Santiago de Compostela is the number one Christian city in all of Spain, and a beautiful city at that. The city is the capital of Galicia and, because of its religious importance, hosts a huge, beautiful cathedral in the Old Town. UNESCO inscribed the Old Town as a world heritage site in 1985. Along with its religious importance, it was destroyed by the Moors in the 10th century. When it was rebuilt, the buildings were completed in the Romanesque, Gothic, and Baroque styles.
Why is Santiago de Compostela so important?
It is widely believed that the remains of St. James, after his beheading in Jerusalem, were brought back to Spain where he had previously preached. Every year, thousands of people walk the St. James’ Way. In Medieval times the pilgrimage began at one’s house, but today there are many different routes and most Spaniards believe that they should start in the Pyrenees.
When walking the route, pilgrims obtain a passport which allows them to take advantage of cheap lodging along the way. The main route is about 1000 kilometers long, and it has been inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List separately from its end point of Santiago de Compostela. All of Galicia is famous for its gorgeous towns, wineries, and food.
What is Tetilla Cheese?
Tetilla is the favorite cheese of the Galicians. It has been produced for about 250 years, and the milk primarily comes from Fresian cows. This is a popular breed in the region as they thrive on the rainy, soil-rich lands along the coast of northern Spain. Most people serve Tetilla with dried fruits or just have a slice or two for dessert, but it is also delicious melted or used in a baked dish and there are lots of recipes that include Tetilla. Below is the recipe I used this delectable cheese with as a way to use up my leftover ham from a recent dinner.
What does Tetilla Cheese have to do with the religious city of Santiago de Compostela?
As we wandered into town, we immediately noticed there are lots of cheese shops selling this very distinctly-shaped cheese. Oh, I failed to mention that the cheese is shaped and named after the “nipple.” This is attributed to the shape of the wooden mold the boiled milk is poured into, but there is also a legend that related to Santiago de Compostela’s famous cathedral.
When the cathedral was being rebuilt in the Gothic style, stone carvers were hired to complete the frieze’s on the arched doors. One statue was a well-endowed woman. This scandalized the pious citizens and there was a public outcry to have the statue’s offending bosom reduced (maybe the first boob job in Spain!). However, after the church officials completed the reduction, other citizens were outraged, claiming that there was no reason to deface the artist’s work. For their rebellion, they started making their famous cheese in the shape of a “tetilla” to celebrate the fact that God loves all people, large and small!
A Tetilla Cheese Recipe
This is really our own creation, using a basic scalloped potatoes recipe and making it our own.
Tetilla Cheesy Ham and Potatoes (not for the calorie-conscious!)
4 Tablespoons butter
4 Tablespoons flour
1/4 cup onion, chopped (1 small onion)
1 small garlic clove, minced
dash of salt and pepper
4-6 potatoes, peeled and sliced
1 ½ cups of chopped, cooked ham
2 cups of cubed Tetilla
(*If you don’t have Tetilla, use any melty, gooey, cheese that you love!)
2 cups of milk
Preheat oven to about 350 degrees. Slice the tetilla, potatoes, and ham. Set aside to make the sauce. In a saucepan, melt the butter and saute onions and garlic until transparent. Add the flour and salt and pepper, combine with the butter and continue over low heat until the mixture is slightly browned. Pour in the milk, stir, and heat slowly to boiling. Turn down the heat, add cheese; stir until all is melted. Layer half of the potatoes and ham in a greased baking dish, pour half of the sauce over this layer. Repeat the layer with remaining potatoes and ham, pouring the remaining sauce on top. We kept a little ham and chopped cheese to put on the very top for a garnish. Bake until potatoes are cooked, about 60 minutes. Serve hot!
This reheats really nicely for leftovers made from leftovers!!!