You are hereBlogs / WcP.Story.Teller's blog / "Land of Cheese" Asturias, Spain: thousands of caves hidden in hills used by residents for centuries to age cheese

"Land of Cheese" Asturias, Spain: thousands of caves hidden in hills used by residents for centuries to age cheese


By WcP.Story.Teller - Posted on 10 December 2008

Raquel Viejo in her cheese cave, where she stores Cabrales, a blue cow's cheese named after the town in Asturias where it was first made

(quote)

We were in Asturias, a sliver of northern Spain that rests on the Bay of Biscay, and I had been drawn there by the region’s tagline: “The Land of Cheese.”

My pilgrimage had led me to the bat cave last September where I was following Raquel Viejo, a local woman whose family has lived in Asturias for generations. The specialty of the region — and what was stored on those shelves — is Cabrales, a blue cow’s cheese named after the town in Asturias where it was first made.

Asturias, a sliver of northern Spain that rests on the Bay of Biscay, calls itself The Land of Cheese. There are thousands of caves hidden in the hills of this rugged region, and for centuries residents have been using them to age cheese

There are thousands of caves hidden in the hills here, and for centuries residents have been using them to age cheese. The specifics of each brand of cheese in various regions of Spain are regulated by a denomination of origin, or D.O., and Cabrales’s says it must be stored in cavelike conditions for at least two months so the good bacteria can kill off the bad.

A few years ago, the Spanish government created new regulations for the cheese makers in this area. Some of the old methods, like straining the milk with horsehair sieves, were done away with in favor of more modern technology, like metal strainers and mechanical devices. But the most important requirements — the dairy breed, the aging process, the lack of pasteurization — remain.

blue cheese from the remote area of Asturias in the north of Spain. Wedged between the ocean and the mountains, made from cow's milk, this small format blue has a full-bodied taste

Back in her home, amid the intoxicating (some might say rancid) smell of sour milk, I tasted a slice of Ms. Viejo’s cheese, named José Antonio Bueno García after her husband. It was drier and saltier than the blues I was used to, but it didn’t taste overly blue, as some softer cheeses can. Delicious, but I couldn’t shake the image of the bats taking a few nibbles. (Do bats even eat cheese?) So my search continued.

Through another farmer in the area, I tracked down a cheesemaker a few villages over who was famous for resisting modernity. This sounded promising. Oliva Peláez Amieva, a squat woman with a wrinkled face, greeted me outside her small stone house in a purple muumuu and clogs.

“You can tell how long a family has lived here by how they make cheese,” said Ms. Amieva, who has been at it for 60 years. Her cheese isn’t Cabrales because she ignores the D.O. guidelines; in fact, it doesn’t have a name. She only makes about 200 wheels a year and most of it goes to friends and family members. For the moment, I was in the inner circle.

Ms. Viejo kneads the curds for her Cabrales

“The health department wants me to put in all sorts of regulations, but it wouldn’t be as good,” says Ms. Amieva, 70. “I used to sell it at the market, but I got in trouble with the police.”

Her cheese was a wonderfully sharp, dry, crumbly blend of goat and sheep milk that tasted slightly of salt and soil. And it’s labor intensive. Without modern equipment, all of Ms. Amieva’s animals are milked by hand. Once the cheese is poured into molds, she rubs each mound with salt and turns it over daily to ensure that it ages evenly; by the end, over 90 percent of the original milk volume is gone.

This isolated nook of the country has spawned hundreds, if not thousands, of artisanal cheese makers for generations. The cheese is cruder than French fromage and not as recognizable as Italian counterparts, but here, each wheel is as idiosyncratic as the person who makes it. The cheese of northern Spain is, like the land that produces it, rough, coarse and sharp, and there’s no way to taste it without traveling there.
I worked my way through a quarter of a wheel as we sat in Ms. Amieva’s modest living room, and realized, too late, that the cheese was so dry, my tongue was sticking to the roof of my mouth. Ms. Amieva offered me homemade cider, the gently effervescent, lightly alcoholic beverage that always accompanies a piece of cheese in this area. It was the perfectly sweet balance to her defiantly unnamed snack.

the milk from Mr. Etxberria's cheese comes from his flock of sheep, many of which he has named. He says the sweet green grass they feed on creates the fragrant taste of clovers - strong, milky and grassy

“The reason my cheese is so delicious,” said Ms. Amieva, without a trace of modesty, “is my hands.” She turned her meaty, callused palms over for inspection. “The natural bacteria in my skin makes the cheese more flavorful.”

