Discovering Queijo Canastra cheese from Brazil

Rediscovering the Distinctive Charm of Queijo Canastra

The artisanal cheese made in Canastra region of Brazil, popularly known as Queijo Canastra, carries a unique cultural and geographical identity. This fine cheese, which has its processes steeped in tradition, traces its roots back to the 19th century when Portuguese immigrants brought with them the well-honed craft of cheese-making.

Queijo Canastra is characterized by its distinct earthy flavour that comes from the regional terroir where it is produced. The lush grass upon which the cows graze, the climate and the local microorganisms create an inimitable terroir–a taste of place–that contains a multitude of intricate flavour nuances. This semi-hard cheese is produced from raw cow’s milk and aged for at least 22 days, although some variants could be aged up to a year. The aging process enriches Queijo Canastra with complexity and a robust, slightly spicy character. This is juxtaposed beautifully with its buttery texture and a touch of saltiness that tantalises the palate.

The art of Queijo Canastra production is passed down through generations, and it is an embodiment of the local rural culture. Few would dispute the fact that the cheese-making process is an art that requires skill, patience, and an intimate knowledge of the environment. Queijo Canastra, produced by local families, is handcrafted in small batches, sticking to time-honoured techniques and retaining its authenticity. This art of cheese-making has helped the region gain notoriety not only within Brazil but internationally as well.

The specifics of Queijo Canastra’s production process contribute to its exclusivity and price tag. It includes:

  • Use of raw milk: Maintaining its traditional recipe, the cheese is made from raw, unprocessed milk. This preserves the dairy’s natural flavours and beneficial bacteria, which contribute to the cheese’s complexity.
  • Local Microflora: The cheese wheels are left open to the air where they are exposed to local wild yeasts and bacteria which impart unique taste and texture.
  • Handmade: To this day, the cheese is largely crafted by hand. From milking the cows to moulding the curd and ageing the cheese, most processes involve manual labour.

Queijo Canastra is steeped in a rich heritage, nested in the heart of Brazil, and pursued by cheese connoisseurs worldwide for its complex realm of flavours, authenticity, and traditional craftmanship.

Brazil's Queijo Canastra Cheese: Put your knowledge to the test!

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The Essence, the Craft, and the Diversity of Queijo Canastra

The Queijo Canastra is another name on the list that keeps Brazil proud in the international cheese scene. The distinctive flavour profile of this iconic cheese is credited its unique production process and wholesome ingredients. This semi-hard cheese, made from raw cow’s milk, is imbued with the essence of the grasslands and pure airs of Canastra Mountain Range in the Minas Gerais state. Flavours can range from mildly buttery to strongly acidic and herbaceous, depending on the length of maturation.

In terms of parameters of taste and texture, Queijo Canastra is quite comparable to Comté, the famous French cheese. However, its properties distinctly differentiate it from its global peers. These differences result from the combination of the regional influence and the traditional Brazilian cheese-making techniques upheld by rural producers, also known as queijeiros. The product is typically aged for about 22 days – although extended periods can result in more pronounced flavours. The resulting cheese wheel is medium-sized, generally weighing around 1-1.5 kilograms. The texture is slightly spongy with small eyes spread over its creamy matrix. A well-matured Queijo Canastra forms a yellowish crust while the interior remains creamy off-white to pale yellow.

Interestingly, Queijo Canastra is not just a single type of cheese, but an umbrella term covering a range of varieties. Here are some of the exemplary ones:

  • Queijo Canastra Real: This variety is distinguished by its rigorous maturation process that can last up to a year. Renowned for its punchy flavour, it is often compared with Parmesan.
  • Queijo Canastra Premium: A pure, unpasteurized version that stands out with its vibrant taste and profound aromas.
  • Queijo Canastra Artesanal: As the name suggests, this version adheres to the traditional craftsmanship, following age-old recipes and maturation techniques.

Despite their differences, all these varieties uphold the name of Queijo Canastra, reflecting the unique terroir of Minas Gerais and the artisanal passion of its rural producers. The cheese is a culinary gem, equally gratifying as a standalone snack or as an ingredient in numerous recipes, pairing particularly well with bold, dry wines and robust beers.

Queijo Canastra: A Unique Taste from Brazil’s Cerrado Region

Queijo Canastra is a traditional Brazilian cheese originating from the picturesque Cerrado region, which lies in the heart of the state of Minas Gerais. This region is known for its vast landscapes, rich biodiversity, and a strong cultural heritage. The production of Queijo Canastra has been deeply ingrained in the local communities for centuries, and it has become an iconic symbol of the region.

