Queso Palmero (“Palmero cheese”)—a PDO since 2002—is produced on La Palma, a volcanic island with steep slopes and ravines at the northwestern end of the Canary Island chain. The cheese is made solely from the milk of Palmera goats, which are raised specifically for dairy production. The entire population of this ancient breed, about 12,000 individuals, lives on La Palma.
Two versions of Palmero cheese exist: artesano and de manada. Both are made on-farm with fresh, whole, raw milk. Palmero artesano (“artisanal” Palmero), the more common version, is produced throughout the year, comes in wheels weighing up to 8 kilograms, and is marked with a dark red label. In order to have a steady supply of milk year-round, farmers producing Palmero artesano divide their herds into groups and breed them at different times. In the fall, when the pastures have been exhausted, the goats’ diet is heavily supplemented with vegetation harvested in the mountains, and with imported fodder. Palmero de manada (“herd” cheese), which comes in wheels of 8-15 kilograms and is marked with a green label, is made only in the seasons when the goats can support themselves on the island’s rich pastures—still, they are allowed minimal quantities of supplemental feed, for nutrition. The herds whose milk is destined for Palmero de manada are not divided. Of the more than 30 producers in the Queso Palmero PDO, fewer than 10 still make Palmero de manada.
Palmero de manada is cylindrical in shape, with a white rind. The paste is pale and compact, with irregular eyes from the manual pressing process. It has a floury texture, predominantly floral and lactic aromas, and is suitable for aging. In some cases, the cheese is smoked over fires of Canary pine, almond hulls, or dried prickly pear. The ripened cheese was traditionally fried and served with saffron sauce, or grated and made into a sauce for stewed potatoes and for the typical dish known as escacho, or “roast.”
In the past, Palmero de manada was made in the most remote parts of the island and then exported, once or twice a year, to the neighbouring islands and to America, Africa, etc. It is now at risk of disappearing due to the pressure of urban development, which is encroaching on land traditionally used for pasture. There is also increasing demand for small cheeses all year round, and little regard for the natural production cycle.