Mr. Baskaran makes Idiazábal, a hard sheep’s cheese with a strong, earthy flavor. Idiazábal is to Basque country what Cabrales is to Asturias — that is, there are thousands of small-scale farmers who think they make this delicious and individualistic cheese the best. And the only way to know for sure is to nibble your way through the wooded terrain of Basque country.

Mr. Baskaran was quick to tell me that he didn’t deserve credit, his sheep did. Soon it was time to meet the flock. He drove his Toyota 4runner up a deathly steep dirt road that led us above the clouds. Baht, the border collie, jumped out the window and rounded up the sheep for inspection, and hundreds of black faces paused momentarily before resuming their dinner of wild flowers. We stood on the summit of the mountain in the damp, white air, jagged cliffs looming like giant shark fins piercing the fog. “Big farms don’t make cheese like we do in Basque country because the sheep eat grains and they’re more stressed, so the milk is weak,” he said. “My sheep live peaceful lives.”

José Manuel Etxberria, who lives near San Sebastián, makes his Itxas Egi, a cheese variety from the Basque country

BEFORE I left Basque country, I met the least stressed sheep in all of Spain. Just west of San Sebastián, above the small town of Zumaia, there were hundreds of the puffy, four-legged cheese makers mowing a verdant field, mouthful by mouthful. They had trees for shade, a brook for water breaks, and 30 acres overlooking the dark, roiling Atlantic.

“My sheep live better than I do,” said the owner of Agerre Berri farm, José Manuel Etxberria, echoing a common sentiment in Basque country. Mr. Etxberria is 39 years old, with light eyes and skin browned from a lifetime outside. “They live very calm — they have a nice view of the ocean. In Basque, we say farmers love their sheep more than they love their women.”

Cabrales cheese on Ms. Viejo's shelves. The proper local accompaniment for it is cider

And they make the cheese to prove it. Mr. Etxberria’s version, Itxas Egi, is a hard sheep’s variety with a sharp bite and the fragrant taste of clovers — strong, milky and grassy. This, he claims, is his secret ingredient: Keep the sheep happy eating nothing but sweet green grass and they will return the favor with delicious cheese “that goes perfectly with a glass of red wine and a beautiful girl.”

So did I ever find the world’s best cheese? Mr. Etxberria’s came awfully close, but I had to stop short of calling it perfect because of something he said.

“Cheese is like sheep; they all have a different personality,” said Mr. Etxberria, who has actually named most of his sheep. “And I could never choose my favorite sheep. They are all my favorites.”

(unquote)

Photos courtesy of Matias Costa / The New York Times and forevercheese.com

Original Source: NY Times

So did I ever find the world’s best cheese? Mr. Etxberria’s came awfully close, but I had to stop short of calling it perfect because of something he said.

Contact Us

Contact Us

RSS feed

Subscribe to WcP Blog RSS feed

Twitter

WcP Blog on Twitter

Facebook

WcP Blog on Facebook

Paper.li

WcP Blog on Paper.li

Pinterest

WcP Blog on Pinterest


Browse other gifts from Zazzle.

Custom Search



Apple iBookstore









Inspirational Quote Posters

Amazon Kindle Books

Random image

Poem in Art: With a half-glance upon the sky... - Alfred Lord Tennyson

Poll

Search the Web

Custom Search

Archive Calendar

September 2017
SunMonTueWedThuFriSat
12
3456789
10111213141516
17181920212223
24252627282930

Featured Videos

Latest Quote

"Everything is the product of one universal creative effort. There is nothing dead in Nature."
~ Lucius Annaeus Seneca

"Choose only one master - Nature."
~ Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn

"True wisdom consists in not departing from nature and in molding our conduct according to her laws and model."
~ Lucius Annaeus Seneca

