FESTA DO QUEIJO – CHEESE FESTIVAL (OLIVEIRA DO HOSPITAL – SERRA DA ESTRELA)
We attended our first ever local Cheese Festival! The biggest cheese festival in Portugal is held just 20 mins away from our casa in the Municipality of Oliveira do Hospital. This year is took place on the weekend of 11th and 12th March 2023 and was home to hundreds of exhibitors. It’s a great needed boost for the local economy and we had so much fun in the sun. We are not huge cheese fans (sorry) but I missed out on this opportunity last year as I thought it was just a Cheese Fest but when I realised that there was yummy Portuguese gastronomy including Dão wines, ginja liquor, honey, jam, chocolate, chouriço and artisan handicrafts, I was gutted that I didn’t make the effort and go. It was hit or miss if I would actually attend this wonderful event as I spent the week in the UK celebrating my birthday and didn’t arrive back in Portugal until the 11th March but the lack of sleep from my ridiculously early morning flight didn’t stop me as the fear of missing out got the better of me. I was so excited for this festival, my enthusiasm was high as a kite, unfortunately I was not physically high from any narcotics just my regular caffeine fix (ha ha).
One of the famous Portuguese cheese from my local region originates from the mountains of Serra da Estrela. It is a protected designation of origin in the European Union as well as in the UK. The region where the Serra da Estrela cheese can be manufactured is limited to an area of 3,143.16 km2 which comprises of Celorico da Beira, Fornos de Algodres, Gouveia, Mangualde, Manteigas, Nelas, Oliveira do Hospital, Penalva do Castelo, Carregal do Sal and Seia. The production of the cheese has to follow very rigorous rules. It is made mostly during the months of November to March. It’s maturation period has specific norms and must last a minimum of 30 days. It’s a unique and flavoursome gooey soft cheese made by artisan producers from raw milk of the Bordaleira da Serra da Estrela or Churra Mondegueira breed and is curdled with thistle flowers and is traditionally bound in cloth. Most Portuguese cheeses are made from goat, cow or sheep milk and some are seasoned with spices to give a peppery taste.
Apparently there is a special way to open and eat this cheese and god forbid if you do it wrong! The right way is to open the top like a lid and spoon out the inside then replace the lid. The intensity of the flavour and texture of Portuguese cheese varies according to the ageing process and the type of milk used in its production. I expected the aromas at the festival cheese tent to be strong and hands down beat the whiff of Cheddar Gorge caves and to emanate a stench similar to hubby’s smelly socks after a long cycle ride (ha ha). I was pleasantly surprised as there wasn’t a strong odour at all which was good for me as my IBS delicate tummy sometimes gets a bit dodgy and I often feel nauseous with weird whiffs I’m not used to.
There were lots of live demonstrations including cheese making, sheering and milking sheep as well as cultural and musical stage entertainment with the presence of dozens of groups from the municipality and region. TV crews live broadcast the festival on the day we attended (Sunday) which was shown on television screens in Portugal and abroad. I always said I would be a TV star one day! The best part about the festival was sampling all the culinary delights in the cheese tent, try before you buy my friend, hubby loves a free sample and I taste tested every single Portuguese cheese and sausage washed down with Dão wine and Ginja liquor in chocolate cups then I’m a greedy piglet so I moved onto dessert and tasted the sweet honey, jams and preserves because it would be rude not to (ha ha). The cheeses all had very different distinctive flavours.
We had some unique conversations with cheese sellers and shepherds who were very enthusiastic about their chesses. One bloke explained to us how a certain cheese is matured for several days then preserved in olive oil inside of clay pots and many of the recipes have been passed down from generation to generation. It’s all actually pretty fascinating. The only negative aspect was the huge crowds. We literally got stuck in a human traffic jam on more than one occasion which was not great for my social anxiety. I also got struck in the stomach by an old lady and her Mary Poppins style carpet bag which I think she had a couple of bricks inside or maybe she purchased all the hard cheese (ha ha). I didn’t think I was a fan of cheese but the Serra da Estrela gooey soft cheese is so yummy, I’ve been converted for sure. Unfortunately I didn’t have any room left for candy floss or farturas which is a shame as there were 5 fartura vans in a row! The entertainment including music and dancing was talented and I adore watching the traditional Portuguese culture music and dancing processions where ladies carry several baskets on their heads. I might have a go at that later when I have consumed a few more wines (ha ha).
