Membrillo - Monica R Goya

Membrillo

A homemade quince paste recipe

Lee en castellano


Turkey might be the leading country in producing quinces, but in northern Spain we are anything but short of these quintessentially autumn fruits.

Membrillo - Monica R Goya

The quince tree is native to the southwest Asia region and it is believed that the word marmalade originally refers to quince jam (from Portuguese marmelo, which means quince).

Quinces are one of my favourite fruits, so delicate and special, only apt for those who try hard enough as it is almost inedible –too hard and too sour- when raw. However, there was a time in my childhood when I hated quinces for it meant hours spent by a casserole, just stirring. My mum, dad and I would take turns. Stirring boiling quinces is a dangerous affair (the bubbles might burn so try to avoid any contact by all means). And I didn’t even like quince paste back then!

Membrillo, quince paste - Monica R Goya

Nevertheless, at some point in my childhood that changed and every time I passed by my mum’s quince trees I could almost smell the soft, aromatic membrillo (quince paste) that we make every year at the beginning of the autumn, when her trees are laden with fruits.

Luckily some years ago my mum upgraded her recipe to a simpler one and the hours of stirring have been substituted by blending. Sometimes she is still nostalgic of her previous method and does it the long way. I must admit I am don't.

Quince tree - Monica R Goya

Membrillo (Quince Paste)

Nothing reflects better the flavour of autumn in Asturias than membrillo paired with some of our excellent blue cheeses, maybe Cabrales or Gamonéu. I love it on spelt or rye sourdough bread.

Yield: two rectangular pieces

Ingredients
1kg quinces cored
700g sugar
Juice of one lemon

Two sealable containers of a shape of your choice


Wash the quinces, cut out the cores with a sharp knife and roughly chopped them in small chunks. Put them in a large pan together with the sugar and the lemon juice, cover and let macerate for 24 hours.

Membrillo - Monica R Goya

The next day the sugar should have dissolved and quinces should be covered in an aromatic lemony syrup. Bring to the boil in a medium heat and then simmer for about 45 minutes over a low heat or until the quinces are tender. The paste should have a dark red, brownish colour. Blend and transfer the paste into a sealable container. Leave it to cool and then store in a sealable container for up to a year*. Once opened store in the fridge.

(*) Anything with so much sugar will keep a year or forever!

Membrillo and Gamonéu cheese - Asturias - Monica R Goya
 
 
 
Cattle farmer, Asturias | Monica R. Goya

A day in the life...

Of a dairy farmer in central Asturias

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Benigno Cueto is a dairy farmer who works and lives in central Asturias. He has been working in farming for over thirty years and can’t picture himself doing anything else. He loves the outdoors and being in contact with nature and that pays off the hard work involved in his business. 

Cattle farmer, Asturias | Monica R. Goya

His day starts at six o’clock in the morning. Around half six he goes to the stable, cleans, prepares the food for the cows and then takes the cattle to the milk station. When he first started he only had four or fives cows and he milked them by hand. Back then his cows weren’t a business, it was a hobby and a way of knowing where the milk the family was having came from while saving up some money. At some point his mum, who used to help, broke her arm and they decided to buy a milking machine to make things easier.

When the first milking session of the day ends, the cows have food –that he has previously arranged- and while they eat, he goes for breakfast. That would be around nine o’clock.

Cattle farmer, Asturias | Monica R. Goya

His cows are mainly grain-fed although they do get grass as well. His operation would probably fit into the industrial production category; however, his cows are spoilt. He cares about them and their quality of life and good proof of it is that he has forty-five cows and calls each of them by their name.

After breakfast he goes back to check on the cattle, gives them some more food, makes their dry grass beds –yes, the cows have “beds”- and then cleans the stables again. Around half eleven/midday he takes his cattle out to different fields, sometimes nearby, some others a bit further and they stay outside until around six o’clock, maybe a bit earlier in the winter. Around that time, he leads them inside the stables again, they eat –their feed includes grain and also silos store hay that cows absolutely adore- and then they are milked around seven o’clock. In the summer they go out again around half eight because they sleep outside. They stay inside at night only in the colder months, between November and May.

Cattle farmer, Asturias | Monica R. Goya

“At first calves were born and I kept keeping them, I enjoyed spending time with the cows… and then I had to build the stable, the first one twenty-one years ago, the second, thirteen”. He remembers the old days when cows used to live much longer than now. “You can’t get too attached because you know beforehand how the story ends, you know what will happen… The business is so tight that when I cow is not profitable you need to get rid of it. Not long ago I sold one that was twelve years old and I was very sad. Now they last an average of six or seven years”, he says.

