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Évora cheese is traditionally made ​​with raw sheep's milk in the Alentejo region – in the past, a rural and extremely poor area - in the eastern part of Portugal.

The Alentejo region

In the past it was preserved in big earthenware jars called talhas de barro. 

Talhas de barro 

The poorest workers were often paid with this cheese or other food products.

Preparation of Évora cheese in a vintage photo
Traditional tools used to make the cheese

The milk comes from the merino sheep breed, from animals grazed on pastures, and is processed within an hour of milking.

Merino sheep grazing

After being filtered through a cloth and warmed over a low heat, the cheesemaker adds salt and vegetable rennet made from the infusion of a local variety of cardoon (Cynara cardunculus).

Filtering the milk (Vintage photo)
Filtering the milk (Vintage photo)
Cynara cardunculus, vegetable rennet

After 20-40 minutes, the curd is broken up and placed into the forms, taking care not to compress it too much.

Breaking up the curd
Cheese placed into the forms 

The small cheeses are aged for around 30 days, for a semi-hard cheese, or 90 days, for a hard cheese. Initially they are turned twice a day and then just once a day. When they are ready, each cheese is washed and cleaned.

The cheeses are covered in salt

Évora cheese is cylindrical and the smallest forms have a diameter of 12-14 cm and height of 2-4 cm. The paste is light yellow and the rind is yellow, but becomes darker on contact with air. It has a particularly salty flavor, which is slightly piquant and sharp.

The aging phase

Today this cheese is produced both for self-consumption and for sale, but the original version is at risk of disappearing, even if in the 1996 it has become a PDO. Évora is now often made from the milk of other sheep breeds, or even milk imported from Spain, and uses industrial rennet in place of the cardoon rennet.

The future of Évora cheese is also threatened by disappearance of small family farms and the influence of hygiene laws that are highly restrictive and result in standardization.

Artisanal Évora cheeses
Credits: Story

Photos — Victor Lamberto, José M. Bicho, Teresa Da Rosa

Credits: All media
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