Serra da Estrela is named after a mountain that lies in the ruggedly beautiful region between the Dão and Mondego rivers of northern Portugal.
The cheese has been produced for over 800 years using raw milk sourced from the local Bordeliera or Churra breeds of sheep. For cheesemaking, the milk is strained, heated and a true vegetable rennet added, made from the stamens of the cardoon thistle which grows wild in this region. Thistle rennet creates a particularly citrus-like, earthy and almost sour flavor in the cheese.
After coagulation, the whey is drained off and the remaining curds lightly washed and broken up by hand. They are gently transferred to cloth-lined molds, preserving as much moisture as possible, and slowly pressed by hand. This helps to give Serra da Estrela its dense, elastic texture.
The young cheeses are rubbed with salt and and left overnight before being transferred to the maturing rooms. There they remain for between 30-45 days for the more buttery-textured Ananteigada version or six months for the mature Velho style.
The season when the cheeses are made has a considerable impact of the texture and flavor of the finished wheel, with those produced in the spring having a richer texture and more herbaceous flavors whereas late winter cheeses are more intense and dense.
Serra da Estrela pairs well with fruitier style red wines or a dry Vouvray (Chenin Blanc).