Designation of Origin
Mahon-Menorca cheese

This is a box-shaped, pressed raw cheese with rounded corners that is made and cured solely and exclusively in Menorca according to traditional techniques in compliance with the regulation regarding its designation of origin. It was finally awarded the Mahón cheese designation of origin in 1985 and, subsequently, in 1998 the word Menorca was added so that it came to be called Mahón-Menorca cheese.


Cheese has been and still is an emblematic product for Menorca, and it is made on the island with cow's milk, set at low temperatures, salted by immersion and cured according to local Menorcan customs. Made in obeyance with age-old traditions, it is one of the pillars on which part of Menorca's history and livestock and culinary traditions are based. The first stable settlements on the island of Menorca probably date back to the year 2000 BC, as can be inferred from the discovery of pieces of pottery made during the period that might have formed part of the utensils used by the island's primitive livestock farmers to make cheese. Logically much more information is available about later periods.


There are records that in the year 417 Bishop Severo wrote an encyclical where he commented on the «considerable abundance of good quality beasts for man to live on», declaring that the diet of the island's inhabitants consisted of lac caseum et vaccinium, thus offering proof of the existence of what would later become one of the driving forces behind the island's economy: livestock farming, particularly cattle. Arab documents from the year 1000 mention high yields of cheese, wine and meat in Menorca. More specifically, in reference to the island the Arab historian, Ashashaskandi, says: «it has good cattle and vines that are used to make good cheese and wine». In the 13th century wine, meat and cheese of notable quality were produced in Menorca and there was considerable, highly productive trade with the outside world based on these products. Chronicles state that, on the occasion of his arrival in Mahón harbour in 1282, King Pedro III of Aragon received a gift composed of «livestock, eggs, cheese, lard and fresh bread», thus confirming the fact that cheese was a highly considered product on the island at that time. In the early 14th century, Pedro Marsili (King Jaime II's Dominican chronicler) wrote that, according to Pedro Martell, the inhabitants of Menorca had abundant milk, cheese, bread and wine. In the 15th century, the trading company run by the Toscana-based Datini de Lucca brothers sent merchants to Menorca to buy wool and cheese. The merchants did not wait to reach the mainland, but resold the cheese in Mallorca, where it was much liked. This trade between the two islands has continued to the present day and quite possibly Mahón cheese is the product that is most highly valued by the Mallorcan people.


The archives of the Crown of Aragon reflect the importance of Menorcan cattle farming and Mahón cheese in the 15th and 16th centuries. This trade increased to such an extent that, in the 18th century, there were even four boats solely dedicated to transporting Menorcan cheese from Mahón harbour to Genoa and other important places in the western Mediterranean. As a result, in places where the cheese was exported it came to be known as «cheese from the Port of Mahón» and, more succinctly, as «Mahón cheese», even though it had been made in Mercadal, Ciutadella, Alaior or other parts of the island. Consequently we are quite right in affirming that few cheeses have a «pre-designation» of origin as ancient and well established as Menorcan cheese has. Throughout the entire 18th century, the island's governors firmly promoted the production and commercialization of this cheese, as well as striving to improve the cattle whose milk was used in its manufacture. A clear example was given by Governor Richard Kane, who imported cattle so that he could cross them and improve the productivity of the native breed. Almost simultaneously the growing importance of milk and cheese production and its influence on the island's economy, together with the vacuum left by the British, created the right conditions for the emergence of a highly characteristic figure: the cheese maturer. These professionals distributed all kinds of agricultural products among the farming population but, more particularly, they also collected the unripened cheese that was made all over Menorca. This they then cured on their own premises in controlled, standard conditions, subsequently selling it under their own brand name to local and mainland markets. The profession of the cheese maturer has survived through to the present day.


The production area


The area where milk is produced and Mahón-Menorca cheese is made and cured is limited to the island of Menorca. Menorca has a microclimate that is rather different from the rest of its island neighbours, characterized by an almost total absence of high land and, above all, by its relatively abundant rainfall for a Mediterranean island (about 600 mm per year between the autumn and spring months), together with frost at night. As it also has temperatures typical of a Mediterranean area, with minimums in winter of 5°-10°C and maximums in summer of 30°C, it is suitable for growing fodder and grazing cattle. Menorca's dairy herds are mainly Friesian or unique Menorcan breeds of cattle.


The production process


The cheese-manufacturing process has remained constant for years all over Menorca, where ancient recipes are used. Traditional techniques are applied that have been handed down from generation to generation and it is their use that defines and leads to authentic Mahón-Menorca cheese. Two types of cheese can be distinguished, depending on the initial treatment given to the milk used to make it:


  • Mahón-Menorca cheese: made with milk that has been processed and/or treated to conserve it in authorized industrial airies.
  • Artisanal Mahón-Menorca cheese: Mahon-Menorca cheese - Balearic Islands - Agrifoodstuffs, designations of origin and Balearic gastronomy made with unheated milk in authorized artisanal dairies.


