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Holidays in Spain: discovering Asturias, home of the strongest cheese in the world

Asturias, in northern Spain, is home to the most expensive and strongest cheese in the world, so our advice is … just follow your nose!

  • Asturias, a principality that produces more than 300 types of cheeses, is also known as La Tierra del Queso.
  • Cabrales, the most expensive blue cheese in the world, is matured in the caves of the Picos de Europa.
  • Visit Oviedo, the capital of the principality, and dine on fabada and chocopos in a cider house on Gascona street

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Slowly, I feel my way through a maze of limestone caves deep in the Picos de Europa, the mountain range famous for bears, wolves, and eagles.

Then my nose warns me of a different natural wonder: Cabrales, the strongest and most expensive blue cheese in the world.

So spicy it can make the most avid turóphile wince. Cabrales owes its formidable taste and smell to Penicillium roqueforti, a fungus that thrives in these cool, moist chambers.

Wild: Picos de Europa National Park.  Cabrales wheels mature in the limestone caves of the mountain range

Wild: Picos de Europa National Park. Cabrales wheels mature in the limestone caves of the mountain range

Take in views of the glistening Bay of Biscay, pictured above, as you walk the trails that criss-cross the Picos

Take in views of the glistening Bay of Biscay, pictured above, as you walk the trails that criss-cross the Picos

Take in views of the glistening Bay of Biscay, pictured above, as you walk the trails that criss-cross the Picos

Cabrales cheese, in the photo, is the strongest and most expensive blue cheese in the world

Cabrales cheese, in the photo, is the strongest and most expensive blue cheese in the world

Cabrales cheese, in the photo, is the strongest and most expensive blue cheese in the world

Cabrales wheels mature here for two to ten months. The spores that adhere to the walls float in the air currents and infuse the cheese with the blue streaks of mold that give so much strength.

The caves meander for miles through a section of the Picos that straddles the upper edge of Asturias, the wedge-shaped principality known as La Tierra del Queso, on the north coast of Spain.

The trails that cross the Picos are worth climbing; the views from pastures and forests to the glistening Bay of Biscay are spectacular.

For a small number of Cabrales producers, this tough climb is all in a day’s work because the highest cheese caves are not accessible by vehicle.

Jessica López Fernández and her husband, Javier Díaz Bada, run the Quesería Main cheese and cheese factory. They mature their premium Cabrales Reserve in caves at 5,000 feet high.

In summer, they use mules to raise and lower the cheese. In winter, when the snow is too deep, they load 33 pounds of Cabrales wheels each in backpacks on foot, and they move up and down once a week to turn and clean them.

The round trip takes three hours and the best Cabrales usually occurs in the highest caves.

It holds the record for the most expensive blue cheese in the world: In 2019, a Spanish restaurant paid £ 18,615 at auction for a 4.4-pound slice.

Overview of Oviedo, capital of Asturias.  While you're there, stop for dinner at a delicious sidreria (cider house) on Calle Gascona

Overview of Oviedo, capital of Asturias.  While you're there, stop for dinner at a delicious sidreria (cider house) on Calle Gascona

Overview of Oviedo, capital of Asturias. While you’re there, stop for dinner at a delicious sidreria (cider house) on Calle Gascona

Sue recommends exploring the medieval streets of Oviedo, pictured, if you want to avoid the busiest cities in Spain.

Sue recommends exploring the medieval streets of Oviedo, pictured, if you want to avoid the busiest cities in Spain.

Sue recommends exploring the medieval streets of Oviedo, pictured, if you want to avoid the busiest cities in Spain.

Asturias thrives on authenticity. Stroll through the medieval streets and squares of Oviedo, the elegant capital of the principality, and avoid the hordes of the Costas and the big cities.

Stop for dinner at a delicious sidrería (cider house) on Calle Gascona, packed with locals eating fabada (white beans and beef stew) and chocopos (stuffed, shredded, and fried beef steaks).

The landscape offers endless possibilities for walking, climbing, canoeing, and wildlife viewing. But for me it’s all about the cheese – this small region produces over 300 types and luckily they also export some to the UK.

the World cheese awards It will take place on Wednesday, November 3 at the Oviedo Conference and Exhibition Center within the framework of the 2021 International Cheese Festival, which will take place from Wednesday, November 3 to Saturday, November 6.

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