The great dame of the Casín cheese
One of the oldest cheeses in Europe, the Casín cheese, is intrinsically linked to the life history of an Asturian entrepreneur, Marigel Álvarez, the first who commercialised this artisan cheese with a seven-centuries-old tradition
The Casín cheese is a full-fat cheese, matured, with an inviting smell. It is made of whole raw milk, rich in butter. In 2006 it gained the Protected Designation of Origin (DOP in Spanish) and the Asturian counties included are Caso, Sobrescobio and Piloña. The milk the cheese is made from must come from cows of regional breeds, Asturiana de la Montaña o Casina, Asturiana de los Valles, Frisona and their crossbreeds.
When Marigel started her adventure in the cheese world, in 1989, the Casín cheese had never been marketed before. Furthermore, partly due to the depopulation of the areas where the cheese had been traditionally elaborated, the Casín was going through a difficult time.
She had come from Germany a few years ago. Her parents migrated there when she was a child and it was there where she grew up and met her husband, Pepe Luis. In 1975 they moved back to Asturias with their family and they call Caso county (Pepe Luis homeland) home ever since.
“When you live in the countryside you need to develop your own job” says Marigel. After thinking of dozens of ideas to start a business to improve her family economic security, she went for the Casín cheese. “In the Eighties in Asturias there was an explosion of dairies, Afuega l’Pitu, Cabrales, and I joined them, I learnt to make cheese from other cheese artisans” she says. Her mother-in-law, from Caso, was her first mentor. Marigel spent more than one year nailing her cheese to be marketed and creating its technical data sheet. Moreover, she completed her training with dozens of courses. It took her two years to start selling the cheese and she overcame numerous struggles on her way. For example, when the dairy farmers she used to buy her milk from decided to sell their milk quotas, she had two options: closing down or buying cows. She chose the second. ‘The most important thing is that the cows graze here, in these pastures that produce this milk” claims Marigel.
The Casin cheese has an unknown origin but there are documentary references dating it back to 14th Century. Also, some specialists link the unusual curds-kneading technique to the Neolithic and the first population of the Iberian Peninsula.
What makes this cheese special and unique is that the artisan technique is based on kneading the same curd several times. When the milk becomes curd, the whey is drained-off. After that the curd is wrapped in cheesecloths where it continues draining-off for three or more days. The outcome is known in Asturias as ‘gorollos’ (cylindrical shaped curds). To shape the ‘gorollos’ Marigel uses the table or a special machine built for that purpose.
In her hands is the knowledge to decide when the curds have had enough turns and they are ready. Once she decides that that turn is going to be the last one, she shapes the ‘gorollos’ manually into a spherical form. The final product usually measures between 15 and 20 centimetres diameter, height is between 4 and 7 centimetres and it weighs between 250 and 600 grams. Each dairy has its own decorations and they print them directly on the cheeses using stamps made of wood or metal. Marigel’s cheeses feature Caso’s coat of arms, framed by the words ‘Quesu Casín’ and her initials, M.A.
Currently Marigel makes around 40.000 litres of milk annually and she admits that the PDO the cheese achieved in 2006 has helped spread the word about the Casín. “The PDO is a quality label that supports you anywhere you go” ensures the artisan cheesemaker. In 2012 she was awarded the Silver Medal of Asturias for her admirable career and her key role leading the way to the D.O.P. In her speech Marigel assured that the Casín cheese has a brilliant future “because this cheese is stronger than me”. Hopefully she is right. In the mean time, we can enjoy the Casín cheese, shaped by those hands that keep all the knowledge and experience of having fought for almost 20 years to achieve its recognition and revival.
Reciegos, El Llano, 18, 33990 - Campo de Caso, Asturias