Made exclusively from raw milk sourced from Serra da Canastra, a mountain range in the region, Queijo Canastra showcases the unparalleled flavor and quality that can only be achieved through careful craftsmanship and the use of traditional production methods. The cheese-making process is a true labor of love, with local producers meticulously following time-honored techniques passed down through generations.

Queijo Canastra stands out for its distinct flavor profile, characterized by a rich, buttery texture and a slightly tangy taste. The cheese’s natural rind, which develops during the aging process, adds a delightful earthy note to the overall experience. Its unique aroma and complex flavors make Queijo Canastra a must-try for cheese connoisseurs and food aficionados alike.

The cheese is made from raw cow’s milk, which contributes to its exceptional taste and texture. The cows that provide the milk graze on the native pastures of the Cerrado region, feeding on a diverse range of grasses, herbs, and flowers. This natural diet gives the milk a distinctive character, resulting in a cheese that reflects the terroir of the area.

Queijo Canastra is produced in small, artisanal batches, with each wheel taking on the unique characteristics of its environment. The cheese is typically aged for several weeks, allowing it to develop its flavors and textures further. During the aging process, the cheese is carefully turned and brushed to ensure proper maturation and the development of its natural rind.

Key Features:

  • Origin: Cerrado region, Minas Gerais, Brazil
  • Main Ingredient: Raw cow’s milk
  • Texture: Creamy and buttery
  • Flavor: Tangy and slightly earthy
  • Aging: Typically aged for several weeks

Facts and figures

  • Nestled within the rugged landscape of Minas Gerais in Brazil, Queijo Canastra cheese boasts an enviable tradition.
  • Inhabiting an impressive position in Brazil's culinary world, Queijo Canastra cheese saw an annual production volume of almost 8,000 tons in 2019.
  • Proudly, Queijo Canastra cheese was granted Geographical Indication (GI) status by Brazil's Institute of National Historical and Artistic Heritage (IPHAN) in 2012.
  • Interestingly, each wheel of Queijo Canastra cheese requires approximately ten liters of unpasteurized milk in its production process.
  • Reports indicate that there are around 3,000 registered cheese producers in the Canastra Mountain region in Brazil.
  • Gratifyingly, the average maturation time of Queijo Canastra cheese is 22 days, which imbues it with a unique flavor profile.
  • Impressively, Queijo Canastra cheese took the gold medal at a global cheese making competition in Tours, France, in 2015.

An Exploration of Delicacies: Queijo Canastra in Gastronomy

The Queijo Canastra, lauded for its distinctive taste and texture, has crafted a space for itself in the realm of fine gastronomy. Originating from the Canastra mountain range in Brazil, this artisanal cheese offers a complex flavour profile; a lively tangy taste with hints of grass, nuts and pasture at the finish. The maturation of this enigmatic cheese, honed over 20 days, transforms its semi-soft texture into something crumbly and dense with a strong aroma. It is this malleability of its inherent properties that allows Queijo Canastra to be utilized in a plethora of dishes, enhancing the dish’s quality with its own uniqueness.

One such exceptional culinary creation that prominently features Queijo Canastra is a simple yet intensely flavorful Toasted Canastra Sandwich. Here’s the recipe:


Recipe: Toasted Canastra Sandwich

  • Ingredients: 2 slices of sourdough bread, 100 grams of Queijo Canastra, a handful of arugula, 2 tablespoons of butter, and a pinch of salt.
  • Procedure:
    1. Begin by buttering both sides of the sourdough bread slices. Place these slices onto a preheated skillet until they are golden brown on both sides.
    2. Softly place your Queijo Canastra slices onto one bread slice. Cover it with the other slice and cook the sandwich on a medium flame until the cheese melts.
    3. Open the sandwich and add a layer of freshly rinsed arugula. Sprinkle a pinch of salt for taste. Serve immediately.

Another recipe that uses Queijo Canastra as its focal point is the traditional Brazilian dish, Pão de Queijo, a kind of cheese bread. This recipe is slightly more complex but the resulting product is a light and fluffy cheese bread with a delectable crusty exterior. It’s certainly worth the effort.


Recipe: Brazilian Pão de Queijo

  • Ingredients: 500 grams of Queijo Canastra, 1 cup of milk, 1/2 cup of water, 1/2 cup of oil, 1 teaspoon of salt, 3 cups of tapioca flour, and 2 eggs.
  • Procedure:
    1. Combine milk, water, oil, and salt in a pot and bring to a boil.
    2. Add tapioca flour to the mixture and stir until smooth. Let it cool down.
    3. Fold in shredded Queijo Canastra and eggs into the mixture and knead until you get a sticky dough.
    4. Form small balls using the dough, place them on a baking sheet and bake at 200 degrees Celsius for approximately 20 minutes or until they turn golden brown. Serve warm.

