Asturias or the Principality of 40 cheeses: this is the route of the dream destination for the very cheese makers

Upholstered by the greenery of the meadows, dotted with powerful rivers, governed by the splendid heights of the Picos de Europa and embraced by the Cantabrian Sea, Asturias has earned the appellation of "natural paradise" on its own merits. A paradise that not only catches the traveler for its beauty and for the variety of its landscapes, but also conquers it from the table, where hospitality and the product are the values ​​on which a way of understanding the life that is built around cooking and generosity is based.

From the mountain stews to the seafood dishes, through the recipes of the plain, the Asturian gastronomy presumes to have a culinary offer of postín that is so short we all identify around the raw material and whose flags we know almost as a runway.

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The fabada reigns, with its succulent smoked companion, but fabes with clams and rice with pitu de caleya are not left behind. Very important are stuffed onions, corn cakes, prenaos buns, pixin and oricios, the Asturian pot, native beef like casina or its illustrious desserts, such as casadielles, rice pudding or carbayones. And, together with all this, our protagonists of today: their cheeses, which boast variety, quality and fame, outside and within the Asturian borders, in which there are more than fifty artisan cheese factories.

A shepherd with his flock in the flock of Belbín, in Picos de Europa. © Juanjo Arrojo

Although the great prominence of the region is in cow cheeses, being the protagonist in 65% of the cheeses, although there are varieties that are produced with sheep or goat milks, and even with mixing, so that the cheese panoply is the order of the day in the region. Of all of them surely the great fame corresponds to the blues, the most identified we have with the terroir, but on our trip today you will see that there is an even broader Asturias quesera.

Cheeses with 'seal'

With the profile of the Picos de Europa as a witness but also as a home for the cattle that graze here, some of the most important cheeses in the region are forged here, finding most references in the eastern part of Asturias of the Principality, including the most relevant at the level of denomination of origin or protected geographical indications.


Maturation in Cabrales Cheese Cave © Turismo Asturias

If there is a throne of the patriotic blue cheeses, the undisputed king of them is the cabrales, capable of looking from you to you to the great blue cheeses of the world, with little or nothing to envy to Roquefort or Stilton. It has the second oldest denomination of origin in Spain, achieved in 1981, and it has a centennial character, being already mentioned in the Cadastre that the Marquis de la Ensenada made at the beginning of the 18th century, although there are previous mentions, both of Monasteries as councils, cheese.

It can only be made in the parishes of the homonymous council, in addition to three in Peñamellera Alta, which borders Cabrales. Nowadays It can be made with raw cow, sheep and goat milk, although only two of these milks, and even only cow, are allowed to be used, since the herds of smaller cattle, the 'reciellas' are increasingly scarce. In the past, ironically, the cabrales was made mainly with sheep and goat milk, since the cow was used for the production of butter, which was more profitable and required less processing.

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What has not changed is the way to ripen the cheese, which is still done in the same caves as in the past. It is the example of Jéssica López, of Quesería Maín, in Sotres de Cabrales, which distributes its production through three different caves, at different heights, and that some are only accessible on foot, so that the work hardens. However, he tells us that the passage through the cave is essential. "The cabrales is not injected with penicillium the fungus that gives it its distinctive character, but is naturally present in them," he says.

The reason why the humidity of the cave also gains importance. "If a cave is wetter, the cheese will absorb moisture and be creamier," he says. In addition, a particularity of this cheese also lies in the property of the caves, since some are private and others communal, being found in common mountain, so it is common for cheesemakers to share them.

In the same sense, Pepe Bada, another of the cabrales' icons, responsible for Quesería Pepe Bada - with more than 40 years of manufacturing behind them - and whose Teyedu cheese is one of the most representative in the area, is explained. Part of this fault is from the cave, which It stands at 1,200 meters high, and with a north orientation, so the temperature is lower and is better controlled.

Pepe Bada turning and brushing his cheeses in the El Teyedu cave. © Wolf

The result is a cheese that must spend more than two months maturing, although many cheesemakers keep the pieces up to four months. Even five of them make a 'Reserve Cabrales', with aging that goes beyond 10 months. Once opened A cabrales cheese should have an intense, penetrating, slightly spicy and salty smell but never dirty, stale or stable. Aromas that should never have a good cabrales and that Pepe eradicates with a good cleaning of the cheese during the turn, brushing each cheese with care.

