Origins and trade of the Majorero Cheese

The history of cheese predates the beginning of written history; it is therefore unclear when its consumption began.

It surely came up as a way to preserve milk supplies, applying salt and pressing it. Ancient civilizations already knew that it was a nutritionally complete food rich in fat content, proteins, calcium and phosphorous.

Although no background information about Fuerteventura before the conquest of Brittany and Normandy is available, Majorero Cheese is embedded in the history of the island and their inhabitants.

Cheese origins using traditional methods appeared with Fuerteventura’s first settlers, called the “majos”, Deep knowledge inheritors of the North-African Berber tradition who occupied the island for around a thousand years.

Over time, cheese has become a basic food supply for Majorero people, whose main economic activity was cattle raising.

Cheese was the best way of preserving the surplus milk, allowing them to stock it. Its consumption allowed them to cope with famine times.

Its greatness is found in testimonials made by the conquerors that arrived on the island in the XV century. “Le Canarien” is the chronicle of the Normand expedition carried out in 1402 by Jean de Bethencourt and Gadifer de la Salle. These texts accurately reflect the existence of goats, cheese production and its high quality during the Prehispanic Fuerteventura.

The relevance of cheese production and cattle raising remain reflected on agreements made after the conquest with the Council of Fuerteventura, where instructions appeared in order to commercialise the product setting up measure system and pricing, especially in the times of famine.

Trade has been a key activity along the history and evolution of humankind. In the case of the Canary Island and given their strategic geographical location, this activity goes back as far as the beginning of the 15th Century when European cultures were looking for a new commercial route across the Atlantic Ocean.

Traders from diverse backgrounds met on the Canary Island: Castilian, Catalonian, Genoese, Portuguese, French, English, Hamburg citizens, Flemish…

There was a three-level trade activity on the islands: foreign, regional and local trade.

Fuerteventura, as an island subject to Lordship, counted on a series of taxes (the “Quinto” o “King’s fifth”), and restrictions which were not to be found on the independent island. It was mainly involved in regional or inter-island maritime trade and in the local one. The latter while being daily, was mainly for immediate consumption and developed a variety of distribution channels: shopkeepers, merchants who travelled around the island, and seller responsible for cheese sales.

Doctor Rene Veranu who was the greatest Fuerteventura Island historian and naturalist (1884-1888) described inside out the livestock, the type of shepherding, the shepherds and even the way of making cheese:

“(…) it is a very simple production process. As soon as the goat is milked, the milk is curdled using rennet. I thus then poured in moulds made of lamellas of pam tree Wood, arranged in circles and placed on a board. The curdled milk is pressed with both hands to let they come out and make thick cheese. Finally, it is rubbed with salt and aired. Once aired it becomes so hard that a stone or hammer is necessary to break it. Besides, a complementary technique is frequently performed in Fuerteventura so when then cheese is half-aired, the outside is rubbed with clay which, in spite of not giving cheese a delicious aspect, prevents cheese from becoming too hard”.

With the passage of time, the cheese stopped smearing with clay and began to be rubbed with gofio, a toasted cereal flour very typical of the Canary Islands. Also with olive oil and paprika. Nowadays, the three unique products allowed by the Regulatory Council, to give a cheese the Denomination of Origin stamp.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *