Why My Heart Beats for Mahón

There are a few cheeses in my arsenal that are my go-tos—the ones I can gush and go on about to anyone who will listen (or who will pretend to listen). I wrote a few months back about Robiola Bosina being one such cheese.

You might call them my favorites.

It makes sense, then, that this holiday season I sold an awful lot of Robiola Bosina, a bunch of Délice d’Argental, loads of Époisses, a whole heck of a lot of Ossau Iraty, and seriously a lot of Aged Mahón. (We had at least 10 wheels of Aged Mahón before Thanksgiving. NOT ANY MORE!)

As difficult as it may be to have a favorite cheese (or two, or three, or four), Mahón is one of them for me. But not just any Mahón: Aged Mahón.

A hard, cow’s milk cheese from the Spanish Balearic island of Menorca, Aged Mahón has a natural rind that you can eat if you want. I’m not a big rind fan myself, but I recently decided I don’t mind eating this one.

The rind is rubbed with olive oil and paprika during aging, which leads to it being slightly tacky, depending on how old it is and how it’s been kept.

Aged Mahón (and also gross, orange-rinded young Mahón, which is not grown-up enough to be worth eating) comes in a neat little square block that you can’t really call a wheel. Cheesemongers cut it in half diagonally, and into little pinwheel triangles, before you get to take it home for the devouring.

The paste inside is yellow. Not bright yellow, in a creepy, radioactive way or even in a watered-down annatto way. It’s a beautiful, warm, almost-golden yellow, complete with the occasional crystalline patch of crunchy leucine crystals surrounding the baby eye holes left behind by some gassy bacterium as the cheese aged.

The cheese is wonderfully balanced. It’s buttery. It’s dense. It’s smooth, a teensy bit nutty, a teensy bit fruity, just salty enough, and it’s got a bit of that creamy-crunchy texture that makes aged cheeses so good.

I love Aged Mahón with a full-bodied red wine.  I love it with a Lager, or with egg nog, or by itself. More often than not, Aged Mahón is a cheese I eat totally on its own—no cracker, bread, meat, spread, nothing.

There’s nothing personal against young Mahón, which has a bright orange, sticky rind and a sticky, semi-soft, bright-white paste. I just don’t care for it—because I know what it could be if it was just aged like six months longer.

For the record, young Mahón is usually aged for around three months, and Aged Mahón clocks in at six, eight, or ten to eleven months on the shelf. A more refined sensory experience comes from that full aging period.

Everyone on the interwebs says Mahón is traditionally enjoyed with black pepper, tarragon, and olive oil. Well, that’s fine.

But I just want to get this cheese alone and let it melt on my tongue with nothing else to take away the flavor. THAT is how much I like Aged Mahón.

Now you’re going to go out and find some, aren’t you?

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