For The LOVE of Cheese
My mum was a huge cheese fan, she would have loved this festival. She loved cheese so much that my dad put a little bag of cheese in her coffin at the mortuary to send her on her merry way to heaven when she departed this world, how simply adorable! I recently purchased a little painted stone of a mouse with cheese to place on the mantelpiece next to my mum’s ashes at my Dad’s house.
North Street Cheese Shop
I stumbled across a cheese shop on North Street BS3 when I returned to my hometown of Bristol, UK. I never knew that there were so many cheese lovers in the world!
Warning: Look away now if your Vegan! The Portuguese do not mess around when it comes to cooking their meat. There was a huge marquee laid out with tables and chairs for dining and enjoying the BBQ. The size of the cooking pots are huge!
Helena The Seedy & Nutty Girl
As well as the Cheese tent there were lots of stalls outside in the fresh air selling a wide range of food and drink options including traditional Portuguese cakes, sweet and savoury pastries, waffles, crepes, farturas and much more. One of my favourite delights is the caramelised nuts and seeds. When I first relocated to Portugal and saw these huge machines at festivals and events I thought they were cement mixers (ha ha). They are actually machines that rotate and mix the hot nuts and seeds then different flavours are added. This one offered Original, Chocolate, Cinnamon, Salty or Spicy. I’ve sampled them before and they are moorish.
All Sorrows Are Less With Bread – Pão Na Pedra
I’ve had the pleasure of tasting Pão do Chouriço from this place and let me tell you it is so delicious, gigantic, piping hot and very flavoursome, oozing gorgeous flavours and a steal at €3. The guy cooks the bread on the hot stone right in front of your eyes.
A Standing Ovation
I am shocked how these guys managed to stand still for so long. Gosh, I’m such a fidget bum and could not do this in a million years. I can’t sit still for more than 5 seconds and struggled in the past with a MRI scan to the point where the medical staff had to start all over again, I was mortified. Bravo to these guys they certainly have the staying power, maybe it’s the power of the cheese (ha ha).
Like Father, Like Son – My Favourite Musicians & Characters
I adore the Serra da Estrela dogs. Our plan is to adopt a dog once hubby retires. I love big dogs and I would love to rescue a Serra da Estrela or mix of this breed. I prefer larger dogs to the smaller yappy ones and I need a dog that can keep up with my daily exercise routine so not short sausage dog legs like mine (ha ha). I am pretty sure the last two chaps are related as they both have the same striking nose (ha ha). My money is on Father & Son!
Love Through a Fence
These 2 found love through a fence and rather took a shine to each other. I think they are the same sex but who cares, Love is Love! Look how HAPPY they are.
Parking was problematic so hubby dropped me at the entrance and ventured off to find a parking spot for our car. He left me for a while so I decided to explore the Animals. He was gone so long that by the time he returned I had very nearly adopted an animal. A prize to anyone who can guess which one I wanted to take home? I played this game with hubby and it wasn’t that difficult because he knows I dislike cats and that I’m a dog lover but I was shocked that he initially chose Afonso. He said his reasoning was because he looked sad and that my perky positive attitude would cheer him up no end (ha ha). Then I said take a better look and choose a pet that matches my personality. His second choice was Luna. Indeed I would have chosen Luna as although not a large dog she pulls the same crazy ass face as I do it many of my photos (ha ha). It would have been a match made in heaven for sure. I resisted but it was damn hard, you can’t save them all!
The Fartura 5
I remember once attending a local festival and there wasn’t a Fartura van in sight. We hunted high and low and were very sad. You were spoilt for choice at this festival as there were 5 in a row! I was tempted to sample one from each and do a taste test but I was full to bursting from all the free samples of cheese, sausage, honey and jam (ha ha). A friend of ours bought a few farturas and said he got charged €25, he was robbed or should I say fleeced (ha ha).
