La Dama Sagrada, the Franco Regime & Spain's Cheesy Comeback
Spain has long been celebrated on the cheese board for its sheep's milk Manchegos, marcona almonds, and its sycamore leaf-wrapped Valdeon. The tiny prodcution Dama Sagrada, however, just hit California around 2 years ago.
Arriving late to the cheese party isn't unusual for an artisan Spanish cheese.
French's fromage has more love letters written to it than Catherine Deneuve. Parmesan graces more fridges than the number of well-dressed men leaning against espresso counters in Italy.
And Spanish cheese? Well? There's The Telling Room (4 to 5 stars), then... blanks. No TV shows about the goats that pounce the hills of Catalan who provide the milk for Garrotxa cheese. No musical break-out hits declaring eternal love for the thistle-rennet queso of Extremadura.
The reason why reads like a movie script.
During the Franco Regime from 1939-1978, artisan cheesemaking was banned. If you couldn't make top-selling Manchego or didn't have an industrial creamery that would, in Franco's view, drag Spain into modernization, you weren't allowed to make cheese. This meant that if you crafted tiny wheels from ancient or family recipes, you were torn from your calling. Some cheesemaking families went underground, but more stopped making cheese altogether. Many recipes were lost.
After Franco's death in 1975, Spain's revival, and the cheesemaking revamp was slow. There was little support for Spain's countrymen or its producers. Luckily the industry slowly regained its footing.
And ten or so years ago, Spanish artisan cheese once again started stealing hearts. La Dama Sagrada cheese is one that's won mine.
The Sacred Lady, otherwise known as Buy it When You Can, is made in La Mancha. It is robust, spicy, sweet when young, and peppery with age (or if you loose it in your fridge for a month, ahem...). Made with goat's milk in Manchego territory, La Dama Sagrada would have been impossible to sell abroad during Francoist Spain because it would have drawn attention away from the wheels that earned the country $$$, like Manchego.
In fact, La Dama Sagrada cheese is small production (I got mine through Food Matters Again distributors in Berkeley Via Forever Cheese) that if you spot a wedge of one, it's like sighting a Spanish cheese unicorn- a sign of good luck.
This goat's milk wheel is worthy of a cheese board or being shaved over summer's salads or grilled red peppers or peaches. Try with honey, honeycomb, or if thinking wine, pair with something equally peppery and bright like a Garnacha or Verdejo.