Mahon is produced on the island of Menorca, the most northern of the Balearic islands in the Mediterranean, near Spain. Named after the main port on the island, Mahon is unusual for this region since it is produced from cow's milk. Milk for production comes from approximately 600 farms, some of which make their own cheese, while others sell their milk to other producers or cooperatives.
Mahon was originally made using milk from the island's native sheep. However, producers switched to cow's milk after a brief but formative British occupation, which brought Friesian dairy cattle to the island in the 18th century.
Due to Menorca's remote geographical position, the production of any perishable food destined for consumption beyond the shores of the island traditionally had to be geared towards shelf-stable and versatile products, and such is the case with Mahon.
As a result, Mahon can be found in several different stages, ranging from a semi-aged cheese (two months) to very old (ten months). Artisanal versions are made using raw milk and often have a more complex flavor that becomes more apparent as they get older. Industrial versions made from pasteurized milk are also available but tend to be milder in flavor.
Artisanal version of Mahon are pillow-shaped since the curds are placed in a cloth, which is then knotted at the corners to make the edges more rounded. To allow a rind to develop, the cheeses are brined before being aged in maturing rooms. During the aging process, they are rubbed at regular intervals with a blend of olive oil, butter, and paprika, giving the cheese its red-orange rind.
When young, Mahon's texture is close, dense, and crumbly, but slightly moist. The paste is bone-white in color, with occasional "eyes," or holes. As it matures, its color darkens and the texture becomes drier and firmer.
Younger versions of Mahon taste buttery, fruity, and tart, overlaid with a slight sourness and hint of salt. With age, these flavors intensify; some older wheels can be very salty and piquant.
On Menorca, Mahon is traditionally eaten by sprinkling the cheese with freshly ground black pepper, olive oil, and tarragon. Mahon needs an assertive wine to stand up to its intense flavors, so try madeira or rioja.