Named for the town of the Baixo Alentejo, Serpa is produced in the lower Alentejo region of southeast Portugal, near the border with Spain from raw sheep’s milk. Milk for production comes from the native Merino sheep (rather than the Bordaleira breed) and the sheep are milked twice a day. The milk is heated and poured through a cloth filled with sea salt, which means no other salting process is needed during production. The milk is then coagulated with cardoon thistle rennet. After about three quarters of an hour, the curd is broken up into rice sized pieces, drained and scooped into molds. Cheeses are then transferred to maturing rooms where they’re aged for at least 2 months. Towards the end of their maturation, the cheeses are wrapped in a band of cotton cloth. This helps the cheese to keep its shape and holds in moisture to prevent cracking of the rind. Serpa was granted DOP (name protected) status and is further protected by the Slow Food presidium. The exterior rind of Serpa is beige brown in color, with occasional white and gray molds. It is slightly waxy and firm.
When young, the cheese has a softer texture, referred to as “Amenteigado” which is often the preferred way of eating it since you can scoop it out with a spoon. Flavors at this point are complex, buttery and sheepy with a pronounced but well-integrated sour and bitter note – a direct result of the thistle rennet.
If allowed to mature, the texture becomes firmer and more robust. Flavors intensify considerably, becoming strong, spicy and aromatic.