In addition, its texture should be creamy, capable of falling apart in the mouth and the veins must reach the center of the cheese, signal of correct aging. In turn, it must retain good moisture, so its bark, which should not be hard, should not show signs of dryness or cracking. To keep it at home, the best option is to remove it from its original packaging and cover it with a damp cloth inside the fridge in a tupper, thus ensuring that the cheese does not dry out.

As a climax, the cabrales has its great annual event on the last Sunday of August, filling the town of Arenas de Cabrales with cheese aroma, drinks and parties around his illustrious son. Oh, and he has the privilege of having been the most expensive cheese in the world, since at the auction of the certamente of 2018 he paid for a piece of two kilos of Valfríu cabrales no less than 14,300 euros. A historic memory that speaks clearly of this illustrious cheese.


Gamonéu del valle cheese cut. © Noah Baranda.

Also called gamonedo, this cheese is characterized by having two versions: that of the port, which is only done between June and September with milk from traveling cattle, and that of the valley, which is carried out all year round, the port being scarcer and more famous. Unlike the cabrales, the bluish tone of the gamonéu should not appear in all the cheese, but only in the part that is close to the crust - since it also ages in caves in which the penicillium is present - and that is formed by to have been slightly smoked, always with firewood from native trees or shrubs such as ash, heather or beech.

Produced only by about twenty cheese makers, who can only make cheese in the councils of Onís and Cangas de Onís, The gamonu is made with the same three milks as the cabrales, although it must contain at least 10% of the milk from a smaller herd. The pieces of gamonéu can weigh 7 kilos, needing at least a couple of months of maturation in the caves. That does not prevent some producers from refining it for longer, in order to make the final product more exquisite.

Also its type of pasta differs from that of the cabrales, since its texture must be of a hard or semi-hard consistency, fruit of the pressing during the desuerado, so It won't be fluxing but it should be crumbled easily (be cold). Its flavor must be balanced, although predominantly buttery and never smoked or blue cheese should be the absolute protagonists on the palate.

In addition, the gamonu has a contest in his honor at the end of October in Benía de Onís, which includes purchases and tastings, being able to find the first copies of the gamonéu of the port.

Almost N

Preparation of Casin cheese in case. © José Suárez

The youngest of the cheeses with DO, although with very ancient origins, is Casin, of tremendous aromatic and gustatory intensity, perfect for those looking for powerful cheeses. It is made with raw cow's milk in the Case, Piloña and Sobreescobia councils, which in the past was mainly produced by cows of casino race, although at present also Frisona or Asturian milk from the valleys is used.

Its differentiating character is given by the kneading process, which is after curdling and desuerado (which leaves the cheese with very little liquid matter), and that occurs around rabilar machines, whose two cylinders give the curd flattened shape and where the cheesemaker gets the so-called gorollos, pyramidal shapes that are molded with the hands and that the product may decide to go through the rabilators again. In this way the cheese obtains a finer and more homogeneous grain but it also gains intensity, because it also adds salt and being 'pressed' again loses the little water it may have.

These gorollos are subsequently taken to the oreo chamber, where they can be up to two weeks, at a controlled temperature that ranges between 15 and 20 degrees. From there they would be manually molded to be taken to the ripening room, where the temperature drops to 8-10 degrees, where the two months minimum maturation of cheese, which start from the day the curd forms, allowing the units to oscillate between 250 grams and kilo. In addition, as a climax, each unit is marked with the seal of the producer (there are only four authorized), which serves as a guarantee of origin.

At an organoleptic level, Casin cheese claims to be very protein and very fatty, due to the many draining phases it has gone through, and it can lead to an error for the amateur who considers it a soft cheese with the naked eye. Despite being made with cow's milk and a brief maturation, casin is a very powerful cheese, thanks to the time it has spent in oreo and maturation, where fats have become volatile substances, responsible for taste. Therefore, in the mouth it is a very intense cheese, with a long aftertaste and spicy nuances, sometimes acres, which are more intense the more worked the cheese is, and that make it somewhat brave for inexperienced palates. For the learned, a delicacy.

Afuega'l Pitu

Add the paprika to make afuega'l pitu cheese. © José Suárez

Legend has it that cheesemakers pinched a piece of cheese to give it to their chickens. If the chicken drowned, it meant the cheese was ready. Hence the name, which in bable means "drowns the rooster". This is due, separately, to the grainy and pasty texture of this fatty cheese, made with raw cow's milk (although there are also pasteurized options) and that it has in its forms (truncated pyramid and 'trapu') and in its version roxu (red, due to paprika) several of its particular charms.