Cattle farmer, Asturias | Monica R. Goya

Benigno isn’t hopeful to the future of his industry. “It doesn’t look good at all. Here in Asturias for example, it looks as if the farms will disappear when my generation retires. There are few people after us, many of us are single and the ones who have families, their children go somewhere else for work, not necessarily because they don’t like farming, but because it’s harder and harder to make a living out of it”, he explains. In some areas of the region people who are pre-retired have cattle and he says that it’s unfair not only because they do get many subsidies, but also because they have their pre-retirement salary and they can afford to pay more for renting pastures what increases the price for the rest as well, making it more difficult to survive. Furthermore, he thinks that the end of the EU milk quota isn’t helping either, especially in the case of small farms like his, but he is somehow hopeful that the situation will improve in the near future. 

Cattle farmer, Asturias | Monica R. Goya

He admits that if he had to build now the stables he has, he probably wouldn’t be able to afford. “I wouldn’t recommend start a business like this to anyone these days” and he adds “it is very difficult for people like me and I have been doing it for a really long time, I think starting from scratch now would be impossible”.

Cattle farmer, Asturias | Monica R. Goya

Committing to a job where holidays are non-existent and where the working hours are never-ending is not for everyone. “If you are willing to work, in this sector you could work every hour of the day and there would be still plenty of things to do, money not so much, but loads of work to do, always”, says Benigno, and he adds “however I always try to save some time for myself, to relax a bit, maybe go for a bike ride or go out for lunch with some friends. And what’s the point if you don’t enjoy life?”.

 
 
 
Strawberry and Lemon Pie | Monica R. Goya

Of Pies & Romerías

Fruit pies full of juicy joy are the perfect companion for a summer party where everyone enjoys, aka, a romería

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Warm weather in Asturias is synonym of town fairs and romerías (popular parties where food and dancing reign, usually celebrated in the field near a chapel or church on the day of the patron's day).

I have very fond memories of the summer romerías, where most of the family and some friends would gather together and had a feast based on seasonal, simple food. Each person would bring something. The food was nothing too elaborate. Someone would bring a savoury pie –tuna & peppers or chorizo & onion, both were classics-, others would bring a Spanish omelette, salted pork shoulder, some charcuterie, of course cheese, maybe some homemade bread, fruits –figs and plums come to mind- and some easy-to-carry dessert. The mandatory drink was –and still is- Asturian cider.

Strawberry and Lemon Pie | Monica R. Goya

Western Asturias holds many of these summer memories. Due to the ongoing rural exodus, most people have left the countryside for the urban life. However, summer is the occasion when many come back to their villages -or their parents and grandparents' hometowns- and re-connect with former neighbours and friends.

Romerías are a time for gathering, for sharing the simple pleasures of life. My memories tell me that the picnic blanket was always under a tree. That contrast of the bright fruits against the white blanket has stayed with me since. After the copious amount of food and drink, adults would devote to the infamous siesta –something that really doesn’t happen as often as Spanish clichés suggest- and children would run around freely. I didn’t realise then, but I can see now how heavenly that was.

My grandmother used to make apple and pear pies as both fruits would be available all-year round at her farm. This is a tweak on that tradition.


Strawberry and Lemon Lattice Pie
Adapted from Bon Appétit

Ingredients for a 9" / 21 cm lattice pie
Crust
280g flour
1 tbsp sugar
1 tsp salt
250g unsalted butter
1 tbsp apple cider vinegar

Filling
180g granulated sugar
40g cornstarch (cornflour in the UK)
A pinch of kosher salt
900g strawberries, hulled and sliced
1 lemon, seeds removed and sliced as thin as you can
1 egg
Demerara or turbinado sugar for sprinkling (optional)
 

For the crust I followed Bon Appétit's recipe to the letter. You can find it here.

What I have -painfully- learnt is that if there is one thing that is extremely important when making buttery crusts, that is to manipulate the dough as quickly as possible and to keep it chilled.

