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

 

 
 

El Malaín

This berry orchard, located a few miles from Villaviciosa, is a paradise for slow-food advocates and anyone who enjoys pick-your-own farms

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El Malaín is a peaceful place where nature's rules are respected. A space to come to terms with modern times. A hidden slow-food gem, El Malaín is a three-hectares farm where you can collect organic blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, gooseberries and red and black currants. 

The bells of the cows tinkling here and there while happily grazing in the surrounding fields or the birds singing are the only noise that will keep you company while hand picking the berries. The idyllic aisles of small trees, a far cry from supermarket's ones, are a true treat to your senses. Tasting the small fruits in moderation is permitted and the owners surely know why they allow it: few things are more rewarding than the simple act of picking your fruit and eating it. Pure harmony with nature. Effortlessly delicious. 

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Marta Serrano and Pablo Álvarez started their berry business 25 years ago. Originally from Ciudad Real and Astorga respectively, they fell in love with Asturias and decided to look for a place there to start a new life. They quitted their white collar jobs -decor and advertising- in Madrid and transformed the then grazing field in the berry farm we know today. "Getting people to know the fruits was the most difficult part" says Marta. Asturias' soil is optimal to grow berries, so much so that it is common to find wild berries in rural areas. However, up until recently they weren't sold at supermarkets and some people were not familiar with these small fruits. If you live in Britain it is likely that you have had Asturian berries since a high percentage of the region's production (in some cases over 90%) is exported, mainly to Britain. 

"Some people thought they were exotic fruits from faraway countries" comments Marta, and adds "it was hard to convince Asturians that the fruits were grown here and that is why we decided to open the orchard to the public, so they could see it". These days El Malaín is an institution among the berries connoisseurs in Asturias. Most of the people who visit are loyal Asturians who year after year go to El Malaín, but there are also off the beaten track adventurers who appreciate high-quality berries at reasonable prices. Furthermore, families are welcome and children truly love this place. The farm is family friendly and one of the must-do activities if you visit Asturias with children. 

Berries have become popular in recent times for their nutritional and medicinal properties. All the berries you can buy at El Malaín are highly nutritious but each has different properties:

Blueberries

They are good for prostate and eye health, to improve memory and to treat urinary tract infections.

Raspberries

They minimize the absorption of fat, their leaves may help to tone uterus (it is recommended to drink raspberry leaf tea during the last two months of pregnancy only) and it is believed to have some cancer-fighting substances.

Blackberries

They help repair sun-damaged skin (and luckily they are in season right on time for that), they help lower blood pressure, they contribute to a healthy gut as they contain insoluble and soluble fibre and they contain salicylic acid, which may help protect against heart disease.

Currants

They help regulate blood pressure, they protect against neuro-degeneration and cataracts and they are a great immunity-boosting tonic thanks to its mixture of vitamic C and antioxidants.

How does El Malaín work? The system they follow is very simple. When you arrive to the farm you get a plastic basket to place all the berries you take. It doesn't matter if you mix them because they are all priced the same. Once you finish your visit you go back to the tiny shop to pay. They also sell homemade jams, vinegars and juices.  And ice-cream. But their ice-creams deserve a special mention. Probably a whole feature. I am an ice-cream person, from Ruby Violet to Berthillon to Carapina, I have had ice-cream in every city I have visited or lived. Always. And these are unbeatable, the perfect balance of softness and silky consistency, an explosion of pure flavour. If you are in good health, I recommend you to have one when you get there and one before you go. Excesses sometimes do feel good. They only do raspberry and blueberry and they do it right. 

Once you have experienced the real thing, it is difficult to go back to the ordinary. Enjoy it while you can! 

El Malaín

San Justo, Villaviciosa  CP 33314

Opening times: June - September 10am-8pm

Frozen berries available throughout the year