The 70 grams buttery sheep cheese of Queijaria Monte da Vinha, in Vimieiro (Alentejo) was distinguished with the gold category at the World Cheese Awards, which took place in Bergamo, Italy, at the end of October. This 100% handmade product – consisting only of raw sheep milk, salt and thistle – was blindly elected, among 3804 types of cheese from 42 countries on six continents, being the only Portuguese cheese distinguished, among many other Portuguese competing. In two days, a jury of more than 300 members proved nearly 4000 different types of cheese, concentrated on 84 tables. «When I realized that my cheese was the only one with the Gold distinction on the table, I was very touched», confesses Joana Garcia, the founder of this cheese factory which has a 100% women's team and has been leading since 2004. For the former lawyer, who changed her life 15 years ago, the secret of her sheep cheese lies essentially in passion and respect for the product. «This is a totally natural product with no additives. The raw material, raw sheep milk, must be of first quality and we use thistle, a plant-based natural coagulant. The healing is another fundamental element. Cheese maturation chambers are ideal for humidity, ventilation and temperature, which try to replicate Spring’s ideal conditions». These types of artisanal cheese are served not only at TAP business class, but also in renowned restaurants, such as Tasca da Esquina from chef Vítor Sobral, Tapisco from Henrique Sá Pessoa, the classic Fialho, in Évora, among many others. Currently, Queijaria Monte da Vinha, which is open all year round, produces about 6000 types of cheese per week, exporting about 20% of its production.