Cheeses from the sierra de Grazalema

Cheeses from the sierra de Grazalema

Traditional cheeses from the Sierra de Grazalema are made from goat’s or sheep’s milk. ‘Cabra Payoya’ goats and ‘Oveja Merina Grazalemeña’ sheep are both registered and protected breeds of the Sierra de Grazalema and adjoining Serranía de Ronda.

These breeds have been developed to flourish in a mountain terrain where summer droughts are the norm and winter rainfall can be in heavy bursts. These flocks play a key role in the maintenance of local traditions and cultures, contributing to sustainable rural development in the region. Managed well, they also aid in the conservation and maintenance of the mountain area.

Cabra Payoya

These multicoloured caprines are nimble footed and pass easily over the limestone rocks to find the best grazing. It is not unusual to see one on its hind legs browsing the lower branches of trees, or even climbing into a tree to satisfy its appetite. For many years they have been bred and selected for their excellent milk production.

Cheeses from the sierra de Grazalema
Payoyo goats in the Sierra de Grazalema

Oveja Merina Grazalemeña

These sheep are excellent foragers and very adaptable. They offer a plentiful yield of milk which is high in protein and fat, so is ideal for making excellent quality cheese. Also Merino sheep are regarded as having some of the finest and softest wool.

Cheeses from the sierra de Grazalema
Merino sheep in the sierra de Grazalema

These rich, full fat milks from these sheep and goats can either be used individually or combined to create cheeses with a wealth of flavours and textures typical of the region. The fresher cheeses are white and crumbly whilst those that have aged are more yellow in colour and firm. Flavour grows with the aging progress; hence the very mature cheeses have the fullest intensity on your palate.


Semi cured cheese made from Sheep’s milk is cured for nearly 3 months, it is a creamy colour with a soft texture and flavour. A cured cheese is stored for a minimum of 4 months; as it ages and matures it becomes darker in colour and the flavour develops more intensity.

Semi cured goat’s milk cheese is stored for 2 months; it is pale in colour with a slightly tangy flavour and forms a natural rind. Cured goat’s cheese is stored for a minimum of 3 months, it is a deeper yellow in colour with a more intense flavour.

Cured cheeses with a covering of olive oil, rosemary, bran or lard from Iberian pigs, have been stored for 3 months before these are added and then receive a further 4 months for the flavours to combine, the resulting cheese is more tender and spicy.

Cheeses from the sierra de Grazalema
The famous Payoyo cheese in the Sierra de Grazalema

Notice there is a criss-cross pattern on the outer rind of the cheese, this originates from the woven esparto grass which was used as a form to hold and shape the cheese. To meet demands for a growing market and the health and sanitary regulations, plastic moulds are used now with the same pattern embossed.

Esparto grass cheese mould

A fine coating of wax, often black in colour, is used on many of the cured cheeses; it prevents unwanted mould growth while retaining moisture in the aging cheese. This is simply trimmed off with the outer rind when preparing a slice to eat.

Full cheeses are generally made in 1, 2, or 3 kilo sizes and some variations you may see are listed below.

  • Queso de leche de cabra – Goat’s milk cheese
  • Queso de leche de oveja – Sheep’s milk cheese
  • Queso mezcla de leche de cabra y oveja – Cheese from Goat’s and Sheep’s milk combined
  • Fresco – immature
  • Semicurado – Semi mature
  • Curado – Mature
  • Viejo – Old
  • Añejos – Very mature
  • Curado envuelto en romero – Mature cheese wrapped in Rosemary
  • Curado en Aceite de Oliva – Matured in olive oil
  • Curado envuelto en pimentón – Mature cheese wrapped in Spanish paprika
  • Curado envuelto en salvado de trigo – Cured cheese wrapped in wheat bran
  • Curado envuelto en manteca ibérica – Cured cheese wrapped in lard from Iberian pigs

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