Emmanuel Tresmontant - 2009-11-27
Between sea and mountain, Asturian gastronomy revives you with its freshness and authenticity.
The two traditional specialities of Asturias are Cabrales blue cheese (dubbed the 'Spanish Roquefort') and... cider!
Cider is produced in all the principality (but especially in Oviedo, Gijón and Villaviciosa where the main presses are to be found) from several varieties of acid, sweet and bitter apples harvested in September and solely used for this purpose. After six months fermentation in chestnut vats, the apple juice with a low alcohol content (between 4.5 and 6 degrees) and possessing its own carbonic gas is bottled and sold: 'new cider' is therefore delivered in spring. The inhabitants of Asturias not only claim the historic invention of cider (which nevertheless already existed among the Hebrews, Persians and Arabs who called it sicera 'the beverage that intoxicates') but also consider their cider to be the 'world's best'. Very dry and slightly acid, this 100% natural cider is above all a mealtime drink that works remarkably well with the typical dishes like broad beans with clams and hake cooked in cider. It is served very dexterously, the bottle neck being held at a distance of at least one metre from your glass! Since 2002, it has qualified for the official label Denominación de Origen Protegida (DOP - Protected Designation of Origin) 'Cider from Asturias'.
As for cheeses, the province of Asturias can also boast to be the European region with the most cheeses per square mile! The most famous of them is the renowned Cabrales produced high in the Picos de Europa from a blend of cow and ewe milk. To discover this strong and pungent blue cheese, I recommend you visit the pretty mountain hamlet of Asiegu where the brothers Manuel et Javier Niembro produce it artisanally and show people round their farm. Their Cabrales is aged 2 to 6 months in natural caves with 90% humidity where the temperature varies from 7 to 13°C depending on the season. These conditions promote the development of moulds like Penicillium responsible for the blue colour and the cheese's powerful taste. The best Cabrales is that produced from summer milk when the herds of cows and ewes graze in the high pastures of the Picos de Europa at a height of 2,000 metres...
Traditional cuisine full of energy and freshness!
The star products of Asturias are fish and shellfish but also a wealth of cereals, fruits and vegetables like rice, lentils, broad beans, maize, potatoes, tomatoes, asparagus, lemons, peppers, strawberries, melons and even kiwis... Indifferent to fashions, Asturian cuisine has always combined land and sea produce in a tasty fusion, the famous stew of broad beans and clams (fabes con almejas) being the symbol. Crab soup, carpaccio of gambas, grilled tuna ventresca, octopus with potatoes, hake fillet in cider, rice with lobster, cod with mashed garlic, broad beans with chorizo (known as 'fabada' which is similar to cassoulet), Asturian stew, tuna-stuffed onions, maize pie with egg and peppers, without forgetting the sublime rice pudding with cinnamon, are also specialities you can enjoy at La Taberna del Pinbal, an excellent establishment located in the mountain village of Arenas de Cabrales (expect to pay 30-40 euros for a meal without wine). Don't forget however that here, as elsewhere in Spain, meals are eaten late (not before 3 pm and 9 pm): you have to adapt to the local rhythm!
To taste the cider and Cabrales, and visit an authentic mountain hamlet:
Niembre brothers farm at Asiegu
La Taberna del Pindal
Arenas de Cabrales