First, make sure you have enough space in the fridge for a baking sheet. Then flour your surface and roll out one of the disks of dough -leave the other one in the fridge for now- until you have a circular base of around 13"/33cm. The quickiest the better. Transfer it to a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and return it to the fridge. Do the same with the other disk of dough and once you have a round, transfer it to a sheet of parchment paper and place it together with the other round in the fridge. As long as they are separated with the parchment paper, you can put one on top another.

In a large bowl, mix granulated sugar, cornstarch and salt. Add the strawberries and lemon slices and stir all the ingredients. Ensure the fruits are coated by the sugar mixture.

Preheat oven to 175C (350F). In a small bowl, beat egg with 1 tbsp of water. Slightly floured the pie tin. Take one of the round doughs outside the fridge and very carefully, transfer it to the pie tin. With your hands, lift the edges so that the dough slumps down into the pie tin. Then press it very softly with your fingers against the pie tin. Let at least 2" overhang. Place the tin in the fridge and take out the remaining round dough, cutting it into four (as the picture below) or as many strips as you wish. If you are unsure, this video is very good.

Take out the pie tin from the fridge and pour the strawberry filling, scraping all the remaining juices. Brush the edge with 1/2 egg wash. Lay the strips on top, arranging them alternatively over and under lengthwise to create your desired pattern. 

Fold up the edges of the bottom round -where you applied the egg wash- and seal them with the edges of the top round, now displayed in a lattice pattern. Brush the strips with the remaining egg wash and if you go for it, sprinkle with demerara or turbinado sugar. 

Foil-lined a baking sheet -I used parchment paper and it worked fine although foil is likely safer- to avoid the juices bubbling over on the baking sheet and the consequent nightmare to clean. Place the pie tin on it. Bake for an hour or until the juices are bubbling and the dough is golden brown. Transfer pie to a cooling rack and let sit at least four hours before serving. 

 

Strawberry and Lemon Pie | Monica R. Goya

 

 

 

 
 
 

In Search of Gamonéu del Valle PDO

The family behind Vega Ceñal Dairy is lucky enough to call the breathtaking village Gamonéu de Cangues home.  Located in Picos, they also produce one of the most special cheeses in Asturias: Gamonéu del Valle PDO 

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Gamonéu (or Gamonedo) is a slightly smoked fatty cheese that originated centuries ago in the homonymous area in the county of Cangas de Onís, in Picos, Eastern Asturias. It is produced from a blend of raw cow’s, goat’s and sheep’s milk and it is slightly spicy, with a crumbly texture and a subtle hazelnut aftertaste. This hard or semi-hard cheese has visible greenish-blue Penicillium close to the edges and its PDO comprises the counties of Cangas de Onís and Onís, both in Picos. This cheese represents like no other the essence of Asturias.

María del Mar Crespo, a member of the family who runs Vega Ceñal Dairy, says that ‘now after getting the PDO more cheese is produced, before it looked as if the cheese was deemed to disappear’. As a matter of fact, she is quite right since last year the production of this cheese, whose future was once feared to be threatened, went up 9%. 
 

This cheese was awarded PDO status in 2007, but its tradition goes centuries ago. Furthermore, there are 17th Century documents addressed to King Felipe IV that cited this cheese as the sustenance “of the county’s poorest”. The cheese is a product of the traditional local transhumance. The families who settled seasonally in the high mountains with their livestock looked for ways to keep the excess milk edible throughout the year. Cheese and butter was the answer.  

María del Mar has been working in the dairy for as far as she can remember and theirs is one of the nineteen PDO registered dairies that produce this unique cheese. At Vega Ceñal they raise their own animals and so the environmental footprint of their business is minimal as milk doesn’t need to be transported from afar. It all happens in the valley, in Gamonéu.

There are two types of Gamonéu cheese, ‘Del Valle’ (from the valley) and ‘Del Puertu’ (from the mountains). 

Gamonéu del Valle is made in the lower mountains, in the valley, all year round. This variety makes 96% of the total PDO production. Many of the producers have cleverly managed to recreate in their dairies the humidity and temperature conditions of the traditional limestone caves where all the cheeses used to be aged. In this way they are adapting their productions to health and safety EU regulations without compromising on their cheeses’ essence or quality. 

According to María del Mar, their peak production is thirty kilos a day and they are busiest in springtime. They make the cheese every other day and the production method is regulated by the PDO.