These two recipes give the spotlight to Queijo Canastra, celebrating it not just as an accompaniment but as a star. In the realm of culinary arts, Queijo Canastra holds a position of prestige, adding depth and flavor to each dish it graces.

Exploring the Delights of Perfectly Paired Wines and Dishes with Queijo Canastra

Brazil’s renowned Queijo Canastra, the characteristically robust, medium-hard farmhouse cheese made from raw cow’s milk, has gained international recognition as a sophisticated gourmet delight. Tasted solo, it is compelling with its texture that veers closer to the firm side, and a rich, tangy taste reminiscent of fresh butter and earthy nuts. Yet the glory of Queijo Canastra is impressively intensified when matched with distinctive wine varietals and artfully paired dishes, unveiling an exquisite amalgamation of flavors.

When it comes to wine pairings, Queijo Canastra is particularly flexible, defining its compatibility with both reds and whites. Amongst red varietals, the preference tends towards moderately heavy, fruit-driven wines with a balancing acidity. Examples could be Argentine Malbec, which delivers bold flavors of plum, blackberry, and vanilla or a robust Cabernet Sauvignon, illustrating hints of dark fruits and green bell peppers. Contrastingly, in the case of white wines, a Chardonnay with its ripe fruit flavors beautifully echo the cheese’s inherent butteriness, while a well-balanced Sauvignon Blanc brings to the fore its unique undertones of grassiness.

Pairing Queijo Canastra with food calls for a poetic balance of ingredients. The message is not to overcomplicate, as the cheese is vibrant and hearty on its own. Here are a few definitive pairings treasured in epicurean circles:

  • Grilled Vegetables: The smokey, slightly charred flavors complement the earthy qualities of Queijo Canastra, creating a mesmerizing juxtaposition.
  • Pasta: A light pasta dish with garlic and olive oil, allows the cheese to contribute its unique complexity and richness, taking center stage.
  • Charcuterie boards: Pairing Queijo Canastra with robust cured meats counterbalances its intensity, delivering a comprehensive flavor spectrum.
  • Condiments: Fruit jams, honey, or a locally sourced Brazilian pepper jelly adds a contrasting sweetness that beautifully highlights this cheese’s bold persona.

Whether you’re discovering Queijo Canastra for the first time or deepening an existing appreciation, these wine and food pairings provide an exciting palate exploration – an gastronomic journey exploring Brazil’s flavorful terroir. It proves, yet again, that millennial-old traditions of cheese-making can transverse continents, creating culinary dialogues that unite people across cultures and borders.

Similar Cheeses for Queijo Canastra

Queijo Canastra is a traditional Brazilian cheese that hails from the region of Serra da Canastra, in the state of Minas Gerais. It is made from raw cow’s milk and has a rich, creamy texture with a slightly tangy and nutty flavor. This cheese is famous for its unique production process, where it is handcrafted by local artisans and aged in banana leaves, giving it a distinct earthy taste.

If you are a fan of Queijo Canastra, you might also enjoy these similar cheeses that share similar characteristics:

  • Cabra da Canastra: This cheese is made using a similar production process as Queijo Canastra, but with goat’s milk instead of cow’s milk. It has a mild and slightly tangy flavor, with a creamy and smooth texture.
  • Serra da Estrela: Hailing from Portugal, this cheese is made from the milk of Bordaleira sheep, which graze in the Serra da Estrela mountains. It has a velvety, melt-in-your-mouth texture, and a flavorful, slightly tangy taste.
  • Manchego: Originating from Spain, Manchego is a sheep’s milk cheese with a firm and compact consistency. It has a slightly sweet and nutty flavor, along with a hint of saltiness. Manchego comes in various aging stages, ranging from young and mild to aged and intense.
  • Pecorino Romano: This Italian cheese is made from sheep’s milk and has a firm and granular texture. It has a sharp and salty flavor, which intensifies with age. Pecorino Romano is often used as a grating cheese in pasta dishes or enjoyed on its own.

These cheeses provide a delightful range of flavors and textures that resemble the uniqueness of Queijo Canastra. Whether you’re a cheese enthusiast looking to expand your palate or simply in search of a delicious alternative, these cheeses are definitely worth trying.

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About the author: Dr. Wolfgang Sender writes on international careers. He is founder of and

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