The Formatgeria la Seu is an easy to miss hole in the wall, a small, sparsely decorated, and deliciously cool cave in the middle of sweaty Barcelona. Immediately upon entering, I was drawn to the walk in cooler in the front of the store, stocked with cheeses displayed like single jewels, making you want to reach out and touch. The owner, Katherine McLaughlin, spoke English with a strong Scottish accent, a welcome surprise to me after having spent the day struggling with my limited Spanish. She started the store 15 years ago, after visiting Neal’s Yard in London (the mother of all cheese stores), and thinking, quote, ‘Shit, this is what I want to do’. She only stocks Spanish cheeses, due to a combination of the hassle of importing and a passion for having a close relationship with the producers she works with–she regularly visits and speaks to the producers she buys from, and isn’t afraid to give them honest advice on what their cheese needs. She had just reopened from her annual month long closing, when she usually goes to visit farmers around Spain to work with them on their cheese, and told me her stock was still limited–but all the same, there was plenty to taste.
I sat down in the back of the store to have a cheese tasting. She poured me a glass of her store’s personal red wine, a light and easy red that paired well with all of the cheeses we tasted without overpowering anything, handed me a basket of crusty bread, and the adventure began.
My plate included six delicious Spanish cheeses, all on the young side due to her recent reopening, but all clearly very well sourced and cared for. One of my favorites was El Petit Ot, a perfectly balanced goat cheese from Catalonia with a thick and creamy paste, named after the cheesemaker’s first son, Ot. We then tasted Arzua-ulloa, a cows milk cheese from Galicia with a soft paste and a hint of tartness to its flavor, another cheese that melted lusciously on the tongue. Valdeon was a mixed milk cow and goat cheese, from Castella Illeo. A dry and crumbly blue, it had an almost slightly powdery mouthfeel and a rather mild flavor devoid of any of the sharp acidity that you often find in blues. Cascarral was a mild semi-firm sheep cheese, in the Manchego family (but made with milk from sheep of a different race than Is used in manchego), from Burgos.
Up next was Mao, a smooth and intensely salty raw cow milk cheese with the consistency of an aged cheddar, but a mouth puckering salty punch that is incomparable–somehow the cheesemaker succeeded in this intense saltiness without going overboard, sending me back for more and more. Mao is rubbed with oil and paprika. Rotllets is a lactic acid goat milk cheese from Leon, with hardly any penicillin rind and a more mild flavor than most young goats milk cheeses, but a tiny hint of tartness. She paired these cheeses with a sweet quince paste called codonyat, a Catalonian favorite, as well as orange and raspberry preserves.
After the meal, she handed me a scoop of formatgelat, a smoky cheese ice cream made with a cheese named San Simon da Costa, gave me a recommendation for a wine store, and told me to come back to see her–which I will definitely do multiple times before leaving Barcelona.