A Portuguese symposium

Queijo de AzeitãoSymposium is a Greek word that means drinking together. It refers to parties in which people sat around, drinking wine and talking about life. One of these parties, attended by Socrates, was immortalized by Plato in his writings.

You can easily recreate a symposium atmosphere in Portugal. First, invite some great friends. Second, procure three great ingredients: rustic bread, Azeitão cheese and Piriquita wine.

Azeitão is produced with sheep milk in small farms in the Arrábida mountain with the same techniques used to make Serra cheese in the Estrela mountain. But different pastures make different cheese, so Azeitão has a taste all of its own. Piriquita is a wine from the nearby Palmela region, produced with a grape varietal known as Castelão or Piriquita.

This wine and cheese are a heavenly pairing. So, you’ll have a good time, even if no philosophers show up. But, if you’re lucky, the conversation will be so brilliant that people will still talk about your party in 2500 years.

The Azeitão cheese produced by Fernando & Simões in Quinta do Anjo is one of our favorites. 

Memories of a lost cheese

Marcel Proust could vividly recall the taste and smell of his aunt’s madeleines. Those memories inspired his masterpiece, Remembrance of Things Past.

Joana Garcia remembered the taste and smell of the cheese she ate as a child with her grandmother in Alentejo. Those memories inspired her to recreate that long-lost flavor. She quit her job as a lawyer, moved to Alentejo and bought 500 sheep. After trying endless combinations of milk, salt and cardoon, she found the taste of her youth. Garcia’s masterpiece is called Queijo Monte da Vinha. It is a delicious, soft, buttery cheese with the precious taste of a distant past.

You can try Queijo Monte da Vinha at the wonderful Tasca da Esquina restaurant in Lisbon. You can buy it at Mercearia Creativa, a gourmet grocery store where you’ll find many other great Portuguese products (Av. Guerra Junqueiro, 4A, Lisbon, tel. 218-485-198). Click here for the Monte da Vinha website.

Island cheese

Queijo da ilha is a wonderful cheese that has been produced in the Azores archipelago since the 16th century. The most famous variety comes from the island of St. Jorge. It is hard and has a sharp, spicy taste.

What makes queijo da ilha so unique is that it is produced with the milk of cows that roam freely on the pastures of Azores. Farmers spend their days following their cows in order to milk them. It is not unknown for cows to wander into a bookstore or a museum, perhaps looking for the famous Andy Warhol cow paintings. It is a privilege to taste cheese that comes from animals who are such free spirits.