As she explains, the first step of the production is milking the animals. Then the three types of milk (cow’s, goat’s and sheep’s) are blended and warmed up, the curdling agent is added and the blend is left to set for 2 to 5 days. Then they are moulded and salted. After two or three days the cheese is smoked for at least 15 to 20 days and it’s also dried for two weeks. Then the cheese is taken to the caves –in the case of the Gamonéu del Valle the caves are usually recreated in their dairies- where it has to be for at least a month. 

At Vega Ceñal their cheeses are produced from the three types of milk and the percentages are roughly as follows: 25% goat’s, 25% sheep’s and 50% cows’ milk. The family has been in the business for generations and they have upgraded their Dairy in 2009 to the highest standards. If you feel you have to see where their magic happens –trust me, you won’t regret it- they offer guided Dairy tours every Saturday. Bookings on: +34 659 989 198.

On the other hand, Gamonéu del Puertu is one of the most exquisite and unique cheeses in the world. It is a seasonal cheese -only made in the summer months (June to September)- currently produced by only four cheese makers.

What is really exceptional about this cheese is that it is handmade in the tiny cabins in the high mountains (known as Puertu) in Picos, where the producers spend the summer months. Then it is matured in secret caves in the same area. The milk comes from animals that graze solely in the meadows up in the very same mountains in Picos. While up there, the cows, goats and sheep are out in the open, with no shelter whatsoever. Given the characteristics of the terrain, rough and accessible only on foot, carrying food for the animals isn’t an option and they are obviously grass-fed.

Furthermore, because Picos is a National Park, it is environmentally protected by law and building is forbidden –including stables or barns- thus the animals are in the outdoors at all times. One could say that Gamonéu del Puertu is basically a high mountain affair.   

Last year the production of Gamonéu del Puertu was 3,961 kg, just 4% of the total Gamonéu PDO production (Del Valle, produced throughout the year in the valley, makes 96% of the total). Moreover, the first Gamonéu del Puertu pieces of the season went for 38€/kg. If you want to try this exclusive variety, make sure you visit Asturias in October. Usually the first pieces are sold at Regional Fairs in October; the most popular is likely the annual Picos de Europa Cheese Fair –celebrating its 76th edition this year-. 

Gamoneu de Cangues / Monica R. Goya

Quesería “Vega Ceñal”
Gamonéu de Cangas
Cangas de Onís
Asturias

+34 626 444 003
+34 659 989 198

 
 
 
Pasteleria Cabo Busto / Monica R Goya

"I just want to be happy and enjoy what I do"

When talent and the will to do things right intersect, the result are projects as special as Cabo Busto bakery, a space where Jhonatan González's magic takes advantage of Asturian produce superb quality

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His bakery is a cheerful place, the bright colours and vintage feel make it look as a set  from one of Wes Anderson's films. Located in Western Asturias, near the cliffs of Busto in Valdés county, this bakery is a feel good place.

Pasteleria Cabo Busto / Monica R Goya
Pasteleria Cabo Busto / Monica R Goya

Jhonatan's courage and determination led him to open his bakery in his charming little village three years ago, becoming a prophet in his own land.

Ever since he was a child he has enjoyed helping out his uncle Ángel at his bakery. He remembers nostalgic those days "when all the family got together to help, with bollos preñaos (a typical Asturian bread chorizo roll) or with whatever there was needed. I was very young, I am sure I didn't help much, but I loved to go there, I very much liked the bakery".

Jonathan Gonzalez, Pasteleria Cabo Busto / by Monica R Goya

Jhonatan went to Culinary School in Gijón and he graduated both in Baking & Pastry and in Culinary arts. He did work experience at Casa Gerardo, one of Asturias finest restaurants, but his passion for pastries was stronger. That's why after that he worked for two years at patisserie Pomme Sucré in Gijón, where he claims to have learnt the importance of raw materials and high quality produce. But his roots where calling and in his mid twenties he went back to his hometown, Busto.

"When I started I baked in my house's oven, I only did magdalenas (Spanish sort-of muffins), my uncle used to sell them when he went to the villages around here to sell his bread. Then people started ordering cakes for parties and it all started a bit like that", says Jhonatan, and adds "at times I felt a bit overwhelmed, sometimes businesses grow slowly but this was a more like a jump, from baking magdalenas at home to make over a hundred dozens of pastries at weekends".

Pasteleria Cabo Busto / by Monica R Goya

Jhonatan takes pleasure in the small things of everyday life, like picking up some raspberries from his garden knowing that two hours later they will be on a cake. Or talk to his neighbours and clients.

