Cheese Pairing: Mahón with Olives, Jamón Serrano and Madeira

mahon.jpgFrom the Spanish island of Menorca, Mahón is made in the style of regional sheep's milk cheeses, but using raw cow's milk instead. This adaption came about in the 18th century when a large influx of English immigrants brought dairy cows with them to the island. The square-shaped cheese has a golden orange rind (rubbed with olive oil and paprika during aging) that surrounds a tangy paste made salty by the island's Mediterranean breezes. Our faithful reader suggests sprinkling olive oil, ground black pepper and chopped tarragon over slices of Mahón, and serving those with olives, jamón serrano and Madeira.

While I understand the impulse to adorn the cheese with olive oil, pepper and tarragon, I am a bit worried that so many flavors will only serve to mute the beautiful nuttiness of the cheese. I have also seen the cheese served with a spring of rosemary, which I don't quite understand either. Whenever I've had a good Mahón, I've never felt the need to fuss it up with anything, as the cheese on its own is quite complex. Less is more here.

As for the side dishes, olives and jamón serrano, you can't go wrong with those. The olives should meld nicely with the olive oil-rubbed rind, while the savoriness of the ham will match that of the cheese. Madeira is a good choice of wine, as is really any fortified wine. They will give you that sweet-salty yin-yang you want in any good wine and cheese pairing.