Together with Grazalema itself, El Bosque is a gateway to the Parque Natural de la Sierra de Grazalema and an ideal place to base yourself if you intend to take advantage of the superb walking, hunting and fishing in the area. Or you may visit El Bosque for another more gastronomic reason entirely.
El Bosque is a fairly new village by the standards of Andalucia, being founded by one of the Dukes of Arcos at the back end of the 17th century. When founded it was called Los Baños del Duque, the Duke’s Bath. It was later renamed Marchenilla and in the 18th century it became Santa Maria de Guadalupe de El Bosque. It is a typical ‘white village’ with narrow winding streets in the upper, older, part of town and more modern buildings towards the lower part. The streets conceal the village shops, the butchers, grocers and panaderia, all hidden away. What will strike you is the number of bars and restaurants, their numbers all out of proportion to the size of the town - the population was about 2,200 in 2017. You will find traditional bars and restaurants in the upper town and more modern in the lower.
The attraction is the food. Wild boar, venison and mountain goat, from the nearby Sierra, all appear on the various menus along with two products for which the town has become known, cheeses and cured meats and sausages. Many places have been creative and produce mouth watering dishes and the portions are not small. Be warned though, the restaurants tend not to open in the evening until 8.30pm.
The cheese museum at the bottom end of town is well worth a visit with good explanatory boards taking you through the cheese making process and the history of cheese.
Cheese making in Andalucia started with the Iberians during the first millennium BC. The native sheep and goats had been domesticated long before, during the Neolithic period, and it was the milk from these animals that was used. In Andalucia it is still sheep and goats milk cheese that is favoured over cows milk cheese.
The popularity of Andalucian cheeses spread to the Middle East when the Phoenician traders arrived and was popular with the Romans. In the first century AD Pliny classified 13 varieties of cheese made within the Roman Empire. By this time other varieties of sheep and goat had been introduced into Andalucia from the Middle East, resulting in the domesticated varieties seen today.
In 2016 a sheep's cheese, Queso de Oveja Grazalemeña Emborrado en Salvado de Trigo, won third prize at the Best Cheeses of the World competition whilst El Bosque's Queso de Cabra Payoya curado en Manteca made it into the top ten. Interestingly the latter is a cheese made from the milk of the native Cabra Payoya, the pre cursor of today's domesticated goat that would have been running around in Iberian times.
You will probably find a few tasting samples. Try the very aged sheep cheese, delicious and sharp.
The cheese museum is open:
Monday to Friday 10:00 to 15:00 and 16:30 to 18:00
Weekends and fiestas 10:00 to 18:00
El Bosque’s agricultural heritage is obvious with the preserved water wheel in a square at the lower end of town, the old mill building and the town’s emphasis on products grown or raised in the area. It also caters for the visitor with an Information Centre, again at the lower end of town. You need a permit to undertake many of the walks in the Sierra de Grazalema and this office is one of the places to obtain that permit.