Elaborated under the profile of the Denomination of Origin in only eight cheese factories of the Center of Asturias, which are established in part of the natural territory that is comprised between the Nalón and Narcea channels, lined by the Sierra del Aramo, and where it has been produced He has been working for centuries, although there are few companies, almost all of them family, that work today, in many cases completely handmade.

This cheese is brewed, which owes its consistency to the long curdling period, up to 20 hours, from which it is then transferred to the molds in which it is discarded by gravity for a whole day. The desuerado continues after a turn, in which it is already given the desired shape - there being no differences in flavor between the pyramid and globose shape - and where paprika is added to the roxus. This addition, which some misunderstood consider an invention to mask a bad cheese, is really a deformation of having shared in the past the space with chacina such as chorizo ​​or different marinated meats, whose paprika floated in the environment and ended up perching on the cheese .

Logically the afuega roxu is more intense in aroma than the 'normal', although the paprika shades the spicy notes of the cheese, which are produced by the initial acidity of the curd, allowing the palate to gloat with a cow cheese that could well be of goat. Highly recommended to spread on toasts or as the start of a cheese board, the afuega does not have a clean cut, due to that consistency, especially in shallow cheeses, with remarkable lactic and butter flavors. Once matured, it evolves towards more wooded notes, such as those of fungi, and offers a more grainy and crumbly texture, which invites pairing with red wines, especially if you opt for roxus, which will gain in spice the more mature they are.

Los Beyos cheese

Lot of Los Beyos cheese from La Collada cheese factory, in Amieva. © José Ramón Navarro Tudela

Shared between a pair of Asturian councils, those of Amieva and Ponga, and another of lion, that of Oseja de Sajambre, Los Beyos cheese does not yet have the PDO mark, but that of protected geographical indication. Unlike the other cheeses with the name and surname of Asturias, Los Beyos cheese is soft on the palate, especially when compared to the other cheese standards.

In its elaboration the three major milks can intervene, they can also be pasteurized -which does not limit the quality of the cheese- and we could consider it as small, since its weight ranges between 250 grams and half a kilo. Like all cheese, it gains flavor as it matures, with the minimum curing period of 60 days when produced with raw milks. Of these, the most aroma and acid and spicy flavors provide are goats.

It does not have a strong salty hue, so it is an appropriate cheese for almost all ages and pairs especially well with young white wines of the country, so it is a good introduction for those who do not know Asturian cheeses too much.

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The cheeses of the West

The shelter that the Picos de Europa provide to the Asturian masses make it the great cheese zone of the region but the towns of the west do not fall short. They may not struggle in fame but increasingly they open a gap through their quality, not only in Asturias, but also reaching other Spanish squares.

Here we will not find appellations of origin and blue cheeses, which in the east are dyed thanks to the caves, are scarce in this Asturian area, in which the tall meadow is the tapestry with which the horizon is covered until practically the Cantabrian. One of these examples is found in Taramundi, caressing the Galician border, where a local dairy cooperative has three versions with which to value the cheese industry of western Asturias.

Under the name of the Cooperative Society of Dairy Products of Taramundi, several cheeses are marketed, the most peculiar being those that include nuts such as hazelnuts and walnuts, which keep a soft, melting profile and that combines well with the crispy interior. Even more peculiar, mainly for its milk, is that of goat, since it is made entirely with milk from this animal, which is already a rarity in Asturias.

Smooth also and very creamy is a cheese from a single producer in Coaña, which makes the Abredo cheese -which bears the name of the cheese factory-, melting and versatile, with good use in cooking, either on plates or in salads, and that breaks the topic of the intense cheeses of Asturias.

With a long career but endangered is Xenestoso cheese, produced in an artisanal way by a single cheese factory, that of San Ignacio, in Cangas de Narcea, and which Paloma López, the last representative of a lineage linked to the dairy world, takes over.

Of medium size, melting heart and pressed pasta, Xenestoso cheese traces its origins to the past transhumance, when the Castilian countertops were grazing in summer through Leon and Asturian lands. Yellowish white inside, this cheese weighing less than a kilo is today a gastronomic relic that the authorities of the Principality seek how to conserve.

Cheeses from the Center of Asturias

Preparation of afuega in the cheese factory Ca Sanchu, near Grado. © José Ramón Navarro Tudela

The vertical line marked by Avilés, Gijón and Oviedo largely delimits the geographical barrier of what is considered east and west in Asturias. Around this division we find some cheese examples, as in Proaza, where the source cheese is made, which It owes its name to the old tin containers in which it manufactures.

