One of the cheeses that I like the most is Cabrales cheese, a cheese protected by D.O.P. It is made in Asturias, in the area of the Picos de Europa and matures in caves with high humidity and low temperature, so that the cheese reaches the optimum point for consumption. But, How is a Cabrales cheese made? Then I explain and I will also tell you some myths and truths about the most famous Asturian cheese
The elaboration of this rich soft cheese is a process similar to other green or blue cheeses in which it is developed with the intervention of penicillium. After the cheese is made, its maturation in caves is an interesting process, that I will also tell you carefully since they exist myths, hoaxes and legends about the cheese we want to clarify, to avoid mistakes. If you like this cheese, you will surely like to find out what I am going to tell you today.
A) How is a Cabrales cheese made?
For the Cabrales elaboration uses two milking cow's milk, the one in the morning and the one in the night. To make a cheese of about 2 and a half kilos it is necessary to use 25 liters of milk. It is possible to use mixture of cow's milk with sheep's milk, goat's milk, or both.
The milk is heated and when it is at the right temperature the animal rennet is added, which can be both natural from the stomach of a suckling kid, and obtained from industrial preparations. Little amount is put so that it sets slowly at a warm temperature. When the curd is formed, it is broken with lyres or it is broken up into crumbs - a process called stripping - and allowed to stand, separating it from the whey.
Then he gets in cylindrical molds and not pressed, filling the molds with excess or tuft. Then the molds with the cheese are placed on some boards or talameras so that they drip and release the serum that they have left and they are dried.
Once the cheese is dry after a few days, remove the cheese from the mold and proceed to salt, first on one side and after a few days on the other side. From there begins the ripening process of Cabrales cheese.
B) How and where does the cheese ripen once it is made?
The maturation process is carried out in the natural caves in the Picos de Europa. Not worth any cave but those regulated by the Council of the D.O.P. In these caves, the temperature ranges between 8 and 12 ° C with a relative humidity of 90%. Recently I was visiting Cueva el Cares, in which the whole elaboration process is explained and the living conditions of the shepherds of the Picos de Europa in Asturias are shown, and there I could see the process that I show you in these photos.
Under these conditions of temperature and humidity, cheese is produced in development of penicillium fungi, which are what give it its color and flavor, causing it to have that green or blue veining. If cheese does not ripen in these caves, it is not a cheese from the D.O.P. Cabrales which demands controlled maturation in this environment. The presence of spiders in the caves is a good sign, since arachnids prevent flies, which could damage cheeses.
The maturation is very peculiar because Cabrales cheeses upside down than other types of cheese, instead of drying and hardening as they ripen, the opposite happens here. As time goes by in the cave it makes Cabrales cheese more and more mature and softer. The minimum time is about 2-3 months and usually does not last more than 6 months because it is too strong.
As the cheese matures, it changes its outer appearance and becomes softer and takes on a darker color. The paste can be white, yellowish or even slightly orange, depending on the type of milk and proportion with which it was made, the cheeses of each producer being similar but different from those of another. In the caves, cheeses from different producers ripen, placed on different shelves.
C) Myths and hoaxes about Cabrales Cheese
Myth 1: Authentic Cabrales is wrapped in grape leaves
Actually this myth had some truth, but today he doesn't have it. I say he had some truth in a historical sense, since Cabrales cheese, before being protected by the D.O.P. which regulates and protects it, it used to be sold wrapped in sheets, but they were not from grapevine but from a tree called banana, very similar to maple.
As a child, I remember perfectly that at home we sometimes had a Cabrales cheese wrapped in those sheets that my grandmother kept on the terrace to prevent the smell from spreading throughout the house.
For hygiene reasons, since the leaves were moistened and impregnated with the liquids that sweated the cheese and took a bad smell, it was decided prohibit the sale of Cabrales cheese so presented and since then it is sold wrapped in dark green aluminum foil with the marks of the D.O.P. that protects it, a band of white, red and green colors, with the seal of the Regulatory Council and a numbering.
There is also logically the back label with the manufacturer's data. In the center of the label, however, remember that time when they were wrapped with leaves Therefore, an image of those banana leaves is maintained on the seal of the regulatory Council. Look at the center of the photo, to see where the sheet is, on which also comes the identification number of the cheese.
Myth 2. Cabrales cheese matured among horse droppings
This is another myth, totally unfounded. Probably the bad smell that the leaves gave off where it came wrapped and its wet and unpleasant appearance spread this rumor or hoax. It has never healed like this before or now since Cabrales cheese reaches its splendor after ripening in a cold and humid environment in the caves and not among these excrements.
Myth 3. The cheese of the D.O.P. Cabrales is a worm cheese
Absolutely. Although there are cheeses with worms, - As the Casu Marzu of Sardinia -, the Cabrales cheese does not have and should not have any type of worms on its surface or inside. If this happened, it would be because some fly would have deposited its larvae inside and would not be suitable for consumption.
D) Truths about Cabrales cheese
Truth 1. The cheese of the D.O.P. Cabrales is made only in Asturias
To be a cheese covered by the D.O.P., it is necessary that the cheese is made with milk from Asturias, in one of the municipalities that are authorized by the Regulatory Council which are the council of Cabrales and the towns of Cáraves, Oceño and Rozagás in the council of Peñamellera Alta. Similar cheeses are made in the area in other municipalities belonging to the province of León or Cantabria, but although they are similar cheeses, they are not Cabrales cheeses. The same happens with another very important cheese that is also made in Asturias, the D.O.P. Gamonéu, another blue cheese from the Picos de Europa area that is not Cabrales.
Truth 2. The cheese of the D.O.P. Cabrales has no crust
Actually it does have a crust but since it is very soft and unctuous, it hardly distinguishes itself from the paste inside. As the cheese matures, the crust of the pasta barely distinguishes over time, so in a way, it could be said to be a cheese without crust.
Truth 3. The cheese of the D.O.P. Cabrales is made with cow's milk or also with sheep or goat's milk
It is true that Cabrales cheese is made with cow's milk, or so it is most of the time, but cheese made with a high percentage of cow's milk and some sheep or goat's milk is also allowed. Shepherds, during the period in which these animals have milk, can use it mixed with cow's milk for cheese making. Personally, Cabrales cheese with the three milks is the one I like the most. On the cheese label, just above the banana leaf identifies with what types of milk it is made.
Truth 4. Unlike with other cheeses, the more mature the Cabrales is softer
The cheese ripening process of the D.O.P. Cabrales makes it become increasingly soft and buttery, to the point of becoming a cream. In this process, while it gets softer, its flavor is stronger and spicy becoming a very complicated cheese to eat except for the most accustomed.
When they give you a Cabrales cheese and not creamy, it is not that it is dry for very ripe, but quite the opposite, for lack of maturation in the cave. There it softens with the precise care that includes turning it around and cleaning its surface from time to time, while maintaining the humidity and the temperature at which the penicillium fungus develops.
Now that you know how a Cabrales cheese is made and some myths and truths about the most famous Asturian cheese, you just need to dare to consume it. Perhaps these recipes that we have prepared with him finish you decide.
And to you, What do you think of Cabrales cheese? Have you heard more myths or legends about this cheese? Do you remember when it was wrapped in sheets? Tell us your anecdotes in comments, if you feel like sharing them.