Behind the scenes at Cueva del Molín, Cabrales 

From this weekend anyone can visit the caves at Cueva del Molín dairy to experience the richness of the Cabrales cheese maturing process

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Asturias' nickname, land of cheeses, is well deserved as this tiny Principality produces over 40 different cheeses. Not surprisingly, one of the best blue cheeses in the world, Cabrales Cueva del Molín, is made in the region. 

If you ask any Asturian kid what does Cabrales smell like, they will probably grimace in disapproval. Usually kids don’t like strong flavours or smells and everyone can tell when there is Cabrales on the table. Luckily, many grown-ups get to love strong, intense blue cheeses. If you are one of them, it is worth travelling to Asturias, not only to try Cabrales Cueva del Molín but also to enjoy the road that leads you there. 

 

Cabrales is a Spanish semi-hard, fatty blue cheese and without doubt the most popular Asturian cheese.   

Cueva del Molín is a family run dairy, based in Cabrales. They produce sixty tons of cheese a year and they process around 4,000 litres of milk every day. To qualify as a D.O.P product (Protected Designation of Origin, PDO), Cabrales must be made in the homonymous county or three villages in Peñamellera Alta, Oceño, Cáraves and Rozagás. Cabrales cheese can be produced from cows’ milk or a combination of sheep, cows and goats’ milk as well. Cueva del Molín is made from cows’ milk only and the milk is provided by Central Lechera Asturiana. The elaboration process starts with raw, unpasteurized milk.

Manuel Rodríguez, the artisan cheese maker head of the dairy, explains that he started in the cheese business in 1997. Born and bread in Cabrales, he knows his cheese and good proof of it is that in the latest World Cheese Awards in London his Cabrales won the Super Gold medal, meaning that his is one of the best blue cheeses in the world.

The only milk they can use to produce this D.O.P. cheese has to come from cows that graze on the green and wild Cabrales’ pastures or those three villages in Peñamellera Alta. You can find Cabrales Cueva del Molín cheese in most places in Asturias, but to understand its nuances it is worth travelling to the foot of Picos de Europa National Park, where this cheese is produced.  It takes at least more than two months to produce one single Cabrales cheese. Manuel says that the flavour of the cheese varies depending on how long they leave it in the caves for. Its colours and texture vary as well. The cheese is white at first but after some time in the cave it gains its characteristic blue colour. 

At Cueva del Molín they follow the same traditional maturing method than one hundred years ago. If you wonder how their cheese is made you can visit the caves from this Saturday. Only small groups (12 people at a time) are allowed and booking is essential. The visits will typically run for one hour (weekends only) and the artisans will share the details about the ancient art of maturing cheese in caves. 

Cueva del Molín caves aren't as rustic as the ones hidden in the middle of the mountains, the access is relatively comfortable (double check but likely disable access is available) and there is light inside. My first impression was of surprise as for some reason I imagine getting there would be a sort of gymkhana. The smell isn't as strong as I did expect and after seeing the whole process, I appreciate even more how much care and know-how is put into the making of this cheese. The uniqueness of the caves together with the breathtaking landscape is worth the journey. 

Cueva Del Molin Dairy
Carreña de Cabrales

33555 - Asturias
Tel. +34 985845132

 

 
 

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

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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. 

Quesería de Redes

Reciegos, El Llano, 18, 33990 - Campo de Caso, Asturias