It is unctuous texture but very powerful flavor, which comes from the addition of honey pomace that is made to curd, once desuerada and dry, after three months of curing. It could resemble Catalan Tupi, since it shares a really strong flavor with it and is usually served on toasted bread, although it is difficult to find outside the so-called Bear Valley, in councils such as Proaza, Teverga or Lena.

Near Proaza, in Urbiés, another cheese peculiarity is still produced today, within the Mieres council. This cheese without defined form is made with cow's milk, coagulating by acidification and without adding any rennet. Once set, it gets into small sacks of cloth where it must age more than six months, generating a light layer of upper mold, which should be removed with the rest of the cheese when it takes place.

Once 'cured', it has a grainy but easy to spread texture that is usually sold in the so-called tarreñes, highly valued in the central area of ​​the Principality, although Its flavor is very potent for the unused palate.

Not far from there, in the council of Siero, another of the modern Asturian oddities is cited in Varé, where the cheese factory run by Anita González produces a peculiar goat's raw milk cheese, subjected to six months of healing, which preserves the freshness but also the slightly acidic and spicy nuances of goat cattle. Curious because it is a 100% goat in a land where goats have long since ceased to dominate, varé is a good example of new practices within an industry that gains strength within Asturias.

Although there is a considerable distance to the Picos de Europa, in the center of the Principality we also find examples of blue cheeses, more modern and with less trajectory than the icons, but they are opening a hole around more subtle flavors. An example is found with La Peral cheeses, which offers a wide range with the three milks and which has as standard the La Peral Estrella, made with cow's milk and with selected molds.

Something more extravagant is the Peñoceo, which is made only with goat's milk and that becomes a rarity, because it is very difficult to find goat blues in Spain and Peralzola, based on sheep's milk, which emulates the creaminess of Italian gorgonzola but with a milder mold and a less melting texture.

Several cheeses from La Peral cheese factory, in Illas, near Avilés. © Aviles Region

Also blue, although for the moment only with raw cow's milk as raw material, the Alcares cheese factory works, in the parish of Vega de Poja, within the council of Siero. Here they have proposed to make a different blue, creamy despite having no cave, intense in flavor but maintaining fruity and freshness in the bite, which are symptoms of a slow and careful maturation.

Its veining is irregular, not presenting almost the implacability of the blue that exists in a cabrales, which here reflects us a creamy cheese, with a slight bite and surely give much to talk in the coming years.

The blue cheese from the Alcares cheese factory, from raw sheep's milk. © Quesería Alcares.

Similar morphologically to the afghan but slightly moldy and with only cow's milk the King Silo cheeses are made, representing the same truncated pyramid of the Asturian emblem. Very popular in gastronomy and gourmet tables, especially outside the Principality, these Pravia cheeses belong to a new line of independent cheese makers, capable of innovating in a field as tricky as that of the dairy industry but obtaining great results.

King Silo, cheese from Asturias. ©

In a similar dynamic, related to getting out of traditional cheese schemes, is the Lazana cheese factory, in Las Regueras. Here the flagship product is the Geo de Lazana, a cheese of raw cow's milk, of medium intensity and naturally orange rind, slightly moldy, that could impersonate a Savoy reblochon.

The Geo de Lazana, similar to some French soft pastes. © Cheese factory Lazana.

With this illustrious French cheese, it also shares organoleptic nuances, such as fresh butter or hazelnuts, as the cheese ages. In addition, they have another Afinado cheese, of washed crust and 300 grams of weight, with which it shares a slight smell of fungus and mount on the outside, softening in the interior towards more lactic and herbaceous tastes.

Return east

Majada de Belbín, near Onís. © Juanjo Arrojo

The epicenter marked by the Picos de Europa generates a cheese quake that has replicas fifty kilometers around, where we find the thickness of the cheese holding of the Principality. Beyond the life that cabrales and gamonéu generate, other cheeses, sometimes with kinship or sometimes rupturist, enhance the richness of the region around dairy products. Almost 35,000 tons are sold annually, although the figure obviously also transcends cheeses that we could find in any supermarket.

Those who concern us today, which we might consider the cheese elite, find a fort in the eastern part of the region, extending from Llanes to Peñamellera Baja, on the border with Cantabria. It is precisely in Llanes where there are two references of very popular cheeses, such as Vidiago and Bedón.

