How to choose a cheese from the D.O. Cabrales without mistakes

One of the most appreciated products of Asturian cuisine is, without a doubt, Cabrales cheese, and that is why today we want to explain its characteristics and what to look for, so that it is clear how to choose a cheese from the D.O. Cabrales without mistakes.

Asturias a territory where 40 different varieties of cheese are made and 5 of these varieties, -Gamoneu, Cabrales, Afuega el Pitu, Los Beyos and Casín-, enjoy the protection they grant to their products, the label of a Denomination of Origin.

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How to choose a cheese from the D.O. Cabrales without mistakes

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to visit Sotres, the highest town in the Principality, and accompany Jessica López, visiting the cheese factory where he makes his cheeses and the most interesting, knowing one of the caves in which they mature. At just over 25 years old, Jessica is the president of the Cabrales Designation of Origin.

She was born in Sotres and studied Graphic Design and Advertising. After marrying Javi, her husband, they returned to town and decided to continue with the family tradition and devote to cattle and the production of Cabrales cheese. La Quesería Maín, after 12 years in operation, produces its Cabrales cheeses that ripen in its caves located high in the mountains of the area.

These caves, it is not possible to access with vehicles so it is a complicated job to bring freshly prepared cheeses to ripen there, and pick them up when they are ready to market them. We accompanied them to the most accessible cave, located closer to the town, but taught us other caves to which they have to take the cheese making many trips loaded with two or three cheeses in their backpacks, because there is no other way to do it.

The cave we visited, is a mountain cave, very high and relatively difficult to access, which we came walking with some goats that moved much better than others because of the rugged orography of the Picos de Europa area.

Jessica López at the door of one of her caves in Sotres

"Javi and I went to work in Oviedo, but he did not like life in the city, since he had been raised in a family of farmers and cheese makers. Making cheese is a job that did not have much generational relief, so that we consider it as a business option. Luckily, Javi's family, who had experience, taught us how to work. Doing what they taught us to the letter, until we had our own way of making the cheese, it was the key to start in this work, and we still continue, "Jessica tells us.

Cheeses are made as we already have here, with two milking cow's milk, the one in the morning and the one in the evening. To make a cheese of about 2 kilos and a half it is necessary to use 25 liters of milk. It is possible to use a mixture of cow's milk with sheep's milk, goat's milk, or both.

Javi adds rennet to milk to begin the process of making Cabrales cheese

"For a Cabrales to notice the presence of goat's milk, it should have more than 20% of this milk in its composition, and yet most of those who label indicating that the cheese is made with cow's milk and goat or with the three milks, they use a minimal proportion and it is practically like ours, which we only do with cow's milk ", - he said Jessica López Direct to the Palate. "Arriving at that 20% it would be noticed an itch, a texture, but since it is a cheese that matures and ferments so much and so naturally in a cave, it does not show," Jessica and Javi clarified.

Another reason, as he explained to us, is the presence of the wolf, which is killing goats and sheep every year to the point that the milk of these animals is more expensive and there is less and less livestock. In Quesería Maín, they buy cow's milk from a young local farmer, and with it they make their cheeses.

They make every two days, cutting the milk with the rennet and then, they form the cheeses letting the whey out and letting the pennicilium mushroom in naturally. After salting the cheese for 24 hours in several batches, they pass to the drying room to help eliminate moisture. Given the minimal presence of sheep or goat milk in the cheese composition they choose to make cheese with cow's milk only.

In the cave, with its temperature, humidity and air currents, enter the pennicilium naturally in cheeses, developing spores and producing the characteristic tone and color of Cabrales cheeses.

To choose a cheese from the DO Cabrales, it is important to look, in addition to carrying the label of the D.O., and the composition or types of milk used - in the cheese cut to see its texture. Maturation makes the more mature the cheese, the creamier it is. Contrary to what many assume, a more mature cheese is no more earthy but it is winning in creaminess and is easier to spread.

With two months of preparation - minimum established by the DO - a cheese can be sold and the processor would take a lot of work, especially in the cave where they have to go around every week. Despite the work involved, Javi and Jessica recommend us to choose cheeses with more maturation, between four and six months, although you can reach cheeses that have matured a little less than a year. The time of this maturation is indicated in the batch on the label.

There are reserve cheeses, which are in the cave for up to twelve months, but those have to mature in the highest caves, the most difficult to access, because of their temperature and humidity conditions, where they ripen longer and slower, getting a wonderful creaminess. In the cave I visited with Jessica, they have cheeses for a maximum of six months because having them longer would make them develop some weird taste, as he explained.

Prices are noticeable, since a Normal cabrales cheese costs about 16 euros per kilo, the piece costing about 40 euros, while a one-year reserve cabrales can be around 70 euros. The work of going every week to rub the cheeses, salt them, brush them and turn them around, justifies the difference in price.

Of the 28 cheese factories that make Cabrales cheese only five make reserve cheese, and worth choosing. The problem is that only the best stores can find this type of cheese.

Another last recommendation is to choose Cabrales cheeses of approximately 2.3 kg of weight since the mini cheeses, of smaller weight and size, you cannot have them more than 3 months and all crust is made. Jessica advises us to buy cheese portions of two kilos and peak size since it is easily preserved at home and can last up to a year. It is better not to take the entire piece because it would be damaged.

How to keep the cheese once purchased

To preserve the cheese wellWhen we get home, we remove the label and wrappers and wrap the cheese in a damp cloth, putting it inside a taper and leaving it in the fridge. When the cloth dries, we return to moisten the cloth so that the cheese always has some moisture. If you put it as it is in the fridge, without this theme of the cloth, the cheese spoils very soon. The aluminum wrap, etc., is to protect the cheese in transport, it does not serve to preserve the cheese, due to the humidity it has.

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