"I don't care much about money, I just want to be happy and enjoy what I do. Money comes and goes and life goes so quickly, you cannot rewind", says Jhonatan. City life wasn't for him, "I much rather be here in my village, earning less, but being near my family, going for a walk with my dog to the lighthouse down the road, just doing something I love and people appreciate".

His humbleness is surprising, especially considering his age and how far he has gone already. Some people drive for over an hour just to buy his pastries and cakes. And with good reason. Jhonatan and his team have high standards and innovative ideas that don't go unnoticed.

Pasteleria Cabo Busto / by Monica R Goya

"We try to play with different textures, with pastries that aren't excessively sweet, we aim for freshness" claims the baker. He wants to reformulate the idea that a dessert is something that makes you full, "I aim for my desserts to be something fresh, that is why I use fruits and acid notes all the time".

Few pastries can better represent Asturias' essence than his hazelnut sablée. "It is 100% hazelnuts, hazelnut sablée, hazelnut crunchy pastry shell with Maldon salt, hazelnut mousse, a layer of chocolate, roasted hazelnut and a hazelnut streusel with hazelnut praliné".

Pasteleria Cabo Busto / by Monica R Goya

The baker confesses that from all the Asturian produce, he feels most attracted to hazelnuts and apples, “they are a very interesting combination”. And surely one of the creations he feels most proud of is his Asturias cake. It is made with hazelnut marzipan, apple compote and surprisingly, cider jam.

He claims that he got inspiration from the Santiago cake -ubiquitous in every street in the Galician capital- when he was looking to create a cake that could travel at room temperature and at the same time keeping fresh for long. *[I can assure that one of his delicious Asturias cakes got to London in perfect shape and condition after a week in the fridge in my last visit to Asturias]*.

For this new season Jhonatan is working in new formulas, “we are looking into merging pastries and cocktails”. He unveils some clues: mojito mousse, gin tonic, piña colada…

As well as his spectacular pastries and cakes, he has also mastered the art of the French pastries, like croissants or pains au chocolat. The intense hard work behind each of his pastries is clear in the first bite. Layers and layers of puff pastry with a crunchy exterior and a very soft texture, his croissants are simply a dream. 

Croissants by Jonathan Gonzalez, Cabo Busto/ Copyright: Monica R. Goya

Furthermore, Jhonatan makes bespoke cakes and pastries for diabetics and also does show cooking at weddings. His bakery, where he talks to his clients by their first names, is open Saturdays and Sundays only, however during the week he takes orders by phone. 

Pasteleria Cabo Busto / Copyright: Monica R Goya

The picnic area in cape Busto, around 1,2 miles away from the bakery, offers the best views to enjoy Jhonatan’s delicious creations. Those rough cliffs have been an inspiration for him. And where could his pastries be more enjoyable than at the place he calls ‘my happy place’? 

Pasteleria Cabo Busto / Copyright: Monica R Goya
Pasteleria Cabo Busto / Copyright: Monica R Goya
Cabo Busto / Copyright: Monica R Goya

Pastelería Cabo Busto

Busto, s/n, 33789 Luarca, Asturias

+34 635 59 01 94

 
 
Traditional Asturian frixuelos / Foods from Asturias 01

L'Antroxu and the Frixuelos

L'Antroxu is the Asturian carnival and frixuelos -together with pork meat- are the stars of the menu

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During Antroxu (as carnival celebrations are referred to in Asturias) the staple dessert in every Asturian home is frixuelos. Although recipes vary by the area where they are made (some add milk, some don’t, some add anisette, broth...), frixuelos essentially consist of a very thin pancake (the thinner, the better), fried in just a dash of olive oil, golden in colour and tender. They are very similar to the French crêpes but smaller in diameter –some even say the Asturian are the precursors of the French ones-.

Although just a few years ago it felt as if the art of making frixuelos was about to disappear, only kept alive by home cooks, nowadays almost every chef in the Principality has rescued them from oblivion and it is easy to find them in most menus across the region.

Traditional Asturian frixuelos / Foods from Asturias 02

The origins of the Antroxu celebrations are far from clear. It has been traditionally believed that, just like carnivals, they can be traced back to the Greek and Roman festivities held to honour Pan and Dionysius, with some authors arguing that carnivals have their origins as far back as 5,000 years ago, around the time of Egyptians and Sumerians. Etymologically speaking, most agree that carnival is derived from the Latin “carnem levare”, which means something along the lines of “neglecting the flesh”. In Asturian language, l’Antroxu and its variations (antroido, antroiro, antroyu, antrueyu or entrogio) also have a Latin root, introitus, which means entry.

