If a culinary contest par excellence in the region, that is without a doubt the Cabrales Cheese Contest. It is also one of the cheese festivals with the longest tradition of the peninsula, which gives it a double prestige. The expectation without borders is revalidated every year with a massive influx.
Always display It is celebrated on the last Sunday of August and almost nobody loses it.
Locals and tourists come within range of Cabrales. Many, who still do not know, give their first bites fattening the ranks of followers of the Cheese in capital letters. Others, more experienced and with more abstract or competitive ends, are pricked by the bug of curiosity and want know in situ the best cheese, the most homogenous lot, the cheese factory that has best prepared it throughout the year. Both of them enlarge the euphoria and rivalry of a handful of artisan producers who choose impatient and nervous to the award. Public and cheese makers make the myth of Calabres go one step further towards the gastronomic throne.
The town of Arenas de Cabrales is gradually loading festive and cultural atmosphere in the week prior to the event, and on Sunday, the processors display their pieces in a competition without equal, which rewards the growing quality of this cheese and the firm roots to its artisan origins. Strolling through the contest is a good apology for chopping here and there. If you're lucky, maybe you've even tried the future winning cheese with so much coming and going. A cheese that will be worth its weight in gold and that will give good some famous restaurant of the Principality or the country.
Although the dairy king of the year goes to the highest bidder, fortunately we have had the chance to taste it, and if not ... then we will always have the pleasant memory of tasting the best cheeses and take one home and invite friends to sink their teeth in the coming days.
Which Cabrales cheese is better? What is rewarded?
In this contest they are sold in a day more than three tons of cabraliego flavor, which is said soon. Everything happens in just a few hours, when born consumers and those who in principle have only gone to see what happens, are lost equally in the bustle of the event and come up to the posts. Men of talent and tradition, arrived from the villages of Cabrales and Peñamellera Alta, are waiting for us kindly. They come from Sotres, from Tielve, Asiego, Oceño, Rozagas, Berodia ... They are not short on words or skimp on inviting us. They pull with a knife with mastery, and the piece they offer always convinces us. Pero nos hacemos los interesantes y seguimos caminando para madurar la decisión. Al final damos marcha atrás o nos quedamos donde estamos, pues éste sí parece que está muy bueno. «Me parte usted un trozo. No un poco más. Así». «A mí déme ese queso, ¿cuánto pesa?». Y kilo tras kilo el certamen va cayendo en una espiral láctea muy persuasiva.
Unlike the general public, the jury seems to have a greater rank in this of the palate, according to the ceremonial protocols with which its particular consumption is governed. The cheese must have a good cut, you have to smell it and taste it. And the procession advances taking note, with several theories in the head, objective criteria and much experience in the tasting; what turns out to be the best endorsement to be an expert. The jury usually puts the accent on qualities associated with cheese since always, which have been fermenting in the culinary understanding of the area. In the first place, health and commercial presentation prerequisites are required. A requirement that all meet in Cabrales since the cheese was granted the Denomination of Origin in 1981. At the same time, a Regulatory Council which is in charge of protecting the productive process: from the most suitable pastures and cattle to the final labeling.
For the nostalgic the festival has lost a certain variegated character. Before each processor presented the cheese at will, both in volume and content, which encouraged suspicion and some other misgivings for fear of fraud. Now the Cabrales has the same presence in all posts and its quality is indisputable. What has been lost in stylistic variety has gained in flavor and guarantees.
In addition, a particular idiosyncrasy is still rewarded: that which grants a cave, a farm, a family or, in short, a mime and a distinctive care. That day the most famous cheese of Asturias is still unique, because it is never exactly the same as another. And here lies mainly the importance of the contest. It rewards a taste of quality, sober, resounding and authentic that will be object of study for other craftsmen who have not yet caught the point. And competitively the taste of Cabrales progresses, perhaps backwards, going back in time to the most authentic cheese of the first shepherds, or maybe looking for new fruitions, molding the taste based on small innovative nuances that become great.
The flavor of Cabrales advances with its contest and its party, full of people, bagpipes and cider. And it is more than possible that the texture, the humidity, the fat quality, the cut and at the end its extraordinary taste without precedents, are not but external qualities of the own human community and the pastoral habits in which it was invented. So the convenient thing is to go to the contest to taste its two sides, which has food and culture. Do not miss it.Text: © Ramón Molleda for desdeasturias.com