That of Vidiago has been carried out since 1940 by the Collera Cheese Factory, with three different varieties, depending on the milk, in addition to a couple of shapes, the circular and the rectangular. The cow is especially creamy, due to the milk used, so it is subtle and melting on the palate. In the case of Bedón, goat cheeses are also found, in addition to cow cheeses, in a circular shape and not exceeding half a kilo of weight, with a cure around three months and maintaining a melting grain although they offer resistance to bite.

In the neighboring council, in Peñamellera Baja, last Asturian reference before arriving in Cantabria, there is another curious coincidence with the cheeses of La Chivita, whose milk and elaboration are borne by Manuel Gutiérrez. This entrepreneur, second generation at the head of the cheese factory, opened by Jesus, his father, in 1982, decided to venture into the crazy idea to raise goat dairy cattle, a chimera if we see the evolution of this market in Asturias.

100% goat cheese from La Chivita. © Cheeses La Chivita.

The bet went well and now sells 5,000 kilos a year of a raw goat milk, slightly cured, that transgresses the unwritten rules of the Asturian cheese industry. In addition, it also produces another cure, this time with sheep's milk, which bears some similarity with a Manchego cheese, although it is more fatty and somewhat softer.

Also from that reformism is nourished by the Jaime cheese factory, in Amieva, where they have left the routine of Los Beyos to make another transgressive cheese: the Cave of Pregondón. Only raw goat milk, aged in cave and thin crust, it could offer dyes similar to a gamonéu but the maturation in the cave keeps it in a half way between the melting and the earthy, being very friendly to the palate and easily coldable.

The Cheese Cave of Pregondón, from Quesería Jaime, in Amieva. © Jaime Cheese Factory

Blues with notable presence, especially in its three-milk version, are the Cheeses of Pría, on the banks of the Cantabrian. Long is the panoply of cheeses that work being the smoked Pría one of his greatest successes, but the most quoted in the markets of Spain is the blue of three milks, which bears some similarity with the cabrales but is softer and the green and blue veining is more scattered, crossing the cheese like arrows.

In that same battle but returning to the original council we find El Cabriteru cheeses, which have championed a blue revolution, gaining notable prominence in international competitions such as the World Cheese Awards. The merit is in two references, 100% goat milk and 100% sheep milk, which constitute two challenges in a sector in which this livestock is in decline. Examples like El Cabriteru redignify the reciellas and show that you can be profitable without defenestrating prices.

One of the blue varieties of El Cabriteru. © Quesería El Cabriteru.

With a growing market and with an eye on export and taking ideas from other markets, cheese factories such as the Cooperativa de Alles, in Peñamellera Alta, produce the Cueva de Llonín cheese. Similar to a shaped camembert, this raw cow's milk cheese has a soft, slightly moldy crust. In fact, one of the most renowned cachopos in Asturias, the Cacholetus from Casa Eutimio, use this cheese in its filling.

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Of a certain resemblance to that king of French cheese is the Franxón, which produces the cheese factory Ca Llechi, one of those that also produce the casin, and that also bets on adapting to the Asturian first matter some Gallic references. Beyond imitation, the work of this young cheese factory is in demonstrating the versatility of the Principality's product, making cheeses that get out of the general tonic.

Three different tunings, from lower to higher intensity (from left to right) of the franxon. © Cheese factory Ca Llechi.

Something similar happens with the cheese of Caxigón, a free verse within the council of Cabrales, since it is the only cheese made there that is not blue. In this case we find three varieties of 'white' cheeses, be they goat, cow or sheep, with a melting texture and soft crust. Subtle but elegant, these fragrant cheeses are the demonstration that there is another possible life in Cabrales without going through the cave.

As a last curiosity, you should not forget to mention the cider bouncer, made in Salas, whose curd mixes milk with cider. The result is a fragrant, curious cheese that matches two of Asturias's most iconic emblems in a bite, making the stanzas of the Asturias, dear country Get out of your mouth almost without pretending.

Images | Noé Baranda / Lobo / Pelayo Lacazette / José Suárez / Comarca Avilés / Juanjo Arrojo / José Ramón García / José Ramón Navarro Tudela / Tourism Asturias / El Cabreritu / Quesería Alcares / Rey Silo / Quesería La Peral / Quesería Ca ​​Llechi / Quesería Alcares / Cheese La Chivita / Jaime Cheese Factory

Video: Asturias (December 2019).