As well as carnival, Antroxu also refers to the parts of the pig which during carnival are given as presents to neighbours that have helped with the seasonal pig’s slaughter or to those who haven’t done it themselves. After all, Antroxu is all about eating well and in abundance in order to endure the forthcoming sacrifices of Lent, which starts the day after, on Ash Wednesday.

In Asturias, Antroxu’s classic menu would consist of pork in its many incarnations, such as Asturian stew (chorizo, bacon, black pudding et al) or a full pig’s head. For in Asturias, the nose-to-tail movement heralded by many like Fergus Henderson from London’s St. John, has been performed for centuries.

Traditional Asturian frixuelos / Foods from Asturias 03

In my granny’s village in Western Asturias, the menu was invariably pig’s head (presented on the table in all its glory) with sides consisting of baked potatoes (named cachelos, the same as in neighbouring Galicia) and cimos (parsnip’s sprouts) and for dessert, you guessed it, frixuelos.

It was a custom in some villages in Western Asturias to make a scarecrow named Don Carnal or Antroiro, dressed up in rags, his head a parsnip. As my dad remembers it, everyone regarded Don Carnal as a folk who ate a lot, kind and smiley. Traditionally, it was the guys in the village who would build Don Carnal and put it up next to some other neighbour’s door or house. It was them who decided what neighbour would be awarded Don Carnal based on who was the grumpiest, the one who couldn’t take a joke and would make a scene, therefore embarrassing himself in front of the rest and being laughed at for the next few days.

Nowadays every town and municipality holds its local parade and celebrations where carnival-goers dress up and sing and have fun, for that is what Antroxu is all about. The cities where Antroxu is said to be more popular these days are Gijón and Avilés.


Asturian Frixuelos, a step by step recipe

I still have a vivid memory of the first time I tried preparing frixuelos - it was a complete disaster. I was in London and Pancake Day celebrations were in full swing, which are on the same day as Antroxu Tuesday. This was the day that frixuelos would be had almost religiously back home, and I just decided to give it a go. The problem was that my little North London kitchen had too much nostalgia but not a decent frying pan. And that was the recipe to my sad disappointment, making me almost give up forever on the art of making frixuelos and leaving my work colleagues without the treat of trying the Asturian Pancakes I had been annoucing for so long.

To avoid all this, it is crucial that the dough is left to rest for at least one hour, as is having a decent non-stick frying pan. My mum -who stood by my side on the other end of our skype call listening to my whining- even went as far buying me a special dedicated frixuelo frying pan in an artisan's market in Vegadeo, Western Asturias, which I hold very dearly. It is basically a cast iron pan, very thin and flat and, I can't stress it enough, non-stick.

Traditional Asturian frixuelos / Foods from Asturias 04

Ingredients

Yield:  between 12 and 15 frixuelos / 6 people

4 medium organic eggs
500ml whole -ideally fresh- organic milk
200g flour
Zest of one lemon (optional)
1 tbsp anisette La Asturiana (optional)
2 tbsp sugar (optional)
A pinch of salt

Fillings (whipped cream, sugar, honey, chocolate spread, jams, confitures...)

In a big bowl, beat together the eggs and milk and add the sugar and salt until incorporated. Sieve the flour –to avoid lumps- and whisk it in and mix well until they are well incorporated. Then add anisette (you can buy La Asturiana's here) and lemon.

All the ingredients are well mixed when you get a soft, runny and lump-free mix. Cover and let it rest for at least one hour, ideally longer. (This will make dealing with frying the paste much easier).

To fry the frixuelos, heat a non-stick pan to medium heat and while you wait, whisk the batter slowly to make sure there are no lumps. Add a dash of olive oil and spread it across the pan with a brush or rolled kitchen roll (I use the latter). When warm enough, ladle the runny batter into the pan (3/4 tablespoons, the amount is pretty intuitive).

At this point being fast and a calm multi-tasker is key. Hold up the pan and swirl to make sure the runny batter covers the base of the pan and doesn’t get stuck in the centre. As soon as you see the rims turning golden, you can flip it to cook on the other side. I use a flat wooden spoon, some people use tongs or slotted spoons. It is very delicate and each person needs to find whatever works best. Tilting the pan usually works and prevents the paste from sticking. My grandma used to flip them over in the air, just by swinging the pan, but everyone knows that grandmothers are in a different league.

