Portugal is home to a wide selection of cheese, with options for all tastes and a rich variety of products from the mainland to the islands. Portuguese cheeses are famous for their excellent quality and distinctive flavours, which results from each region's unique traditions, local flora and geography.
This diversity allows Portuguese cheese to be very different from North to South, and there is no specific taste or smell that one can think of when describing Portuguese cheese since there are so many types to choose from.
Portuguese cheese: what you should know
The intensity of the flavour of Portuguese cheese varies according to the ageing process and the type of milk used in its production. In general, Portuguese cheeses made from goat's milk have a more intense flavour and smell. And if the ageing process takes longer, they are also more consistent.
You can also easily find cheese made with cow's milk, sheep's milk, goat's milk or a mixture of different kinds of milk. Some are seasoned with spices to provide a more peppery flavour. Below, we’ll introduce you to some of the best cheeses in Portugal, all made from different types of milk and with distinctive ageing processes.
10 best cheeses in Portugal
If you’re a cheese lover who values quality and unique flavours, don’t forget to include the following cheeses in your list when visiting Portugal:
1. Queijo da Serra
Queijo da Serra is the most popular cheese in Portugal. As the name suggests, this cheese is produced in Serra da Estrela, the highest mountain in mainland Portugal and a pastoral area. It is made with sheep milk curdled with thistle flowers. Serra da Estrela cheese can be found in any supermarket, local store or culinary fair as it is such a favourite cheese in Portugal!
The production of Serra da Estrela cheese is still artisanal and follows very strict quality rules in order to present the PDO (Protected Designation of Origin) status.
2. Queijo de Azeitão
Queijo de Azeitão is another very popular cheese in Portugal. Its complex taste results from a mix of acidic, salty and spicy flavours.
This cheese is made from sheep’s milk and produced in Palmela, Setúbal and Sesimbra, municipalities south of Lisbon. Azeitão cheese was distinguished as one of the 50 best gastronomic products in the world in the 2014 Great Taste Awards.
3. Queijo de São Jorge
Queijo de São Jorge has been produced in the Azores island of São Jorge since the 15th century. To this day, it is one of Portugal's favourite cheeses!
This dairy cheese, made from cow milk, is matured at room temperature until it reaches a firm consistency. It usually ages for at least three months, but the most appreciated varieties of São Jorge cheese are the older ones — the longer the ageing, the higher the price.
4. Queijo do Pico
Another delicious cheese from an island in the Azores archipelago is Queijo do Pico. This semi-soft and quite fatty PDO cheese comes from the highest mountain in Portugal, on the island of Pico, and is made from cow milk. Its maturation process, which takes at least 20 days, has been passed down from generation to generation.
5. Queijo de Évora
As the name suggests, this cheese is made in the city of Évora, in the Alto Alentejo region of Portugal. Queijo de Évora is produced with sheep milk from the Merina Branca breed of sheep, and no other breed can be used in the process. Thistle flower is added to the milk heated with wood.
This cheese has a slightly acidic flavour that becomes more intense in the harder and cured varieties. Traditionally, cheese from Évora is preserved in olive oil inside clay bowls.
Reasons to fall in love with Alentejo Portugal
If you enjoy slow-living, plenty of sunshine, the calm of hills with endless fields of grain and cobblestone streets of whitewashed houses, then Alentejo Portugal is definitely for you...
6. Queijo de Castelo Branco
This cheese is made from sheep's milk curdled with thistle flowers. The younger varieties of Queijo de Castelo Branco have a yellowish exterior and a white interior. The older varieties are darker, harder, and have a stronger flavour.
An interesting fact is that Castelo Branco sheep were only used for producing wool until a few centuries ago. Once local farmers started making Castelo Branco cheese to supply the Lisbon metropolitan area, these products became one of the most appreciated in Portugal.
7. Queijo Rabaçal
This PDO cheese is produced in the Portuguese region of Rabaçal, near Coimbra. It is made of a mixture of goat and sheep milk.
Rabaçal cheese is easily recognised by its particular appearance (with small holes covering its surface), but its flavour is what makes it so different from other cheese in Portugal. The goats and sheep of the Rabaçal region are fed Santa Maria herbs, which provide a very distinctive aroma to the milk used in producing Queijo do Rabaçal.
8. Queijo de Nisa
Queijo de Nisa, also from the Alto Alentejo region of Portugal, is a raw milk cheese, curdled with thistle infusion. It is matured in two distinct phases: firstly, at a lower temperature and, secondly, at a slightly higher temperature, always below 14ºC. After one to two months of maturing, the cheese becomes semi-hard and somewhat yellowish. Nisa cheese has a very intense flavour with an acidic aftertaste, so it is definitely not a cheese for everyone.
9. Queijo Terrincho
This cheese is made from the milk of the Churra da Terra Quente sheep. It can be found in semi-hard and hard varieties, the latter being more intense (called Terrincho Velho).
Terrincho cheese is made with milk from sheep that graze in the open air, which gives the cheese its distinctive taste and aroma.
10. Queijo de Cabra Transmontano
This PDO cheese can only be made with goat milk from the mountains of Trás-os-Montes, in Northern Portugal. It is white and has a hard consistency, after maturing for at least 60 days at a medium to low temperature.
Transmontano goat cheese is often mixed with olive oil or paprika for a stronger and tastier flavour. To get the “Transmontano” full experience, many people eat this cheese with regional rye bread.
These are only some of the best cheeses in Portugal, but there are many more to discover! Including fresh cheese ("queijo fresco") and regional cottage cheeses ("requeijão") which are also delicious and have a milder flavour. And the best part is that you can find Portuguese cheese everywhere, with prices as low as €1,00.
The Portuguese love cheese and are sure to always have some at hand for snacks or dinner! Not to mention the endless possibilities of pairing Portuguese cheese with different varieties of honey, fruits or fabulous Portuguese wine... yummy!
Everything you always wanted to know about wine in Portugal
Portugal has been steadily establishing itself in recent decades as one of the world's leading wine producers. And it is no coincidence...