Recent comments

Reader Reviews

  • "Your website seems to have precious gemstones on the subject of penning." - Bryce (March 29, 2017)
  • "I am an anthropology student and this site has helped me a lot to know more about the various cultures across the world. This is the reason I visit the site so often. Keep on sharing more and more posts like this. Thank you." - Anonymous (April 3, 2016)
  • "Your site is valuable. Appreciative for sharing! Awe inspiring Blog!" - Anonymous (March 16, 2016)
  • "This blog is the book which has feelings for around their lives. Will you produce intense addons." - Anonymous (January 26, 2016)
  • "Interesting quote. I have gone through different posts in this website. I could see different themed quotes and interesting posts here. I am much impressed with this website. Keep up the good work and keep sharing interesting stuff." - Howard (January 25, 2016)
  • "I was so impressed by it I felt I would reach out to you to say thank you. Great work...that's one great blog you've got there!" - Kayla (January 8, 2016)
  • "This is incredible. Finally something new. I was reading comics the whole time. This is the real fact, which I do not think anyone else has such a well written and updated blog like yours." - Zach (January 7, 2016)
  • "The Superbly defined stuff of reading, you constructed a masterpiece with your magical mind. Your writing skills are simply awesome. Great work!" - Katie (December 28, 2015)
  • "This really shows that you can still find folks that care about the things they post online. I really liked browsing the comments." - Myles (December 23, 2015)
  • "Yes i agree with the above poem that window is the world so far i have come across. Every thing comes from it. You have written in a very poetic way. Looking forward for more poems from this." - Anonymous (December 11, 2015)
  • "Every last tip of your post is incredible. You're really great to share. Keep blogging..." - Anonymous (December 8, 2015)
  • "I always take pleasure in your articles. You have a gift for discussing such stirring topics in ingenious yet amusing ways. Your posts help us realize that our troubles are typical, and we can solve them in ready to lend a hand ways..." - Angela (October 05, 2015)
  • "We all appreciate the power of words you always provide!" - Anonymous (October 05, 2015)
  • "So poetic..." - Anonymous (September 15, 2015)
  • "The method for composing is phenomenal furthermore the substance is first class. A debt of gratitude is in order for that knowledge you give the perusers!" - Anonymous (July 23, 2015)
  • "Your configuration, man...too astonishing! I cant hold up to peruse what you've got next.Thanks for your superb posting!" - Anonymous (July 16, 2015)
  • "I found myself starring at these photos. I cannot believe that I haven't seen them before, taking into account that I am mesmerized by sea and ocean as one can be by forces of nature. Thank you so much for putting them out here, because even though they were posted by such a giant as National Geographic, I still have missed them. Well, “dazed” is the exact word that describes the feeling that I felt when I first set my eyes in these photos." - Anonymous (July 14, 2015)
  • "I will check your different articles without further ado. Continuously so fascinating to visit your site. Thank you for sharing, this will help me such a great amount in my learning." - Anonymous (July 10, 2015)
  • "Extraordinary stuff, just basically astonishing! Keep it up in future. I am truly inspired by this site!" - Anonymous (July 3, 2015)
  • "I was reading your post since 2012 and you are writing so much outstanding ideas I must say you are a talented person." - William (June 29, 2015)
  • "I have never seen such amazing thoughts displayed in composing. Your author has an extremely one of a kind method for exhibiting data so as to catch the peruser's consideration." - Anonymous (June 27, 2015)
  • "Mind boggling posting! I really like the way you are sharing the exceptional tackle this subject." - Anonymous (June 25, 2015)
  • "I unquestionably appreciated all of it and I have you bookmarked your site to look at the new stuff you post in the future." - Anonymous (June 13, 2015)
  • "I was very thrilled to find this website. This is really interesting and I have recommended this site for my friends also. I had a fantastic read from this blog." - Anonymous (June 2, 2015)
  • ""The exposition seeks to discover a haven inside character and communicate gratitude for life during its peaceful and thoughtful vibe." - Micheal (May 19, 2015)
  • "Fantastic Blog! I might want to thank for the efforts you have made in writing this post." - James (May 15, 2015)
  • "Amazing! Great post! Wonderful pictures and well written article!" - Anonymous (March 10, 2015)
  • "Certainly worthwhile content! This is an excellent reference to spent time and gets authentic observation by reading." - Anonymous (February 12, 2015)
  • "Certainly exceptional blog! It is so wonderful content and acceptable with a clear concept. Thanks much!" - Lisa (January 13, 2015)
