Quesos La Cabezuela: The "new-age" ancient way of cheese

Cheese this way! 

I adore encountering folks who have followed a dream, and by way of hard work, devotion to their product and dedication to a craft, have in turn seen success and recognition. This is more or less the case of La Cabezuela, an artisan yogurt and cheese production site and brand established in 1991.

They say cooking with passion changes the components and characteristics of the original product. Smiling all the while, Juan Luis Royuela's obession for excellence and quality was evident as he toured us through his rural cheese factory, a welcome antithesis to the standard ubiquitous industrial lactose production facilities.

What tickles me even more is Juan Luis' interest in customer satisfaction, he said "quality is everything, from the packaging to the palate." An intelligent proprietor, business man and all-around jovial soul, he has transformed -and continues to do so with rigor, savvy and charm- La Cabezuela into a well marketed and delicious autochthonous product, that is hurriedly gaining international attention and winning awards as it goes.

Leaving a twenty year career in advertising and marketing, Juan Luis set out to change his life, discover, learn and enjoy the work he does. He found what he was looking for after completing a course on cheese making. The stars quickly aligned and in less then two years he has taken over and revamped La Cabezuela as owner and director. The headquarters are located in Fresnedillas de la Oliva, a village sixty-five kilometers outside of Madrid, in la Sierra, a sizable mountainous region enveloping the Spanish capital. But this new walk of life is no easy venture, it's filled with curds along the whey. Juan Luis hasn't stopped a moment, between obtaining new clients, showcasing at food summits (we bumped into one another at Madrid Fusion 2012) and getting his hands dirty, alongside his three other employees and cheese mastercrafters.

The indigenous Guadarrama goats of the sierra are a rare and protected species, in danger of extinction; today between 9-10,000 roam the rocky terrain of Madrid, Toledo, Segovia, Guadalajara, and Ávila. They are large (adult males will reach 70 kilos), long-haired specimens that have adapted well to the cold and rain. Unlike other dairy goats who average three to four liters of milk per day, they produce two liters. These factors further the unique characteristics of La Cabezuela's products, which carry light notes of thyme, heather flowers, and alfalfa (from the goat's diet).

Juan Luis works specifically with shepherds who have devoted their flocks to the Guadarrama variety and he is responsible for the majority - if not all- of their milk consumption; 10 liters is needed to make a kilo of cheese! His quesería collects some 5,000 liters a week, pasteurizing the milk in-house at 71° C to kill any pathogenic bacteria. After this step, the milk is transferred into a large "bathtub" to be separated into curds and whey (cuajada y suero), resembling a requesón, or what English speakers and Italians would recognize as ricotta. The curds are then placed into molds lined with a light and breathable fabric, where they sit for roughly two hours to form their wheel shape and release additional liquid.

Once removed by hand from their molds, the cheese wheels are left for 12 hours in a saline bath (technically speaking  NaCl), una salmuera, where they'll pick up a hint of flavor and begin to build their rind, but most importantly the salt helps the cheese to defend itself from organisms that could potentially grow during the maturation process. They are then organized on shelves of pine tree lumber, which act to soak up the humidity and further distinguish their final shape and skin texture. Through R+D at La Cabezuela Juan Luis and team discovered this was the best practice, as the plastic filters and PVCs were not behooving the process.

After these first steps of formation, the cheeses are taken to a humidity and temperature controlled storeroom to cure for two months.

And the final product! Winner of the bronze medal at the 2011 World Cheese Awards promoted by the Guild of Fine Food. Since bringing home our 500gr. wheel of semicurado I must confess it has been my weakness.

As you can see, La Cabezuela's approach to natural, handmade and fine tasting products make them stand out among others in a food culture dominated by large scale global firms, conservatives and colorants. Thankfully, to "new" pioneers like Juan Luis and their relentless zeal, citizens now have good food stuff within their reach. Here's a quick rundown of their current offerings:

Semicurado - or partially cured, is aged 2 months. A natural and edible rind, smells of fresh cheese, has an even texture with a medium cream intensity, final taste of fresh mushrooms, due to this.
Curado "La Bomba" - fully cured (5 months) goat's cheese, accounts for their smallest production.
Lingote Cremoso - A bit of play on words here, as lingote in Spanish means bar, as in bar of gold. A brie like cheese, but Spanish! Aged in a colder climate than the semicurado for a month and a half.
Yogurts - who doesn't like a goat yogurt? Well I certainly do. Bright, smooth and CREAMY on the palate and only two ingredients: milk and probiotics!
Cheese spreads - crema de queso con ajo - think of it as a tasty and healthy for you Philadelphia Cream Cheese, without the chemicals.

Within Spain their products can be found at the Club del Gourmet of El Corte Inglés, Carrefour Planet in the gourmet cheese section, and various shops such as La Boulette in the Mercado de la Paz and Poncelet Cheese Shop, both in Madrid. The United States is the next market to conquer for La Cabezuela, so keep your eyes out for these luxurious items or ask your local cheesemonger to carry them! Also, follow them on Facebook.

Or if you are in Madrid visit them here (although you'll likely have to ask a local to point you in the right direction!)
La Cabezuela
Calle Cabezuela 14
Fresnedillas de la Oliva, Spain 28214
Email: info@quesoslacabezuela.com

A huge thank you to Juan Luis for opening up his workshop and allowing us an insider's view into his craftsmanship and also his contagious personality. Muchas gracias colega!

UPDATE: Please check out my friend Lauren's article also on La Cabezuela here. Like me, Lauren is an expat living in Madrid and this busy lady has found time to dedicate herself to two very informative blogs, Spanish Sabores and Recetas Americanas.


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