Named after the munipality of Nisa, Queijo de Nisa is produced in the Alentajo region of east-central Portugal, sometimes known asn “the bread basket” of Portugal for its open landscape and undulating hills. Awarded Portugese DOP (name protected) status, Nisa is a firm-textured cheese made from raw sheep’s milk cheese.
Milk is predominently sourced from the Saloio breed of sheep, which are related to the Merina Branca (or Merino), breeds both known for their high quality milk.
Nisa is produced by several (approximately 23) small-scale local creameries and farmhouses together with a handful of small industrial enterprises.
For production, milk is coagulated using thistle rennet. This is a natural vegetable rennet derived from the stamens of the cardoon thistle, which naturally grows wild in the countryside where the cheese is made. After coagulation, the curd is cut and the whey slowly drained off before being placed into cheese molds for pressing. After unmolding, the cheeses are dry salted and transferred to maturing rooms where they’re aged for a minimum of 45 days, divided into three distinct phases, and rubbed with a brine solution at regular intervals to give the cheeses a smoother texture.
The exterior rind is firm and orange-brown in color whilst the interior paste is ivory-white, dense and firm,with small “eyes” or holes.
Compared to many other cheeses made using thistle rennet, which often have a sour note, the flavors of Nisa are slightly sweet and cream-like, with notes of walnuts.
Nisa pairs well with a crisp white wine and fruits such as apricots or plums.