Artisanal Mahón-Menorca cheese is made during peak milk-production periods (in Menorca ranging from late September to early June) in artisanal cheese dairies twice a day. The only prior treatment that the milk undergoes is its filtering, using a cellulose filter in the milking sheds or a folded fogasser. Milk used for making Mahón-Menorca cheese is refrigerated and kept in the same place at temperatures below 4ºC. It is then collected in refrigerated lorries and taken to the industrial dairies where it is pasteurized prior to making the cheese. Both types of cheese share the same basic manufacturing procedures, although there are certain differences that determine the characteristics of the final product. In its stipulations regarding the manufacturing process, the Mahón-Menorca regulation makes a distinction when referring to the following stages:


  1. The curd is made with rennet of animal origin at temperatures of between 30 and 34ºC, for a minimum period of 30 minutes for Mahón-Menorca cheese and 40 minutes for the artisanal-type cheese.
  2. During the moulding process, when making artisanal Mahón-Menorca cheese, the curd is poured into a fogasser (a piece of linen or cotton cloth). The fogasser is supported on all four sides and filled with enough curd to obtain the right sized cheese. It is then placed on a cheese-making table (a wide flat surface) for the curd to set. Instead of knotting the four corners of the fogasser, they are tied with a fine cord with a small piece of wood at the end (the lligam). Fogasses made this way are traditional, squarish, medium-height cheeses with rounded corners and sides.
  3. To press the cheese, lever-operated presses are used in the case of artisanal-type cheeses and pneumatic presses in the case of Mahón-Menorca cheese. When it is pressed, the mark where the cloth was tied and any creases in the fogasser are stamped on to the cheese's top surface, thus creating a hallmark that is highly typical of artisanal Mahón-Menorca cheese, known as a mamella.
  4. The salting process is carried out by immersing the cheese in a saturated solution of salt and water for a maximum of 48 hours at a temperature of between 10 and 15° C.
  5. The airing of the cheese, once salted, clean and dry, takes place on cañizos (shelves made of strips of wood) so that the air can pass and the whole cheese benefits from its action. Cheeses that have been aired are taken to the cheese maturer's, where they are conserved and gradually acquire the characteristics typical of Mahón-Menorca cheeses. They are placed on shelves made of wooden slats at the right temperature and appropriate degree of humidity: around 15ºC with a humidity of 80-90%. These environmental conditions can be achieved in two different ways: by curing the cheese in natural caves or in a curing room. The cheeses are turned over from time to time so that they do not stick to the shelves and also look better. Certain other processes are also involved. For example, the cheeses are brushed with olive oil to help them mature properly. Sometimes the oil is mixed with paprika or other products, depending on the master cheese maker's customs and traditions. The duration of this part of the process varies considerably, depending on the degree of maturity desired, and it is precisely this that leads to the achievement of different types of Mahón-Menorca cheese, with a maximum of 150 days for semi-cured cheese and more time for cured cheese.

The characteristics


Mahón-Menorca cheese has a very characteristic box shape, with a height ranging from 5 to 7 cm, although the Mahón-Menorca variety almost always tends to be 9 cm high. The cheese generally weighs between 0,6 and 4 kg, although the most usual weight is 3 kg. Thanks to the precision that standardized procedures guarantee, the Mahón-Menorca type has a consistent weight of around 2.5 kg. As it matures, this decreases, due to a reduction in its water content. In the case of artisanal Mahón-Menorca cheese, the mamella on top of the cheese is very important, so much so that it constitutes an unmistakeable sign of identity. Generally speaking, the cheese has a firm texture, undergoing a continual process of evolution depending on the degree of maturity it has reached. The colour varies from milky white to dark yellow. A general characteristic is the appearance of holes. These may vary in size, although they are never larger than a pea. The semi-cured cheese The rind is compact, with a colour that can vary from pale yellow (typical of young cheeses) to orange or brown if it is artisanal. The cheese itself has a consistent texture and is easy to cut, with an ivory yellow colour that darkens as it matures. Inside the cheese, there are quite a few holes of varying sizes (although never bigger than a pea), forming an irregular pattern.


The cheese is easy to cut and the cut surface remains smooth, whole and shiny. It is soft with a high elasticity. Its taste is mild, slightly salty and acidic. It has well defined, characteristic, evolved lactic aromas with a certain hint of butter and roast nuts (hazelnuts). The cured cheese It is usual for the rind of the cured cheeses to be reddish in colour.

If paprika has not been used, the rind tends to be a darker or lighter shade of yellow. Inside it is dark yellow in colour. The number and size of its holes decrease noticeably as it matures. It is difficult to cut and the cut surface is rough and not shiny. Its texture is firmer and harder than that of semi-cured cheeses. Scales appear pointing the way in which it was cut and, if highly cured, the cheese might even break. The cheese has a highly evolved, complex, intense taste and aroma, with a persisting flavour in the mouth. It is reminiscent of old wood, tanned hide and aged champagne. Its salty taste grows stronger making one's tongue tingle whilst any lactic flavour disappears.

Mahon-Menorca cheese - Balearic Islands - Agrifoodstuffs, designations of origin and Balearic gastronomy
Logo Govern