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Menorca, Balearic Islands
8 ins square, 2-3 ins high
5-6 lbs

Mahon is produced on the island of Menorca, the most northerly 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.

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 making a shelf-stable and versatile product. Such is the case with Mahon.

As a result, it's possible to find Mahon sold at several different stages, ranging from a semi-aged cheese (two months) to very old (ten months). Artisanal versions of Mahon are made using raw milk and often have a superior flavor that becomes increasingly apparent as they get older. Industrial versions, produced from pasteurized milk, are also available. The latter tend to have milder flavors.

Original production of Mahon utilized the native sheep's milk of the island. The switch to cow's milk was made after Freisian dairy cattle arrived on the island in the 18th century, brought along with a brief and formative British occupation.

In artisanal production the cheese is pillow-shaped, due to the curds being placed in a cloth whose corners are then tightly knotted, giving the edges of the cheese a rounded look. Cheeses are brined to help the formation of the rind, before being aged in maturing rooms where they are rubbed at regular intervals with a blend of olive oil, butter and paprika, giving the wheels a distinctive orange-red color rind.

When young, the texture of Mahon is close, dense and crumbly, yet slightly moist, with occasional "eyes," or holes. The paste is bone-white in color. As wheels mature, the color darkens and the texture becomes firmer and drier.

Flavors of the younger cheeses are buttery, fruity and tart, overlaid with a slight sourness and the presence of salt. With age, these flavors intensify and some older wheels can be very salty and yet delicious.

Mahon is traditionally eaten on Menorca 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. Madeira or Rioja work well.