Each frixuelo takes under a minute to make on each side. Usually frixuelos are piled-up in a single plate where they keep warm. Continue with the rest of the batter, whisking it before ladling if needed. 

You can serve them warm or cold -they reheat very well- and they are super versatile. You can have them on its own or fill them with almost anything. From whipped cream, to sugar or honey, jams and confitures, lemon curd, chocolate spread… you name it. In Asturian kitchens the pile of frixuelos is presented on the table in one single plate and each person takes its own and fills it with whatever they like the most.

 
 

An Asturian cider house

Sidra Frutos is a family run cider house that produces over 500,000 litres of Asturian natural cider a year

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Cider is so intrinsically linked to Asturian culture that the beverage is key to understand this land and its residents. Gustavo Costales is one who has cider in his DNA. His family has been running Sidra Frutos from 1935, when his great-grandfather, Fructuoso –hence the company’s name, Frutos- founded the cider house that he manages today. Located in Quintueles, between Gijón and Villaviciosa, this llagar (Asturian for cider house) produces around 500,000 litres of sidra (cider) a year.

Gustavo is kind and straight-forward, with a smile on his face and the self-confidence that being the fourth-generation in the family business must entitled to, he explains that “I started to work here when I was around 20. When I was younger, 14 or 15, I used to come during the summer and I gave a hand with cleaning bottles, distribution, bottling…”. Many cider houses in Asturias are family business and those who grow up within the industry know better than anyone that there are harvests and harvests. However, Asturians have no mercy at the sidrerías. In the land where apples grow, being good isn’t enough. The cider has to have certain attributes that people simply expect. Excellence is just the norm.

The most frantic months at the llagar start with the apple harvesting, at the end of the summer/beginning of autumn and last for around two months. “In those days we work really long hours –says Gustavo, who adds- we only get to sleep 5 or 6 hours, but that is the way it is”.     

As Gustavo explains the process of cider making, he recognises that “the seasons set the pace for cider making”. When the season starts, the apples get into the llagar and they are cleaned with pressurised water, then only suitable apples are selected and sent to be ground down. The resulting pulp is then transferred to the cider press to extract the juice; the latter can take up to three days. Finally, the apple juice is moved to the barrels to ferment. Normally fermentation can take from three weeks to over six. As Gustavo explains, “the warmer the weather, the faster the sugar is consumed, the colder, the slower” and he adds “that is why I said that it is nature that sets the pace, from the apple ripeness, to its collection or fermentation… nature rules”.

From there the cider develops little by little into the Asturian cider we know. The bottling moment can come after four months in the barrels or after twelve, it doesn’t have a fix period. “Once I have the barrels full, I have cider to bottle all year long, you have to take into account that in two months you are making the cider that you will bottle in December, but also the one you’ll bottle almost a year later”.  

In the middle of my visit comes José Antonio, a specialist technician whose job involves assuring that cider meets high quality standards before leaving the cider house. His simple definition of the perfect cider is “the absence of imperfections”.

We taste the cider that will be bottled during the week and when I mention how different Asturian and English ciders are, they explain that one of the reasons for this is that the carbonation of Asturian cider happens in the barrel and it is bottled after. Frutos cider is a well balanced natural cider. Sweetness, acidity and sourness are even, it is refreshing to the taste and it has a dry and clean finish.  

One of the most remarkable particularities of the Asturian cider is the way it is served. At sidrerías as well as at home, there is only one way to have the cider and that is pouring it from above. The ritual requires good practice, one arm holds the bottle upwards, while the other holds the glass downwards, pouring the drink in small quantities. This is known as “escanciar un culín”. The most important detail is that once you are handled the glass, you need to drink it quickly. The air bubbles and sparkling taste do not last long.

Sidra Frutos can organise “espichas” (a gathering with friends, traditionally held in the llagares –cider houses- when the first barrel was opened) under request. The best time for these celebrations is February and March, when the first barrels are being opened, so if you are in Asturias, do not hesitate to contact them.

Sidra Frutos
Barrio Friuz, 28
33314 Quintueles (Villaviciosa)
Principado de Asturias

(+34) 985 89 48 26
info@sidrafrutos.com