The Bull with the Impressive Balls
I took a video and photo of these bulls rear. I promise you it was for the soul purpose of their swishing tails and not their gigantic balls! What can I say, I’m a mucky mare. remember folk it’s not the size that matters unless it’s cake (ha ha).
Crazy Animal Selfies
The locals thought we were CRAZY! The animals were all super friendly. I expected the sheep to be really fluffy and soft to touch but they are quite rough, a bit like me (ha ha). Apparently the fleece gets treated once sheared and products are used to make it into soft sheepskin products. We purchased our new baby nephew a tiny pair of baby booties made from this sheepskin.
If you can’t make it to Oliveira do Hospital on this weekend look out for the other areas which are also hosting the Cheese Fest. I know that other local towns such as Tábua, Penalva do Castelo, Manteigas and Seia are also hosting this event but I was told that Oliveira do Hospital is the biggest and best.
We had a blast at this festival, it was so hot that I got a little sunburnt in March! I highly recommend this festival, even if your not a number one cheese fan as there is so much more than cheese. One thing that became apparent at this festival is the Portuguese LOVE cheese and the pairing options are endless: different varieties of fruit and honey and don’t forget the spectacular wine. I adore attending all the local Festivals in Portugal and immersing myself in the Portuguese history and culture. One other festival I would love to attend is the Almond blossom festival in Vila Nova de Foz Côa but it’s just too far from our casa. I have also considered attending the Chocolate Festival in Óbidos but again it’s a long drive and we have already visited Óbidos previously so we would be attending solely for the Chocolate, what can I say, My name is Helana and I’m a chocoholic (ha ha).
If you know me then you will understand that I suffer from OCD and I wouldn’t normally eat from a buffet or try any free samples because of the risk of touching foods that multiple others have fingered. This has been etched into my soul well before Covid times. I am also a bit paranoid about how clean other folks kitchen and preparation areas are. I have mellowed and relaxed a little in my old age and although slightly agitated about choosing a cracker or piece of bread from a basket that others have had their mitts on, my starvation hunger pangs won the battle and I gave into temptation. I have also adopted the 5 second rule at home for dropped foods, but it varies depending on if I’ve mopped the floor or not and how much dust is on the tiled flooring (ha ha). I must say that all the staff wore gloves for hygiene purposes and a lot of the hard cheeses were on cocktail sticks. Some staff actually handed you the sample but others had self serve baskets. A few days have passed and I haven’t caught the dreaded C word or any other nasty bug so all is fine in the free sampling world of Portuguese cheese (ha ha).
As I mentioned before, we are not huge cheese fans and I honestly didn’t think I would ever be converted into a cheese lover but what can I say, I was wrong. This quite annoyed me as I haven’t been wrong since 1986 (ha ha). The DOP Serra da Estrela cheese is so yummy and hubby loved it too but I’m ashamed to say he thought it tasted creamy like a Dairylea triangle. Bejesus, I can’t take him anywhere. That’s like going to a 5 star Michelin restaurant and saying their steak tastes like a McDonalds hamburger (ha ha). At least he could have said a Babybel which in my eyes has a little more class than a Dairylea triangle (ha ha). A lot of the stall holders inside of the cheese tent looked a little unhappy. Maybe it was the end of a long weekend for them or maybe they didn’t want their photo taken. I was tempted to look at them and shout “Say Cheese” to make them smile but I resisted (ha ha).
I was fascinated with the ladies who carry multiple baskets on their heads in the processions. No disrespect to the culture but I just had to give this a try when I got home. It is a lot harder than it looks and I’m not sure if their baskets are full with stuff but mine were empty well apart from a couple of random confetti hearts because that party popper confetti bomb is still bringing us joy as I keep finding confetti in random places throughout my house (ha ha). I only own 2 baskets but I was up for the challenge. Please bear in mind that no alcohol was involved just pure skill or lack of it (ha ha). I was pants, what can I say, balancing acts are not top of my attributes on my CV.
This is how it’s done my friends. I reckon she cheated and tied it to her head (ha ha).
The Basket Case
I have no words except, I tried (ha ha).