I was in Gracia to visit a newly opened coffee shop that had been popping up in various media I consume. The space was nice enough, a warehouse given over to a cluster of seats, coffee, some snacks on the bar. Good if you are a local but not worth going out of your way, like I had, for a coffee. Especially now that we are becoming a city with coffee options.
I jumped back in the car and reassured myself that not everything I visit has to make it onto the blog.
And then I drove past a cheese shop, with a counter piled high. Not a refrigerated counter, with cheeses, low down in electric pink light so that you have to come right up to it to peer down on to the contents. A wooden one, hip high, with cheeses coming up to my shoulder.
This I absorbed through my peripheral vision as I hurtled by in my car. It couldn’t be? Could it? What neighborhood was I in exactly that there was cause for such a cheese shop?
I parked the car wondering if I had really seen what I thought. Inside on some simple wooden shelves in a soft spotlight, I found an entire Colston Bassett Blue Stilton flanked by two Shropshire Blues. British cheese! (Artisanal British cheese is special stuff.)
I surveyed the counter. I guessed the counter’s cheese volume to be roughly 1/3 of the Covent Garden branch of Neals Yard Dairy. When I later explored 12 Graus website, I read that it had in fact taken inspiration from the British shop.
Apart from the British cheeses and the Idiazabal, I wasn’t familiar with the names of a lot of what I saw. This is cured meat country, cheese is relegated to a minor supporting role and then it is the more generic names that crop up.
“Where do I start? If I know nothing?” I asked Marc, sweeping my hand across the display. “Give me 3 kinds of cheese.”
“These cheeses over here are all Catalan.” he marked off 1/3 of the counter with a karate chop gesture. “These are Spanish” another 1/3 and the rest are from Europe. Puigpedros raw cow’s milk cheese with a washed rind from La Cerdanya (25€/kg).”
“Is this French?” I asked pointing to a goat’s milk cheese log with black vegetable ash.
“French style but made in Catalunya – Moluengo. The outside is vegetable ash and is edible.” That this seemingly obvious thing is being stated speaks volume to me – who doesn’t know the outside is edible?
“I think you have a cow cheese, a goat’s milk cheese, you should finish with a sheep’s milk cheese: Serrat Casa Mateu.” (36€/kg).
He wrapped up my order – it came to 13.88€. I add a jar of goat’s cheese balls in oil (8.5€). 22.38€.
“And are people paying for this cheese?” I asked. “I feel like locals here will pay for Jamon but might balk at artisanal cheese prices.”
“They are starting to learn.” He smiled at me.
I want to know more and this seems a perfect place to start, 3 kinds of cheese at a time to become familiar with the landscape of Catalan cheeses. Cheese making is in crisis, not just in Spain but around the world (listen to this Food Program Podcast on the subject).
If you are a cheese enthusiast or even if you want help setting up a cheese board for your next gathering this shop is worth a visit. Ah and I almost forgot. 12 Graus means 12 degrees in Catalan. It is the optimal temperature necessary to store and mature cheese, the temperature that the shop is kept at which is why they can do away with the refrigerated counter and display the cheese in the striking way that they do.