Asturias, The Country of the 40 Cheeses

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This past friday night, I ate cheese. A LOT of cheese. And in case it hasn’t been obvious in some of my recent posts, I love food, especially the food here in Spain, so I would expect to see more posts about that topic if I were you. My host mom had found something in the newspaper for an event last week called “Asturias, el país de los 40 quesos,” which translates to “Asturias, The Country of the 40 Cheeses.” 40 cheeses? How could I turn that down? So after asking around if anyone wanted to go with me and picking which day to to go, three other students (Alyssa, Alissa and Katie) from the program and I hopped on a bus to Colloto, a little ‘town’ outside of Oviedo to feast at Tierra Astur, a restaurant specializing in Asturian cuisine.

For the price of 18 euros (about 25 US dollars), we each got a sticker and had unlimited access. Let me explain what that means. We were allowed to eat as much of the cheese we wanted/could (and nuts and fruit spreads to be eaten with it), along with salad accompanying it, sidra (AWESOME cider made in northern Spain), wine and desserts made with the cheeses. And there was live music. Although I would have preferred to have seen the folk group playing celtic music on thursday night, I didn’t mind listening to Toli Morilla, a guitarist and singer who played original music. We listened, ate, drank and were merry. It was great. Also, before leaving, we had to vote for one of the cheeses that we thought was the best. I picked a creamy, semi-soft cheese made in Vidiagu, Llanes, a town in the eastern part of Asturias. It was a traditional cheese, made with cow milk, and I paired it with chestnuts and a fruit (apple?) spread. ¡Qué riquísimo! Here I am, clearly enjoying myself:

To talk a little more in depth about the cheeses, the back part of the restaurant had long tables filled with different varieties from different regions of Asturias. There were cheeses made with goat milk, cow milk, sheep milk or mixes of the three! There were some that were soft in the brie or camembert style, which went very well with the sweet fruit spreads. There were other very hard cheeses, like Asturian versions of Parmesan. I tried to taste every single one, though I don’t think I succeeded. We figured out after the first five minutes that pacing ourselves was necessary. However, throughout the night I tried to manage to at least taste one from each major cheese group. There was Cabrales cheese, which I described in one of my recent posts as being very well known throughout Spain. In fact, the cheese with the “best cheese award” from 2010 was a Cabrales, and boy was it good. There was also another kind of cheese that I had already been exposed to at home. It’s called Afuega’l Pitu de Trapu, which means something like ‘fire in the throat’ or ‘strangle the chicken.’  Why? It depends. Because it has a very granular texture, some have said that it got its name because it can be hard to swallow. Others have said that it had been used as chicken feed in the past, while others say the name came from the ‘strangling’ that had to be done in order to close off the cloth bag in which this cheese is drained. I would say that that doesn’t matter and that all that does matter is how the cheese tastes, but I’m actually really interested to find out. That’s besides the point though…

Back to the cheese. Afuega’l Pitu de Trapu can also come in two varieties – white and orange/reddish. The only difference? The darker one has had pimentón, or spanish paprika, added. It isn’t overly spicy, but it does have a little kick, especially if you eat more than a little bit. And for an interesting side note, Spanish food actually has very little spice, though, for some reason, a lot of people have the misconception that it’s spicy. They’re probably mixing Spanish food up with the cuisine of some of the countries that share the same language. No worries though, because there’s always the mild, white version for those who love it but can’t take the heat.

Well, I think I’ve said enough about cheese. Ok, who am I kidding? You can never say enough about cheese. But I’ll end it here. In short – I highly recommend Asturias if you’re looking to try a wide variety of artisan cheeses. And I highly recommend Tierra Astur for an event like this or a dinner in general. We’re planning on going back some thursday night for an espicha, a dinner that the restaurant hosts in which you can eat, drink and listen as much as you want, but this time, it won’t be just cheese… Time to loosen the belt buckle and take advantage of my time in the north of Spain. Also, we’ve had a break from classes this week and in their place we’ve been doing talleres (workshops). I’ve been dancing and acting this whole week, and tomorrow I actually have to perform a short play (in Spanish) with a group of 10 from Temple and do a tango with my awesome partner Amy in front of all of the students from La Casa de las Lenguas, the department of the university in which we take are classes. That’s going to be an audience of about 100+ people. So be sure to look for my next post in a few days about the experience. ¡Hasta luego!

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