Azeitão, the diminutive cousin of Portugal's famous Serra da Estrela cheese, is an unpasteurized sheep's milk cheese hand-crafted at the foot of the Arrabida Mountains, south of Lisbon. Production in the regions of Setúbal, Palmela and Sesimbra began when a shepherd brought his sheep and a recipe from the Serra da Estrela mountains of Beira.
Made using the same techniques as its famous kin, Azeitão is produced in rounds weighing no more than 250 grams. The curds are thickened with vegetable rennet derived from artichoke thistles and the cheese has an affinage of 20 days. Cold humidity produces Azeitão that is creamy and buttery in texture, needed to qualify the cheese for DOP designation.
Azeitão cheese evokse the spirit of the mountains and rugged foothills of Portugal, with a little spicy bitterness from the herbs that flourish in the Arrabida micro-climate. With a longer curing time, the edible rind darkens to a rustic hue.
At Casa da Dízima in Paço de Arcos near Lisbon, we sampled Azeitao divinely served in the style of Alentejo, with preserved plums.