San Simon is a tasty, not so well-known cow’s milk cheese from the region of Galicia, in Northeastern Spain. The origins of the cheese are not wholly known; some believe the cheese dates back to Roman times while others say it was developed at the beginning of the 20th century.
Either way, San Simon increased in popularity over the last seventy years. Until the 1980’s, cheeses were most often produced by housewives, using the milk from their own cows, frequently the Galician Blonde breed. The production process is very labor intensive, often with an output per person of only two or three cheeses each day.
After being removed from their molds, the cheeses would be cured for a few days in a well ventilated room before being cold smoked, one by one, over green birch wood until they reached the traditional ochre color. Cheeses were sold mostly to cheese traders during scheduled fairs taking place in the Vilalba region.
The early 1980’s saw a sharp decline in the production of San Simon partly due to the work involved with production but also because milk prices reached an all time high, making it more profitable for the farmers to sell their milk to larger cheese manufacturers.
However, with the advent of name protected status for San Simon in 1990, cheese production has once again seen an upswing to the point where the cheese is now exported to several countries, the US included.
Although San Simon is now made in several creameries, this particular version is produced at Queixeria Fontelas in the village of DaCosta de San Simon by third generation San Simon producer Javier Pineiro, his wife Sonia and two employees.
With the exception of using pasteurized milk, Javier and his team follow traditional methods of production. The milk is sourced from local dairies and, after the curd is formed it is transferred to the unique San Simon molds or forms, from which the cheese gets it conical shape. After unmolding, the cheeses are pressed manually for three hours in order to extract the correct amount of whey.
At this point, the new cheeses are carefully trimmed by hand – unlike most others who rely solely on the mold and machinery. They like to take off the nubs and cut away a certain amount at the base so as to differentiate each wheel from an industrial version.
Cheeses spend about 1-1.5 hours in the smoker and are still smoked over green birch branches after which they are matured for approximately two months prior to release.
The exterior of the cheese is a rich ochre color while the interior paste is semi-firm and smooth with occasional holes and pale yellow in color. Flavors are fairly mild and sweetly earthy with tastes of butter and delicate smoke.
San Simon pairs very well with a pale, dry or even semi-dry sherry.