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

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

  • Asturias, a principality that produces over 300 types of cheese, is also known as the Land of Cheese
  • Cabrales – the most expensive blue cheese in the world – is matured in the caves of the Picos de Europa mountains
  • Visit Oviedo, the principality’s capital, and dine on fabada and chocopos at a cider bar on Calle Gascona

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

Then my nose alerts me to another natural wonder: Cabrales, the strongest and most expensive blue cheese in the world.

So hot that it can make the most avid turophile wince. Cabrales owes its great taste and smell to Penicillium roqueforti, a fungus that thrives in these cool, humid rooms.

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

Admire the view of the glittering Bay of Biscay, pictured above, as you hike the trails crisscrossing the Picos

Admire the view of the glittering Bay of Biscay, pictured above, as you hike the trails crisscrossing the Picos

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

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

Cabrales wheels are matured here for two to ten months. The spores that cling to the walls drift on the drafts and imbue the cheese with the blue veins of mold that pack such a punch.

The caves meander for miles through a section of the Picos that straddles the upper edge of Asturias, the wedge-shaped principality known as the Country of Cheese, on the northern coast of Spain.

The ascent of the paths which crisscross the Picos is worth it; the views over pastures and forests to the sparkling Bay of Biscay are spectacular.

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

Jessica López Fernández and her husband, Javier Diaz Bada, run the Quesería Main cheese factory and dairy. They ripen their premium reserve Cabrales in caves 5,000 feet above sea level.

In the summer, they use mules to transport the cheese up and down. In the winter, when the snow is too thick, they lug 33 lbs of Cabrales wheels each in walking backpacks, and move up and down once a week to spin and clean them.

The round trip takes three hours and the best Cabrales are often produced 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 4.4lb piece.

A panoramic view of Oviedo, the capital of Asturias.  During your stay, stop for dinner at a charming sidreria (cider bar) on Calle Gascona

A panoramic view of Oviedo, the capital of Asturias. During your stay, stop for dinner at a charming sidreria (cider bar) on Calle Gascona

Sue recommends exploring the medieval streets of Oviedo, pictured, if you want to avoid Spain's most populous towns

Sue recommends exploring the medieval streets of Oviedo, pictured, if you want to avoid Spain’s most populous towns

Asturias thrives on authenticity. Stroll through the medieval streets and squares of Oviedo, the elegant capital of the principality, and you will avoid the hordes of Costas and large towns.

Stop for dinner at a delicious sidrería (cider bar) on Calle Gascona, filled with locals eating fabada (white bean and meat stew) and chocopos (stuffed, breaded and fried meat fillets).

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

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