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The Blue from Asturias

"Complex masterpiece.
One of the worlds most Striking Cheeses"

Cabrales cheese is produced only in the village of the same name and three villages of the Peñamellera Alta township, located on the northern spur of the Europa Peaks in eastern Asturias.

This is certainly the most well-known Spanish blue cheese due to the manner in which goat farmers jealously guard its origin and authenticity.

It is easily recognized by its foil wrapping with the Cabrales "Denominación de Origen" Regulatory Board logo. This organization is the only one authorized to monitor and authenticate the origin and quality of Cabrales cheese.

This cheese is produced in limited quantities, using traditional farmhouse methods, in small family-run dairies of the township. Raw milk, mainly cow's milk, is used to produce it. However, as most farmers keep mixed herds, blends with goat's and ewe's milks are used in the spring and summer.

A mixture of lactic and enzymatic coagulation techniques at low temperatures start the cheese-making process. The whey is drained slowly and naturally. Then salting of the rind is done by hand. Subsequently, the cheese is aired in ventilated areas for 3 or 4 weeks followed by storage in the caves.

The slow aging process continues in the caves, under cold, oxygenated and very humid conditions. The cheeses are turned periodically until the paste has been completely grown with mold, acquiring its deep blue veining and resulting in a thick texture with the characteristic creamy and piquant flavor.

Labeled "Denominación de Origen Protegida" (D.O.P.)

  • Cabrales Cheese is only from Cabrales and three villages of the Concejo de Peñamellera Alta, in the southeastern Principality of Asturias, in the northside of the Picos de Europa mountains.
  • The Denomination of Origin was established in 1981. The season when most of the cheeses are produced, and with the best quality is the summer, when herds graze in the high areas of the Picos de Europa.
  • Picos de Europa is a rocky mountain range that suffers from strong erosion due to rain. This produces deep caverns and caves that are used as natural cellars and storage rooms. The selection of the caves is based on several factors: altitude, caves facing the north, frequent "air-blows" that oxigenate the air, constant cold temperatures and high humidity level. All this factors favor the cheese curing process.
  • The curing process takes place from the outside inwards, basically by penicillium molds, which produce the typical smell and creamy texture of the cheese. Other molds and yeasts are also involved in the curing process, mostly in the rind.
  • Several characteristics make Cabrales unique, like the primary ingredients, high mountain cows´ unpasteurized milks, small production, the use of natural curd, respect for the traditional production method, unaltered for centuries, and the complex microbiologiclal process which occurs in the natural caves. All this results in one of the most attractive and energetic among the spanish cheeses.
Production process.
  • An aged cheese, from semi-cured to cured, made with unpasteurized milk, from cows, and eventually from sheep or goats depending on the availability. Of mixed coagulation, mostly enzimatic, and soft paste, blue veined internally.
  • It is made with unpasteurized whole milk. The process begins in the morning with milk obtained that same morning or the night before, left to settle in fresh air. Coagulation temperature varies from 77 to 95 º F (25 to 35 ºC)
  • A small amount of natural curd from a young goat is added to the milk, to obtain a soft coagulation, at least 1 hour later, best from 2 to 4 hours. The new curd then has to be smoothly beaten to obtain heterogeneous lumps of medium to large sizes. Then it must be left to settle, to dry, to increase acidity and to contract.
  • The floating serum is discarded and the remaining paste is used to fill the moulds or "arnios" with a large spoon. The paste must be left soft and loose, leaving air holes to avoid excess compressing.
  • The filled moulds must be left to drain under its own weight for 24 to 48 hours. During that time, the cheeses must be turned around often, and kept at a moderate temperature, 64 to 77ºF (18 to 25ºC)
  • After the draining, the salting begins which lasts three days. Salt is distributed over the top, and left to be absorved. After 24 hours, the cheeses are turned and salted in the same way on the other side. After two more days they are taken out the mould, salted on the sides, and taken to an airing room, where they must rest two to three weeks. The room must be fresh and well aired, to let the cheese develop a rind without molding, to intensify the acidity and to obtain the first lactic fermentation.
  • After that, they are taken to the natural caves, where they must remain to age and cure for at least two more months.
  • The resulting cheeses are cylindrical, weighting 4 to 8 lb. (2 to 4 Kg) a piece, originally wrapped in maple-tree leaves. Today a foil wrapping is added, with the logo and numbered as proof of origin. The rind is sticky, yellow, with an intense smell. The interior is compact, but very open, with lots of holes and blue veines. The taste is strong, although not as strong as the smell, slightly piquant, acid and creamy.
  • Cabrales is one of the great blue cheeses of the world.
  • It is especially good with salami and a full bodied red wine.
  • As a dessert, it is delicious with a sweet sherry, achieving a perfec sweet-sour-salty taste combination.
  • It is also great in a number of recipes, used to reinforce flavors of sauces and salads.
  • Melted over meats is another of best ways of enjoying Cabrales.
  • Cabrales mixed with cream can result in a delicious soft spread.
  • A recommended wine would be Pedro Ximenez. The sharp taste of the cheese, which is both piquant and sour, is toned down in combination with the sweetness of the wine, giving pleasant, very complex sensations. The combination is a balanced and complex combination of sour, salty, sweet and bitter tastes.

Walnut and Cabrales Grapes

Serves 8

1 cup finely chopped walnuts
1/3 lb. (or 150g) Cabrales, crumbled
1/4 lb. (or 100g) cream cheese
20 loose grapes (about 2 ounces or 1/2 pound - or 250g. with stems)

In a preheated 325º F (~160ºC) oven toast the walnuts for 7 to 9 minutes or until lightly golden. In a bowl with an electric mixer cream together the Cabrales and the cream cheese until the mixture is smooth. Put one tablespoon of the cheese mixture in the palm of one hand and in it roll a grape, shaping the mixture around the grape to coat it. Coat the remaining grapes in the same manner and chill them on a sheet pan for 15 minutes. Roll the cheese coated grapes in the walnut mixture to coat them completely and chill for 30 minutes or until the coating is firm.
Using a sharp knife, cut in half and serve immediately. Makes about 40 coated grapes.

For an alternative cheese and fruit combination:
6 figs, quartered
5 ounces of Cabrales
Place a generous 2 teaspoon of Cabrales on each fig and smear with a knife to keep in place.

We recommend serving with a cider from Asturias.

Where to find Spanish Cheeses in USA Most of the Gourmet Food Stores in the US carry some or most of the best Spanish Cheeses.
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