This route is as old as the ...
The production area for milk suitable for the production of cheeses under the Protected Designation of Origin “San Simón da Costa” is comprised of the geographical area that covers the Terra Chá region, which includes the towns of Abadín and Vilalba, amongst others. Between them, according to many of the recommended routes, runs stage 29 of the Northern Way, with an approximate length of 20 km.
This route is as old as the French Way. For centuries, it was hardly used by pilgrims. However, the rise of the Way of St James has returned its importance as a route and it is once again becoming very popular.
The distance it covers is the second longest, following the Silver Way. The landscape and terrain make it a very interesting option.
The milk used for making “San Simón da Costa” Protected Designation of Origin cheeses is produced in the Terra Chá area, which comprises the municipalities of Vilalba, Muras, Xermade, Abadín, Guitiriz, Begonte, Castro de Rei, Cospeito and A Pastoriza, all in the Province of Lugo.
This land has a long tradition of cheese making and milk plays an important role in the area’s economy. The local dairy herds are mainly composed of Galician Blonde, Brown Swiss and Friesian breeds and their several crosses, and these provide the high quality raw material for the San Simón da Costa.
Here is where the San Simón da Costa cheese is born, a cheese that embodies the best of Lugo Province’s rich products.
Legend has it that the origins of “San Simón da Costa” cheese go back to the Castro Culture when people first settled in the hills A Carba and O Xistral.
During the Dark Ages, any written sources mentioning the cheese were lost, but its survival to the present day is proof of its presence in the daily life of that period, either as a daily staple or part of the tithes paid to the nobility and clergy, or as a gift to respected persons or loved ones .
In the State Exhibition held in 1857 on Mount Príncipe Pío in Madrid, businessmen from Lugo attended taking forty different kinds of products, as well as twenty seven medicinal plants and fifty seven kinds of wood. An article published in a September edition of “La Aurora del Miño” newspaper of that year describes the event: “common wheat, turnips, green peas, chestnuts which are the main staple of the region’s farm labourers, eau de vie, and sulphuric ether extracted from the strawberry tree, butter that equals that of Flanders, San Simón cheese, linen, medicinal plants …”
In 1892 the Villaba Council approved the expense of 20 pesetas for acquiring two San Simón cheeses to be sent to the Chicago Exhibition. This can be seen in Antonio Peña Novo’s book, “Villalba en el siglo XIX” (Villalba in the 19th Century).
In the Dairy Industry Exhibition held on Madrid in in 1913, the Lugo Provincial Council presented a selection of San Simón cheeses. When King Alfonso XIII visited the exhibition and saw the size, shape and appearance of the San Simón cheeses, he asked how they were made. Mr Armendáriz, the Lugo Veterinary Inspector of that time gave him a detailed description.
On 10th August, 1932, the “Faro Villalbés” newspaper published an article signed by Veterinary Surgeon Rof Codina describing this cheese and, among other things, mentioning:
“In the third national dairy produce competition held in Madrid, the cheeses that attracted most attention from the better-off visitors were the San Simón cheeses that the Lugo Provincial Council exhibited in the Dairy Section. In view of this success, the House of Lhardy asked for a monthly delivery of a thousand kilos (…)”
In the District of Villalba, where the San Simón cheese is produced, birch wood clog-making is a home industry in almost all the villages. The shavings from making these are used for smoking the cheese (…) “.
Author Carlos Compairé, in his 1961 study on kinds and improvement of Galician cheeses makes an in-depth analysis of San Simón cheese:
“Their shape is characteristic and possibly unique (…) Smoking gives the cheese its dark and shiny appearance and this varies from dark to chestnut colour. The rind is thick and hard from scalding after curdling and moulding and the curing effect of the smoking. The shine comes from the scalding and hand ripening (…)”.
In the publication, “Villalba y su jurisdicción” (1963) by Vicente Otero Cao, is a section called “Villalba’s thousand-year-old industries” where, under the heading “the characteristic cheeses of San Simón”, it says:
“This home industry has been going on for generations, and no one can say for exactly how long; what we can say is that this cheese with its characteristic pyramid shape is unique to the parish of San Simón de la Cuesta (da Costa)”.
The Spanish Inventory of Traditional Products, published by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food in 1996, has a detailed description of San Simón cheese:
“A traditional Galician cheese, made by traditional home production methods that keep ancestral products methods alive (…) Its shape and smoking characterise and identify it (…)”.
Currently San Simón da Costa cheese is consolidating new markets in Europe and other continents.
- Order of 16 April 1991 recognises the P.D.O of Queixo de San Simón.
- Order of 7 June 1992 approves the Queixo de San Simón P.D.O. Regulations.
- Order of 20 April 1999 recognises the Designation of Origin of Queixo de San Simón da Costa.
- Order of 19 November 2004 in which the Xunta de Galicia approves the P.D.O. San Simón da Costa Regulations
- Order of 17 May 2005 in which the Ministry of Agriculture ratifies the P.D.O. San Simón da Costa Regulations
- Regulation (EC) No 1229/2008 of 10 December publishes the entry in the Registry of European P.D.O.
Production of San Simón da Costa cheese unites a traditional recipe with the best raw materials and the maximum standards of hygiene. Two main characteristics of the cheese-making process stand out and give the cheese its particular flavour and aroma. First, the basic raw material: cows’ milk from Galician Blonde, Brown Swiss and Friesian breeds; the milk is always locally produced to the highest standards of hygiene. Second, the SMOKING process: using only BIRCH from the local birch woods; this gives the cheese its most significant characteristic.
The product is now ready and only awaits labelling. San Simón da Costa bears a “Regulatory Body” label as well as the Designated Origin cheese makers’ own label. The cheese is now ready for marketing and consuming.
There are two formats: the large one, matured for at least 45 days, weighing between 0.8 and 1.5 Kg and measuring between 13 and 18 cm in height, and the small one or “bufón”, matured for at least 30 day. The “bufón” weighs between 0.4 and 0.8 Kg and measures between 10 and 13 cm in height. In shape, it is somewhat between a wooden top and a bullet, the upper part being pointed. The rind is smoked, hard, and rigid, between 1 and 3 mm thick, ochre-yellow in colour, and somewhat greasy to the touch. The body is of fine texture, fatty, quite hard and yet elastic, between white and yellow in colour, easy to cut and of characteristic flavour and aroma.
There are few holes and these are round, irregular and smaller than half a pea.
Respect for tradition and careful artisanal cheese making techniques make San Simón da Costa an exquisite, high quality and healthy product. The hygiene and sanitary regulations are also closely followed and these, in combination with artisanal techniques and insuperable natural ingredients, ensure San Simón da Costa cheeses are known both within Galicia and outside our region as a product of the highest quality.The Regulatory Body of the Protected Designation of Origin San Simón da Costa was founded to protect and foster production and guarantee its quality. This body subjects all products to exhaustive quality controls and examines the origin of the milk as well as the standards of hygiene used in the cheese making process.
Tradition and technology are harmoniously united in the making of San Simón da Costa cheeses.The cheeses unique flavour, a result of the traditional recipe meets in the new technologies the highest quality standards. The latest technological developments applied to manufacturing allow all the processes followed in making San Simón da Costa cheeses to be monitored. In this way, the highest quality product and the strictest hygiene controls can be guaranteed. Without the aid of modern technology, such exhaustive controls would be impossible as average annual production is around 400,000 kilos.