cheese counter: El Cantú.

El Cantú

Vicky buried herself in work at the library. She put foolish ideas out of her head and concentrated on her thesis, but she found her thoughts frequently returning to Oviedo.

Narrator, Vicky Cristina Barcelona

One of the songs on the Vicky Cristina Barcelona soundtrack that  never fails to grab me when I’m in a contemplative mood is ” Asturias.” (Yes, I’ll wait while you click the link so you can listen to it as you finish reading this post.)  It’s this meditative, mysterious piece that is stark and hypnotic and immediately evokes a hot, dusty afternoon in Oviedo (the region’s capital) and immediately makes you want to sit outside a tapas bar and sip wine and snack on cheese all day. And be honest: we’re in the dog days of summer, so sometimes that sounds like a pretty sufficient meal if you can get a loaf of bread to nibble on as well.

Believe me when I say that the cheese you want to be snacking on as you while away those hot and lazy days is from a wheel of El Cantú. I’m snacking on it right now as I write this.

It begs to be cracked into and snacked on...slowly.

Asturian for “the song,” El Cantú comes from the Asturias region of Spain (in Northern Spain, closer to the Atlantic than France), and .  Don’t be intimidated by the fact that I said “wheel” as this cheese only comes in wheels that run under a pound (a far cry from the humongous ones that typify Parmigiano-Reggiano, for example) and at Fairway (at least) they are only sold by the half-wheel or whole wheel, the latter which will cost you about $15 (as a half-wheel will run 7-8 dollars).

Unlike Garrotxa which comes in somewhat similarly priced wheels, El Cantú is sharp, hard, and aged. Manchego is often called the “Parmesan” of Spain due to its ubiquity and how well it pairs with so many foods, but nod for nothing, this cheese bears more resemblance (at least to me) to the primary cheese of Emilia–Romagna: hard, sharp, and filled with those little crystals that only come from cheeses that have time to properly age. It’s like Parmigiano, Manchego and cheddar all came together to make one cheese, and that union is truly a holy one. It’s buttery, it’s crunchy, and it’s creamy. And it pairs perfectly with wine–unlike a softer cheese, it’s not a cheese that you wolf down without thinking about it; you need a nice sharp cheese knife to carve out the little shards of milky goodness. It’s nice in that it’s not a cheese one idly eats, and instead you are present as you eat it, even if it is sitting on a little cheese board as you watch the world go by.

Simply put: try this cheese. Run, not walk to your favorite specialty cheese shop and ask if they carry it; if not, beg them to do so. Try some. Buy a whole wheel. Slice off chunks as you feel the inclination and enjoy with your favorite Spanish red on a hot summer’s day.

Oh! Speaking of cheese and wine, I have been remiss in not mentioning my work colleague Lou’s new wine and cheese blog, wineandcheesechronicles. Every Friday our office has wine and cheese starting at 3:30, and Lou is the mastermind behind it all, selecting a variety of reds and whites based around weekly themes (cool labels, wines by region/state/country, new wines rated by Wine Spectator, you name it) and serving a selection of cheeses and other snacks. Thanks to him I’ve found so many fantastic wines to serve at home and to give as gifts, so if you’re in the mood for trying something new, go over and check out what we’ve been sipping.

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