Right smack in the middle of the Atlantic sits a cluster of Portuguese islands known as the Azores. Among these islands is Sao Jorge, the home to one of the most coveted cheeses in all of Europe.
History of the Azores as a Cheesemaking Destination
It is hard to imagine an island over 900 miles away from land that has a thriving dairy industry (let alone, more cows than people). But for multiple reasons, location and land-type being the major figures, Sao Jorge Island is a cheese hub. Over 70% of the island’s economy is cheese!
The Azores archipelago has for centuries been a stopping point for sailors. Just short of the halfway mark between Europe and North America, this oceanic oasis made much of its financial success by supplying ships with long-journey necessities such as food and other provisions. The volcanic soil makes Sao Jorge a lush locale; the abundant, verdant rolling hills are the perfect pasture for grazing cows, which were brought to the island specifically to make cheese.
What is Sao Jorge Cheese?
Sao Jorge is a semi-hard cheese that is almost cheddar-like. Young Sao Jorge cheese, aged for a minimum of 3 months, is sweet and mild. As it ages (which can take between 3-7 months), Sao Jorge gains some spiciness with notable tanginess. This flavor combination is characteristic of this style of cheese, which ultimately is derived from the grasses the cows graze on.
The cheese rounds are considerably large, ranging in size from 16 to 26 lbs, and are all coated in a natural golden rind. The cheese’s durability was the reason why it was so popular with sailors, as it was well suited for lengthy journeys. Any remaining Sao Jorge cheese was shared at port, further growing it’s European reputation and appeal. Because the Azores are so far from the mainland, Sao Jorge cheese is pretty difficult to find. If you happen to stumble upon Sao Jorge (or travel to the Azores or Portugal) be sure to pick up a wedge.
Cooking with Sao Jorge Cheese
Sao Jorge’s firm, cheddar-esque characteristics make it a fun substitute for cheddar-themed recipes. Try Sao Jorge cheese on sandwiches like this one for Short Rib Sandwiches. Or switch out the cheddar in your Mac and Cheese recipe. Breakfast is even better with Sao Jorge, especially on Cheesy, Savory Oatmeal.