It’s the cheese that nobody knows how to pronounce in our goat cheese section. How do you even ask a question in English about a cheese that ends with “txa”?
First of all, I recommend holding a wedge up to the cheesemonger so that he or she can see the name on the label and then asking to be told about the little gem—given a sample, even. (When in doubt, try it out!)
Second of all, it’s pronounced “Gahr-raw-cha.”
The name, like the cheese, is Catalan, from the northeastern corner of Spain. The region of Catalonia is bordered by the Pyrenees, Andorra, and France to the north, and by the Mediterranean Sea to the east. (To the west is the region of Aragon, and to the south is Valencia.) While residents of Catalonia can speak Castilian Spanish, the traditional, regional dialect is Catalan.
Like so many European cheeses, Garrotxa is named after the place where it was born. “Garrotxa” is also the name of a county within the Girona province. (Coincidentally, the town of Girona is also considered to be one of Spain’s culinary capitals.)
Garrotxa is a traditional Spanish cheese made with pasteurized goat’s milk. Firm, with a snowy white paste on the inside and a dusty, gray natural rind on the outside—sometimes flecked with bright yellow Chrysosporium sulfureum molds1—the cheese is relatively small, typically weighing no more than two-and-a-half pounds per wheel.
The flavor of the cheese is earthy, milky, and buttery, and it tends to have a brightness and a citrusy acidity similar to that found in many American-style cow’s milk cheddars. The rind is woodsy and herbaceous; it is edible, but it is unlikely that many people would enjoy actually eating it.
Garrotxa is a semi-hard cheese, with a flaky, crumbly-creamy texture. It is good for chunking or shaving, and for serving with bread, nuts, and white wines—especially Catalan wines, like Priorat. (What grows together goes together!) I’ve heard it referred to as a dessert cheese, but I support eating Garrotxa whenever you feel like doing so.
Like a lot of smaller, traditional European cheeses, Garrotxa had all but ceased to exist by the end of the 1970s. But, like those other traditional European cheeses, it was in for a revival.
After the end of the Franco dictatorship in 1975, many things that had come to a halt in Spain since early the 20th Century suddenly began again—artisanal cheese production being one among them.2 The quota system established under the dictatorship had killed off artisanal cheesemaking and smaller cheese varieties that could not be capitalized upon at factory-output levels.
A group of dairy cooperatives and young cheesemakers in Catalonia began making the cheese again by 1980, and its presence had become widespread by 1981. Thanks to these “neorurals,” as the new cheesemakers and dairy farmers called themselves after moving from urban centers to the country,3 small-batch cheesemaking began to flourish.
The neorurals helped bring Garrotxa back to life—as well as many other smaller regional Spanish cheeses. Not only that, but they also changed the cheese from its historical form to something new—and, perhaps, better.
Traditionally, Garrotxa cheese was a fresh goat cheese. Then it was made as a semi-soft, bloomy-rind cheese (called “pell florida” in Spanish). This was an accident of terroir, as the Penicillium glaucum mold that flourished on the outside of the cheese was encouraged by the local humidity—transforming a rindless cheese into one with a recognizable rind.4
The neorural cheesemakers allowed the cheese to become semi-firm, and then hard—and in the process, they allowed the exterior mold colonies to take over and form a gray-blue, suede-like natural rind. The rind is soft to the touch, and it is still sometimes referred to as pell florida, however it has become decidedly a firm rind through aging.
Today the cheese is made by about 10 small creameries in the county; they produce about 210,000 wheels of Garrotxa each year—only about 20 percent of which is exported to other countries. The most readily available versions in the US are from Formatgeria Mogent and Sant Gil d’Albio.
The cheesemakers and champions of artisanal cheesemaking have applied for name protections for Garrotxa, but so far it hasn’t yet been granted.
In any case, you should take any opportunity to try this cheese and support the creameries that have brought it back from the grave. Not only is this cheese super easy to appreciate—even for people who aren’t fans of goat cheese—but its mild demeanor is pretty kid-friendly, too.
- Wolfe, Benjamin. “A Visual Guide to the Microbiology of Natural Rind Cheese.” Microbial Foods.Org. Microbial Foods.Org, 4 May 2017. Web. 14 March 2018. <http://microbialfoods.org/visual-guide-microbiology-natural-rind-cheese/>.
- Gibbons, David. “Canut, Enric.” The Oxford Companion to Cheese. Ed. Catherine Donnelly. New York: Oxford University Press, 2016. 115. Print.
- Gibbons, David. “Garrotxa.” The Oxford Companion to Cheese. Ed. Catherine Donnelly. New York: Oxford University Press, 2016. 304-5. Print.
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