Queijo Serra da Estrela is a raw milk cheese produced with milk from the Bordaleira della Serra da Estrela and/or Churra Mondegueira sheep breeds, salt and a rennet made from cardoon (Cynara cardunculus) extract. To make the cheese, the milk is curdled for 45 minutes at 30°C with the addition of the rennet. The curds are slowly drained, and the individual cheese forms are aged at a temperature of 6-12°C in 80-95% humidity. During the aging, the cheeses are washed and turned frequently. The minimum aging time is 30 days, and can last up to 120 days, at which point the adjective Velho ("old") is added to the Queijo Serra da Estrela name.
Queijo Serra da Estrela has very precise characteristics. It has a flattened, cylindrical shape characterized by a slight bulge on its upper side. Its rind is smooth and semi-soft. The paste is slightly soft, compact, creamy and dense, and of a white or pale yellow color. The taste is sweet, clean and slightly sour. These characteristics are naturally accentuated with aging, creating the Queijo Serra da Estrela Velho, which has a smooth but slightly wrinkled rind, a hard or extra-hard consistency, a lightly crumbly and dry paste, and is dense, dark yellow to orange in color towards the edges. The aged cheese has a persistent, pleasant flavor that is clean with a slightly sharp, slightly spicy, salty taste.
The sheep used for cheese production are raised in extensive or semi-extensive production systems, with outdoor rearing. The sheep graze in pastures full of wild vegetation, from woodlands to grasslands to pine forests. Transhumance is a common practice, with the sheep moved into different fields or areas throughout the year with the change of the seasons and the availability of food. Other types of forage are also cultivated, to serve as a food supplement for the sheep in periods in which food resources are scarcer.
Queijo Serra da Estrela is produced throughout the northern central region of Portugal in the districts of Viseu, Coimbra and Guarda. Here, on the high plateau of Beira, the Bordaleira Serra da Estrela and Churra Mondequeira sheep are adapted to the climactic conditions of hard, rainy, prolonged winters and dry hot summers. This cheese has been produced in the area for thousands of years, and was even documented by Columela, a roman military officer in the Iberian Peninsula. It is often eaten in Portugal during holidays, and is an ingredient in many dishes that use the cheese with salted cod. Today, it can be found for sale in the area, but the future of this cheese is uncertain, thanks to increases in production regulations and preference given to non-native, more productive sheep breeds in the area, along with more intensive rearing systems and a decline in pastoralism.