Santiago de Compostela and its Tetilla Cheese (and a recipe!)


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.

Santiago Compostela Cheese

 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.

Santiago Compostela Cheese

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!!!

 Have you been to Santiago de Compostela?  Have you tried Tetilla?

Click here to find out more about Santiago de Compostela and its famous cheese!

41 thoughts on “Santiago de Compostela and its Tetilla Cheese (and a recipe!)”

  1. Yum! I’m currently living in Madrid, and I’ve been dying to make my way up to Galicia. While I don’t think I could ever survive walking the Camino de Santiago, I could definitely survive eating cheese… all day long. Perhaps I should start planning a trip to Santiago de Compostela soon!

  2. Phoebe @ Lou Messugo

    That is such a great story about the world’s first boob job!! I haven’t been to Santiago de Compostela but hear abou tit a lot because one of the hiking trials near me in the south of France is part of the St James’ Way. I’d love to try the cheese as I don’t think I’ve ever found one I don’t like…

  3. Sadly, we never made it to northern Spain while we lived near Madrid. We wanted to, but only being there 14 months and kids in school limited our time of travel around Spain. I wish I’d known about the cheese. I wonder if they sold it in Madrid. I would have gladly tried it. I love cheese!

    1. Tina, I think you can buy it all over Spain. I haven’t had any luck in central Europe, though. Northern Spain is just breath-takingly beautiful. There’s always next time!

  4. We LOVE cheese!!! I never realized that cheese could actually be considered a meal until we traveled through France and learned about all the different regions and styles they make. I love the story behind this one!! We might have to give it a try while we have a kitchen (we’re housesitting now). Thanks for sharing :-)

  5. Hi Corinne, beautiful photo of the Cathedral. I hope to make it to Santiago de Compostela and hike the trail someday. I have not heard of Tetilla cheese before. I loved its story. It’s great to know that a lot of people way back then were so forward minded to fight for the equality of sizes of body parts. Your dish looks delicious! I wish I can taste it right now.

    1. Marisol, Thanks! (and thanks for pinning it, too!) The town is absolutely gorgeous, has wonderful little eateries, and I just love a cute story. It tastes awesome! Good luck getting there!

  6. Yum, yum, that recipe looks fantastic. I think I could definitely eat the whole dish, especially if I had done the looooong walk of St. James Way. I’ve never been to this area of Spain, but the architecture looks so interesting. And what a fabulous story about the history of the cheese.

  7. Your recipe sounds quite good. We were in Santiago de Compostela on St. James Day (El Dia de Santiaogo) in 2012. Actually it was the day before when much of the activity takes place. I would love to say we planned it, but really it was a random coincidence.

  8. I haven’t been or tried tetilla. My daughter has done three Caminos so she’s been to Santiago three times but I’ve never heard her mention cheese so – a very interesting story. The dish looks delicious.

  9. HUGE fan of cheese, Tetilla’s back story is even better! :) What did it taste like? Is there a cheese you would compare it to?

  10. Love the tetilla story. Have long been fascinated with the pilgrim walk. Have read several books about it but don’t think I could do the full walk. I absolutely love Spain though and hope to get to Galicia next.

    1. Jan, Apparently the shortest recommended route is something like 100 and some kilometers for people who can’t or don’t have the time to do the whole thing. Good luck!

  11. I haven’t yet made it to Spain (soon that will change! We’ll be there near the end of June!) and I have to admit, I know very little about it apart from its two big tourist cities of Madrid & Barcelona. But Santiago de Compostela looks absolutely stunning and filled with beautiful architecture, plenty of history, and lots of good food too. I really wish I could lick my laptop screen, the pictures of that potato dish you whipped up just looks absolutely incredible. I’d have to do an awful lot of walking around SdC to work it off, but I suspect it would be worth it! :D

    1. Steph, If you have enough time definitely hit northern Spain. The country is filled with fantastic sights and food, but the north is absolutely gorgeous to boot!

  12. I’d love to do El Camino one day. I haven’t tried tetilla, but I am 100% confident I would love it.

    Any recommendations for a cheese sub-in if there’s no tetilla on hand to try out your recipe?

    1. Emily, I was thinking about that night. Most types of cheese that melt well will work…maybe gruyere or white cheddar. It has to be hardy enough to taste!

  13. Very interested in that walk and getting that passport, but now I need to add the cheese to the list. Pretty funny way to object to changing the statue. Funny how that works out, isn’t it? People didn’t want big breasts on a statue, now they get it in their cheese. Reminds me of Salem, MA that’s known for the witch trials to get witches out and now it’s more of a meeting place for witches.

    And your recipe looks really good!

    1. Ann, I love these types of stories when I travel. It makes it so much fun! I love Salem, too. Pretty little town with a sordid history…my kind of place!

  14. ERMAGHERD! You’re killing me with all this cheese. I haven’t been to Santiago de Compostela, but I was doing a bit of research about El Camino a while back. It looks like such an interesting route, through parts of Spain that most people usually don’t think about, or even know exist, like Galicia. Your post has rekindled my interest in it. I mean, because cheese. There need be no other reason (and your recipe sounds delish).

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