Dona Isabel describes the whole process with surprising simplicity. They receive sheep’s milk every afternoon, it’s kept at 4ºC overnight until early in the morning when it is warmed up in bain marie to 28ºC. At this stage salt, thistle and rennet are added. It sets for an hour to coagulate then it’s stirred for 15-30 minutes until the whey begins to separate from the curds. The whey is used for requeijão, a delicacy in itself, and the cheese goes into tins for shaping. It gets pressed and washed with saltwater. It is then stored in a chamber at 6ºC temperature and near 100% humidity, where it stays 12-13 days. Next step is to wrap linen cloth around each cheese as “it starts to gain a little belly”. The cheese is then moved to a chamber with less humidity for another couple of weeks, where it is turned daily, washed and re-wraped by hand. The final stage is a third chamber with even less humidity for another two weeks, completing the 45 day process that begins with milk arriving and ends with exquisite cheese being ready to eat. It’s either sold then as amanteigado (buttery, referring to its creamy, soft texture) or kept to be cured, for example with paprika (colorau).
Dona Isabel re-iterates how simple it all is but also how much work, dedication and care is involved. "They are like babies, we need to take care of them daily" says Dona Isabel. There are many delicious ways of enjoying Dona Isabel’s cheese but our favourite is with marmelada (quince jam).