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36. Gerry Dawes's Spain: An Insider's Guide to Spanish Food, Wine, Culture and Travel

"My good friend Gerry Dawes, the unbridled Spanish food and wine enthusiast cum expert whose writing, photography, and countless crisscrossings of the peninsula have done the most to introduce Americans—and especially American food professionals—to my country's culinary life. . .” - - Chef-restaurateur-humanitarian José Andrés, Nobel Peace Prize Nominee and Oscar Presenter 2019; Chef-partner of Mercado Little Spain at Hudson Yards, New York 2019


Asturian Journal: March 19: A Visit with Nacho Molina to the Producer of la Cueva Llonín & Guayau Cows' Milk Cheeses and to the Fascinating La Aula de la Miel, both in Alles, Peñamellera Alta, eastern Asturias. (From he Summer issue of culture: the word on cheese.)

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On March 19, 2010 in the Asturias, I had the pleasure of traveling with Ignacio "Nacho" Molina, a (now, former) partner of Marino González, President of COASA-Comercializadora Asturiana de Alimentos (Asturian artisanal products company), through parts of Peñamellera Alta and Peñamellera Baja.  In the early days of building their Asturian cheese and artisan products business, González and Nacho Molina  would drive out in small vans in different directions, collecting and delivering cheeses, until after a few years they were successful enough to launch COASA.  Now they bill nearly $6,000,000 of artisanal Asturian food products, primarily cheeses, and have built a large new facility near Siero outside Oviedo, that can keep the cheeses in different chambers acclimated to the cheese type.  

Nacho Molina, COASA, in Peñamellera Alta.

Molina and I re-visited the historic, lively, colorful market town (and tourist destination) of Cangas de Onís, where the breadth of Asturian products (cheeses, sausages, beans, vegetables, cider and more) is spread across several blocks and augmented by the specialty food shops lining the main streets of this great market town--some offering more than two dozen, well-kept local cheeses.  (Molina and González have a couple of shops there that sell everything from souvenirs to cider to cheeses and other artisan products.)

This photographs were taken at the legendary 'La Barata' shop in Cangas de Onís.
In the afternoon, we would visit two memorable cheese producers–Monje and La Chivita en Peñamellera Baja, but the morning was dedicated to driving through spectacular scenery to Peñamellera Alta, where in a light rain that fortunately did not last, we visited the mountain town of Allés. Here Mari Carmen Pérez Corral and her assistant, María del Mar Caso Noriega, make two pasteurized 100% cows’ milk cheeses, La Cueva Llonín, a softer cheese that she describes as “like Camembert,” and Guayau, which is has a more dense consistency and is meant for longing ageing crumbly (to me it resembled a Monterey Jack-like cheese).   The official name for this quesería, though privately owned, is the Sociedad Cooperativa Queso Peñamellera. 

La Cueva Llonín, imported by Michelle Buster of Forever Cheese, was white, reminiscent of a goats’ milk cheese, but it darkens a bit with age (this sample was just 8-10 days old).  The coagulation of this cheese goes on for about 30 minutes, then the curds are cut into small rice-sized pieces, the whey is removed, the curds are salted and then put into molds and kept under refrigeration.  The finished La Cueva Llonín cheese has small holes, with a few larger ones, is a little grainy, rough-grained and crumbly when young.  It has a buttery, cow’s milk nose and is fresh and creamy on the palate with good acid to balance the fat.  This cheese would be good with fruit, but I would also like to crumble it over Mexican tacos, Italian pasta or a salad. 

Guayau is made much the same way, but aged differently.  It is a cheese meant to be consumed with 1-3 months of curation.  The cheeses being prepared for sale had aged for a month at the quesería.  This cheese is cured, not under refrigeration, but at 16-18 degrees Centigrade Celsius (61-65 degrees Fahrenheit).  For the hour that we were there interviewing and photographing the cheese operation, both Mari Carmen and María were laboriously hand labeling and wrapping each cheese individually, a task, like their cheesemaking, that is a completely artisan endeavour.

La Cueva Llonín & Guayau cheeses
Sociedad Cooperativa Queso Peñamellera
Allés, 33578 Peñamellera Alta, Asturias (España)
Tel: (34) 985 415 758. 

After our visit to Mari Carmen’s quesería, Nacho Molina took me to the nearby Aula de la Miel, an excellent honey-making operation with a museum featuring live bees showing just how honey is made.  Jesús Antonio Noriega and his wife, Carolina, owners of La Aula de la Miel, Allés (village), Peñamellera Alta make some excellent honeys and other outstanding artisan products.  Downstairs, there is a shop where several types of honey, a honey liqueur (Hydromiel), corn meal flower and other artisan products are sold. 

The upstairs is a fascinating museum of apiculture featuring mannequins dressed in bee-keeping gear, an old honey-gathering receptacle made from tree bark, exceptional macro photographs of bees and a glassed-in beehive, where bees lured from the surrounding countryside (superb scenery) make honey as visitors watch.

The Aula de la Miel is also set up to prepare meals (at 21 Euros per person) of typical Asturian fare–with honey-based desserts and the local cheeses–for groups.

La Aula de la Miel
Barrio El Pedrosu
Allés, 33578 Peñamellera Alta, Asturias (España)
Tel: 985 41 59 87

Check out the Summer issue of culture: the word on cheese, where I had an eight-page article with photographs on the Asturias, Beyond Cabrales, with profiles of Cabrales and six other wonderful Asturian cheeses, plus hotel and restaurant recommendations.   Only the title page and a few photos are excerpted here, but you can find out how to get a copy on the culture - the word on cheese website and read the rest of the article, plus articles by Max McCalman, Susan Herman Loomis, Janet Fletcher and an interview with Steve Jenkins.

About Gerry Dawes

Gerry Dawes's Spain: An Insider's Guide to Spanish Food, Wine, Culture and Travel

Gerry Dawes was awarded Spain's prestigious Premio Nacional de Gastronomía (National Gastronomy Award) in 2003. He writes and speaks frequently on Spanish wine and gastronomy and leads gastronomy, wine and cultural tours to Spain. He was a finalist for the 2001 James Beard Foundation's Journalism Award for Best Magazine Writing on Wine, won The Cava Institute's First Prize for Journalism for his article on cava in 2004, was awarded the CineGourLand “Cinéfilos y Gourmets” (Cinephiles & Gourmets) prize in 2009 in Getxo (Vizcaya) and received the 2009 Association of Food Journalists Second Prize for Best Food Feature in a Magazine for his Food Arts article, a retrospective piece about Catalan star chef, Ferran Adrià.

In December, 2009, Dawes was awarded the Food Arts Silver Spoon Award in a profile written by José Andrés.

". . .That we were the first to introduce American readers to Ferran Adrià in 1997 and have ever since continued to bring you a blow-by-blow narrative of Spain's riveting ferment is chiefly due to our Spanish correspondent, Gerry "Mr. Spain" Dawes, the messianic wine and food journalist raised in Southern Illinois and possessor of a self-accumulated doctorate in the Spanish table. Gerry once again brings us up to the very minute. . ." - - Michael & Ariane Batterberry, Editor-in-Chief/Publisher and Founding Editor/Publisher, Food Arts, October 2009. 

Mr. Dawes is currently working on a reality television series
on wine, gastronomy, culture and travel in Spain.

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