Sample covariance matrices play a central role in numerous popular statistical methodologies, for example principal components analysis, Kalman filtering and independent component analysis. However, modern random matrix theory indicates that, when the dimension of a random vector is not negligible with respect to the sample size, the sample covariance matrix demonstrates significant deviations from the underlying population covariance matrix. There is an urgent need to develop new estimation tools in such cases with high-dimensional data to recover the characteristics of the population covariance matrix from the observed sample covariance matrix. We propose a novel solution to this problem based on the method of moments. When the parametric dimension of the population spectrum is finite and known, we prove that the proposed estimator is strongly consistent and asymptotically Gaussian. Otherwise, we combine the first estimation method with a cross-validation procedure to select the unknown model dimension. Simulation experiments demonstrate the consistency of the proposed procedure. We also indicate possible extensions of the proposed estimator to the case where the population spectrum has a density.