Under the Castilian Sun: Granja Cantagrullas, Valladolid Spain

Perhaps you would be content if by the tender age of thirty-one you had grown up in Spain, lived in the north of France, completed a doctorate in the Amazon and begun a family? For Rubén Valbuena this wasn't sufficient. Upon getting to know him on a cloudy-rainy-sunny-cloudless day, among the expansive plains of Ramiro, Valladolid, I began to understand why those previous challenges and life experiences weren't enough for his restless soul; an energetic dreamer as he calls himself.


I had the pleasure of joining Lauren, from Spanish Sabores, who was invited by Rubén to tour the Cantagrullas farm and see this project firsthand, one that has little over six months under its belt. Hard to believe, as everything seemed so well developed, the recipes already tried and true, and the dedication wholehearted. But as we entered with expectations of Domingueros (Sunday fun-day travelers from the city) sampling cheese, we left inspired, challenged and ready to evaluate ourselves. After all life is more than the cheese, however tasty it may be.



Rubén is a curious blend of book smarts, rustic handy-man (I akin him my grandfather or those of the generation that knew how to use their hands), devoted family man and spearheaded business man. I'm sure you know someone like him, those folks that can accomplish something in a flash, what would take someone else a year to complete, if ever. He recently transformed a standard second hand refrigerator into a 2.000€ plus pasteurizing module for his yogurts, and during other moments of our visit the "Who made this" or "How did you get that here," questions were answered with "I did it." He is proud of what he and his wife Asela have accomplished - as well he should be - some 14 products since the conception of the company. So how does he do it? Well we asked him, and he simply responded, "I read some books, researched on the internet," then you realize he is just one of those gifted individuals, almost a Midas touch, that could be capable of anything he put his mind to. Although he mentioned one specific influence, Arnaud Sperat-Czar, a cheese expert, who draws on the principles that when elaborating with raw milk one must: have a philosophy of respecting the raw materials, an ambition of creating excellence and a character which never seeks out the short-cuts or easy paths.


Driving up the lane I was transported back in time to my memories of the Little House on the Prairie. Isolated yes, disconnected far from the truth. 

The house that Rubén built is situated in what some may call "the middle of nowhere," the town they reside in has a population of 8, electricity and clean running water had to be brought to their location. It is indeed a family operation. The possibility of a disconnect is almost absurd as the milk from the 1,000 or so Castellana ewes, a protected species and one that produces less milk than other breeds, are monitored, pastured and milked by close relatives. This is important for many sustainable reasons, but above all because it ensures the milk isn't tainted by other herds (some raw milk farms gather from various sources and shepherds), and Rubén and Asela can continuously oversee the condition and quality-control of their production.

As for the cheese, their taste profiles were all different, as were the textures, it's truly amazing what can form from a single ingredient of the highest caliber. Overall my palate concluded that they do give off an acidic touch, in some of the more matured cheeses a spicy note was present. The yogurts (for me) had a hint of sour cream flavor and went very well with honey, caramel and beet syrup. The fresh cheese, which as far as we know may be the only non-pressed raw milk fresh cheese on the market, was paired with chestnut butter or olive oil, and el Peral or the blue, as Rubén so enthusiastically stated was "sensational" and my top pick for its taste, structure and versatility - one night it was happily plated on-top of a burger, another in a spinach salad with walnuts and figs. And like so much of Spanish culture, the products blend well with a Rueda wine (also from the province of Castile and Leon), or even a full-bodied blonde beer. Other characteristics of their production line included seasonings such as French shallots, paprika and ash. Some had formed a natural mold on the rind, while others were washed with salt - a maturation process of days or in some cases weeks.

We were lucky enough to try one of his new products (always reinventing!) that will surely be a hit with the culinary world. A sheep's milk cheese that be fried or pan seared as you would a with provolone or Italian scamorza. 

Mmmmmmmmmm.





An incredible variety and a slew of products that make for a beautiful presentation. 

Happy customers bring home their goods in these posh boxes. Très chic! 

See those textures and colors....

A deliciously simple and beautiful lunch of farm-fresh eggs, green pepper marmalade and melted cheese. 

Also recently launched, their plain and fusion yogurts. See more photos at the Cantagrullas blog

If I was a betting soul, I'd put money on this project. I have no doubt that Granja Cantagrullas will make a name for itself, larger than it already has, and that Rubén's continued drive for excellence and his wife's support and foundation, will catapult them into the Spanish culinary history-books. Maybe one day myself - and some other fortunate and determined people - will be able to transform Ramiro into a 21st century boomtown. 

Check out Nodding by the Fire filming their music video at the quesería, surrounded by nature, Rubén's wolf-like sheep dog, beautiful bilingual children and the golden rays of a sunset on the straw colored fields in Castilla y Leon. Tempting to drop everything and try your luck at obtaining it all, right? 

                     

Who, What and Where: 

For their fresh and cured cheese selection visit here

For a real Spanish treat, during certain periods of the year, above all during the holidays, you can order Cantagrullas' Lechazo/Cordero Lechales (suckling lambs), visit their online store

Contact Rubén and Asela at 
info@granjacantagrullas.com
+34 696 168 677
Twitter @Cantagrullas

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