  • "Photography is my passion and like to learn something new about it. From your blog i have learned many things and i loved to read it thanks for sharing such a useful post" - Anonymous (January 1, 2015)
  • "It's an extraordinary joy perusing your post. It's loaded with data I am searching for and I want to post a remark that the substance of your post is wonderful. Thanks! :)" - Lilia (July 31, 2014)
  • "I do not even understand how I finished up right here, but I thought this to be great. I do not recognise who you are however certainly you
    are going to a famous blogger for those who are not already. Cheers!" - Gerald (July 24, 2014)
  • "Your blog is very informative. Also the images in it are beautiful!" - Anonymous (January 8, 2014)
  • "It is tempting to comment because of the amazing content on this blog. I wish I had a blog like this." - Anonymous (December 27, 2013)
  • "Thanks for trying to make the world a better place." - Anonymous (July 16, 2013)
  • "I have added to my favorites. I just found this blog and have high hopes for it to continue. I believe this really is excellent information. Most of men and women will concur with you and I ought to thank you about it. Thanks for sharing." - Anonymous (May 16, 2013)
  • "This is awesome! Your photos are perfectly taken! It captured the decisive moment. I am a fan already." - Sarah (Apr. 15, 2013)
  • "Can I just say what a relief to obtain a person who truly knows what they're talking about on the web. You certainly know easy methods to bring an issue to light and make it critical. Extra individuals must read this and comprehend this side of the story. I can't believe you're not even more well-liked considering that you absolutely have the gift." - Anonymous (Jan. 23, 2013)
  • "I wish to show my thanks to the creator of this blog. Keep contributing a good concepts and strategies. Many people will surely improve their skills by reading blogs like this." - Anonymous (Dec. 25, 2012)
  • "I really like your style but mostly your initiative. The world needs more writers like yourself." - Steve (Jan. 18, 2012)
  • "It must be very rewarding to have a long term project like this and too see the progress being made! Thanks for sharing it." - Mika (Jan. 18, 2012)
  • "This was a very eye opening video. It's made an impact on me. We're so unaware of the things that we do every day can destroy our ecosystem. The statistics are mind blogging especially the fact that 90% of big fish are gone. We need to stop this somehow. I'm going to spread this page to my mutual friends. Thanks for this." - Joseph (Jan. 15, 2012)
  • "I enjoy this blog a lot." - Liz (California, USA; Oct. 17, 2011)
  • "Keep up the good work you're doing." - Casper (Melbourne, Australia)
  • "Thanks for sharing some great content through your blog. It has been a sincere pleasure to read." - Anonymous
  • "Always fresh and fascinating." - Anonymous
  • "Cool bio[mission statement]." - Darin (California, USA)
  • "You have some beautiful images. Love your site!" - Susan (Washington DC, USA)
  • "I love your Blog." - Kate (Ireland)
  • "A great site highlighting many important issues." - Bob (New Zealand; Feb. 20, 2010)
  • "Love the images on this blog..there are some interesting articles about health I noticed...we tend to run a 50/50 risk of a heart attack...I noticed when in the USA recently everyone seemed huge..they ate massive meals...I reckon that is one cause of heart failure...just my opinion..but yeah these articles can be worrying to some folk so just heed the advice...I know I will." - Mick (The Sunshine Coast, Australia; Aug 29, 2009)
  • "Excellent blog." - Bill (Vancouver Island, Canada)
  • "Fantastic blog and educational articles, much enjoy visiting...Thank you!" - Lotus1150 (Alberta, Canada; Aug 28, 2009)
  • "Great site and awesome photos." - David (Washington DC, USA)
  • "I loved your website. Even finding some news about Turkey made me surprised." - Anonymous (Turkey)
  • "Gorgeous site ... the kind of place you could lose yourself for hours (suppose that was intentional?). Also, cartoons, commentary on the events of the times, etc. Great stuff." - Daniel (Nevada, USA; Jan. 03, 2009)
  • "...may your blog, ideas and efforts help many more people." - Anonymous (New Mexico, USA)
  • "Very cool site..." - Anonymous
  • "Amazing site, worth the visit every time... enjoy." - Sam (Saudi Arabia)
  • "Easy to read and well-designed." - Colin (Arizona, USA; Apr. 22, 2009)
  • "Unique mix of news, photos and poetry." - Frasier (Virginia, USA)
  • "Worldculturepictorial.com/blog is an extremely interesting collection of news articles. It calls itself "A Window On the World". The site contains a wide variety of topics, all very informative and pertinent to life in today's world." - Cynthia (Massachusetts, USA; Aug. 07 2008)
  • "Wow. Cool." - Christopher (Melbourne, Australia; Dec. 10 2008)
  • "An interesting way to check out the wonders of our world." - Anthony (Ohio, USA)
  • "Nice site, especially the rss icon." - Daniel (California, USA; Sep 10, 2008)
  • "Good blog - Everything from news to photography. Very informative." - "explicitmemory" (Texas, USA)
  • "Very informative site by prose and picture..." - Jeff (Michigan, USA)