Serra da Estrela Mountains, Portugal.
It is with great pride - and an element of gluttonous excitement - that I am able to share with you one of the stars of Portuguese gastronomy, just in time for Christmas.
Deep in the rural countryside - somewhere between my grandmother's birthplace of Viseu and the Spanish border - lies a mountain range called Serra da Estrela, 'Mountain-range of the Stars'. This remote part of Portugal is home to a small remnant of shepherds who look after the Bordaleira sheep. It is from this breed, in these mountains, that a very special cheese is made - Queijo da Serra.
Hermínio, one of the last shepherds of Serra da Estrela. Photo: Emanuele Siracusa
Production begins in November when - as legend has it - the women's hands become cold enough to work the cheese in the granite cellars. Which means that come Christmas, the cheese is just young enough to retain its unique buttery consistency and a mellow flavour. There is great debate as to whether it is better in these early stages or in the spring, which brings with it a stronger flavour and more solid consistency. But in my opinion, it is now that it's at its absolute peak and is the ultimate festive indulgence to share with loved ones. Although you'll need to gather a few - there's 900g of it to get through...
The King of Portuguese cheese, Queijo da Serra da Estrela DOP
I recently came across an enchanting video about Serra da Estrela - beautifully shot and narrated by the most charming of characters. Meet Dinis - at just 10 years old, he is one of the youngest shepherds in Portugal and following in his grandfather's footsteps. He takes us proudly on a journey through his homeland, introducing us to the countryside, it's people and produce.
Dinis the shepherd-boy, who has embraced his family inheritance of an outdoor life in the star mountains.
Photo: Emanuele Siracusa
Please enjoy this beautiful film, courtesy of Nelson Carvalheiro, Emanuele Siracusa and Tourismo de Portugal.