Creamy, dry, strong or mild—whatever you’re into, there’s a cheese in Portugal made for you.
Just like Portuguese wine, every region in Portugal has its own cheese. Some even have a protected designation of origin which ensures the cheese is produced in that region alone using traditional methods and ingredients.
You don’t need to travel too far to try a selection of Portuguese cheeses, as most of them are available in local restaurants or supermarkets.
If this is uncharted territory to you, don’t worry—we put together a list of the best cheeses to try in Portugal, including tips on how to eat them.
1. Queijo Serra da Estrela
When speaking of Portuguese cheese, Queijo Serra da Estrela always comes out on top. Produced in the region of Serra da Estrela, this cheese is famous for its creamy texture and intense smell. If you’ve tried the pastéis de bacalhau from Casa Portuguesa do Pastel de Bacalhau in Lisbon, you’ve already had a sample of it as it’s in the filling.
Traditional Serra da Estrela uses sheep’s milk, but you can find other versions that have goat’s milk too. Locals like to pair it with a bit of quince paste (marmelada).
How to eat it: Cut a circular hole out of the top of the rind and use a spoon to spread this delicious cheese on crackers or fresh bread.
2. Queijo de Cabra Transmontano
Queijo de Cabra Transmontano isn’t your typical goat’s cheese.
While it uses goat’s milk, this cheese is hard and slightly spicy. The longer it ages, the spicier it gets! The name transmontano comes from the region where it’s made: Trás-os-Montes, which is in the north of Portugal. To make this artisanal cheese official, locals can only use milk from the Serrana Negra, a regional goat’s breed.
How to eat it: You can cut it into thin slices to eat with bread or pair it with a mixed berry jam.
3. Queijo do Rabaçal
Hailing from Rabaçal, a small village near Coimbra, this cheese combines sheep and goat’s milk. The flavor of Rabaçal is subtle, similar to a fresh goat’s cheese. Cured for at least 20 days the texture can vary from semi-hard to hard. In some places, you can also find it as a fresh cheese, produced before the ripening process.
How to eat it: You can eat it as a starter with a bit of bread or for dessert drizzled with some honey.
4. Queijo de Azeitão
Similar to Serra da Estrela, Queijo de Azeitão is also creamy, but milder in flavor. The cheese comes from Azeitão, a little town located 40 minutes away from Lisbon. It uses sheep’s milk and thistle flowers, which replace the animal rennet usually used in the cheese making process. We suggest visiting the Museu do Queijo de Azeitão to taste this cheese straight from the source!
How to eat it: Like Serra da Estrela, cut a hole in the top of the cheese, then scoop it out with a spoon.
5. Queijo de Nisa
Queijo de Nisa is a semi-hard type of cheese, produced in Alentejo. It’s made from sheep’s milk and vegetable rennet, making it a good option for vegetarians as well. As for the flavor, it’s soft and has a mildly acidic taste.
How to eat it: Cut it in slices and eat it as a petisco paired with a glass of Alentejo wine.
6. Queijo de Évora
Here’s another cheese variety from Alentejo, made in Évora, the capital of the region. Aged for a minimum of 60 days, it has a hard texture and a salty flavor. The older wheels (queijo velho) often have a bit of a spicy kick. You can also find Queijo de Évora preserved in olive oil, known by locals as Queijinhos do Alentejo.
How to eat it: Queijo de Évora usually comes as a starter in most Portuguese restaurants. Slice the cheese and eat it with some bread or just by itself. It’s okay to eat the rind!
7. Queijo de Serpa
Queijo de Serpa is an award-winning cheese also from Alentejo. Made with raw sheep’s milk, it can age from four months to two years. The rind usually has an orange color which comes from regularly brushing the cheese with olive oil and paprika during the ageing process. It’s the paprika that also gives its spicy aroma. Depending on age, the cheese can range from creamy (amanteigado) to hard (duro).
How to eat it: If it’s creamy, you can spread it as a paste; if not, cut it into slices and serve it with some Alentejo bread.
Requeijão is a light Portuguese cheese, similar to ricotta or cottage cheese. You’ll find it in most supermarkets sold in plastic containers. It’s typically made from cow’s milk and has a much more subtle flavor than the other cheeses on this list.
How to eat it: You can serve it with salad sprinkled with salt and pepper, but it’s traditionally eaten as a dessert paired with pumpkin jam and a glass of Port wine.
9. Queijo de São Jorge
If you like cheeses with a spicy kick, Queijo de São Jorge is the perfect choice for you. Also known as Queijo da Ilha (island cheese), it comes from the island of São Jorge in the Azores.
Unlike most cheeses from the mainland, this cheese is made exclusively with cow’s milk. It has a semi-hard texture and a strong nutty aroma, which grows stronger with age. When buying it from a shop, you can get it whole, cut in wedges or shredded (ralado).
How to eat it: Eat a slice with fresh bread or shred it over pasta for extra flavor.
10. Queijo do Pico
Queijo do Pico also comes from the Azores but from a different island—Ilha do Pico. It traditionally uses cow’s milk as the main ingredient, although some might have goat’s milk as well. Queijo do Pico is softer than São Jorge’s and has a similar texture to Gouda.
How to eat it: You can eat it as a starter or for dessert accompanied by Vinho do Pico.
Portuguese Cheese Board 101
The best way to sample these artisanal cheeses is to order a cheese board at a restaurant, aka a Tábua de Queijos. It’s the perfect introduction to Portuguese cheese, as you’ll get to try a variety of cheeses at once. You can also order a mixed board (Tábua Mista), which comes with both cheese and traditional Portuguese sausages.
Buying Portuguese Cheese
Portuguese cheeses can be a great souvenir too. Whether you’re buying it in Portugal or online, here are a few words that will come in handy:
- Cheese – Queijo
- Sheep – Ovelha
- Goat – Cabra
- Cow – Vaca
- Fresh – Fresco
- Cured/Aged – Curado
- Smooth flavor – Sabor Suave
- Strong flavor – Sabor Forte
As you can see, we’re pretty passionate about Portuguese cheese. And after trying some for yourself, we think you’ll get it, too. Join us on our Tastes & Traditions of Lisbon Tour and try some of our favorite bites all over the city. And yes, there will be cheese.
Joana is a Portuguese travel writer based in Lisbon. On her blog City Odes, she writes about the hidden gems of Portugal, fun road trips and train rides worth taking. When she’s not typing away on her laptop, you can find her drinking an IPA on one of Lisbon’s latest craft beer bars.