My Wild Goose Chase (for Raisins and Cheese)

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The joys of being a teacher—if you teach, you know what I mean. Even if you don’t teach, you most likely know what it is like to have someone disagree with you, argue with you, or dispute your version of the facts. Which is fine, which is life, which is freedom-of-speech-and-expression-and-it’s-all-good.

However, as a teacher, I never want to discount it if someone tells me I have the facts wrong. After all, that’s always a possibility—especially in the worlds of food, wine, and spirits in which I specialize. In this world, everything is always evolving. So over the course of the last few weeks, I have spent a good deal of time tracking down a few facts based on comments I’ve received via the blog and webinars—and I certainly learned a great deal!

My first adventure (shall we call it that?) can about from a blog post I wrote a while back about Gin de Mahón (which you might know by its brand name, Xoriguer). I am so glad I decided to write that post – I learned a lot about the product (which is now my favorite gin) and met some fascinating folks who contacted me with some background and opinions on the gin.

One particular email, however, turned me for a loop. This person claimed that there was absolutely no geographical indication for Gin de Mahón, and that it was a very common and widespread misconception, but that the only GI for Mahón was for cheese. Cheese?

photo of Queso Mahón Menorca by Ihourahane, via Wikimedia Commons

photo of Queso Mahón Menorca by Ihourahane, via Wikimedia Commons

First things first—a quick web search to the EU database confirmed that there is indeed a Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) for Gin de Mahón. So my facts are straight. But it’s also true that there is a Denominación de Origen (DO) for cheese from Mahón (Mahón-Menorca DO).

In the spirit of “every situation offers an opportunity for learning,” I decided to find out a bit more about cheese from the Mahón-Menorca DO.

Mahón-Menorca DO is a cow’s milk cheese produced on the Spanish island of Menorca in the Balearic Islands. It is named after the port city of Mahón (just like the gin). The milk may come from the Friesian, Menorcan or Brown Swiss breed of cows, and may also include up to 5% milk from Menorcan sheep. There are actually two different styles, one know just as Mahón-Menorca—produced from pasteurized milk, and Artisan Mahón-Menorca—produced from raw milk. Either version may also be made in several styles, including tender (which has barely developed a rind and is cured for 21 to 60 days), semi-cured (which is firmer, with a soft orange rind and is cured for 3 to 5 months), and mature (which is firmer and flakey, sharp in flavor and aged for more than 5 months).

Cheese from the Mahón-Menorca DO is produced in small (between 5 and 9 cm high) pressed rounds of 1 to 4 kilos. It must be a whole-milk cheese of at least 38% milk fat. It should have a smooth, buttery flavor, a slightly salty taste and a bite of acidity. It may be served as a cheese course with fruit and nuts, in cheese sauce, served atop pan con tomate, or used in a range of recipes.

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My second wild goose chase adventure began with a webinar on the wines of southern Spain and started off innocently enough with the following statement, “there are two DOs for wine in the region of Málaga—the DO Málaga, which produces a wide range of wines based mainly on the Pedro Ximénez and  Moscatel de Alejandría grape varieties, but specializes in dried grape, aged, and fortified wines; and the DO Sierras de Málaga DO which features mainly dry wines from a wide range of allowed grape varieties.”

I thought I was off to a good start, but someone typed in the chat box and asked “What about the Pasas de Málaga DO?” I was pretty well thrown, as all of my research in the finest tomes on wine regions had not mentioned this particular appellation. My student, however, was adamant that I had missed a wine designation, so I agreed to investigate it further and follow up after class.

Later that day I set off on a research project to find out about the Pasas de Málaga DO. I checked in all the usual spots: the Oxford Companion to Wine (all three editions), the World Atlas of Wine, wine-searcher.com, Guild Somm—nothing. Onto a deeper search of the web, and—at long last, I came upon the website of the Consejo Regulador of the Málaga DO and sure enough, there are three DOs, including Pasas de Málaga. As the website is only in Spanish, it took me a while to decipher; however, in the end I discovered that there was indeed a Pasas de Málaga DO….for raisins. For eating.

But these are no ordinary raisins. According to regulations, Pasas de Málaga are produced using Muscat grapes; specifically the Moscatel de Málaga or Moscatel de Alejandría variety. They must be grown and dried in the regions of Axarquía or Manilva. They must be naturally sun-dried and be greater than 65° Brix, with a roundish shape and uniformly black color (as reddish or grey color would indicate early harvest or artificial drying).  They may be presented either in bunches or as individual raisins, with the conditions of drying (including the slope, awnings, dimensions and support of the drying platform, and allowed time) specifically defined for each type. Above all else, the raisins must have a proper sweet/acid balance (defined by brix and pH.), the proper texture (juicy and fleshy, not dry or inelastic), and the obvious aroma of Muscat grapes “reinforced by an intense retronasal aroma” (reforzado por un intenso aroma retronasal).

DOs for raisins and cheese are not unusual throughout the European Union; in addition to raisns, cheese, and hundreds of wines and sprits, Protected Designations of Origin (PDOs) exist for Sabina olive oil, Yorkshire rhubarb, Belgian butter, Traditional Balsamic vinegar, and Neapolitan Pizza. All of these products are fascinating and I’d love to research each and every one—even at the end of a wild good chase.

References/for more information:

The Bubbly Professor is “Miss Jane” Nickles of Austin, Texas… missjane@prodigy.net

About bubblyprof
Wine Writer and Educator...a 20-year journey from Bristol Hotels to Le Cordon Bleu Schools and the Society of Wine Educators

4 Responses to My Wild Goose Chase (for Raisins and Cheese)

  1. Hi Ms. Jane. Thanks for clarifying that Mahon Gin is indeed a Geographically Designated Gin. Now, One of only two in the world. Aside from Mahon Cheese, rumours are that Mayonnaise was invented on Mahon. Evidence is it comes from the Catalan word, maonesa, named after the town of Mahon in Menorca, Spain.
    Cheers Raj

  2. MT says:

    Guilty! I may have asked about a fact or two online…and really appreciate your sharing even more wonderful culinary information! And speaking of gin, found a new favorite: The London No 1! Thank you for always teaching us good things!

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