Crica Productos Ecológicos, Valladolid, Spain. No mala leche here.

"You, as a food buyer, have the distinct privilege of proactively participating in shaping the world your children will inherit."

"A culture that just uses a pig as a pile of protoplasmic inanimate structure, to be manipulated by whatever creative design the human can foist on that critter, will probably view individuals within its community, and other cultures in the community of nations, with the same type of disdain and disrespect and controlling type of mentalities."   Joel Salatin

There has been a lot of press and a lot of criticism as of late regarding organic, local and sustainable as buzz words. By using them I don't mean to signify that I am superior to anyone for buying, consuming or supporting this "business." It's a personal choice that I make for my family because I believe it makes a difference for our health, our well-being and a noticeable (maybe larger) impact on the environment. Lately I've taken a very personal approach because it makes a world of difference to me if I can meet the people and animals behind the labels we see on the store shelves. This conversation and dialogue, and of course taste, gives my final stamp of approval for why I want a product in my house. Very cliche I know, but if all of us that were conscious enough to make decisions about our buying habits would make smarter choices based on some simple human and animal rights, these would add up and together as a collective whole we could make changes to our agrarian communities and our produce. Our demand would force larger corporations to enevitably change based on consumer discontent and then maybe we would arrive at the day when the government subsidizes a different kind of farming, and in turn it would be accesible for all.
Organic and sustainable also receive a lot of flack for high prices, or for being an elitist movement. I will argue that $2 for a liter of milk from a small farm of healthy, happy cows is the best deal of the century, an even smaller investment if you buy directly from the supplier. A perfect case of this was my visit to Crica in Megeces, Valladolid, Spain. This isn't a fad for Julio and Alfonso Criado (brothers), and their employees, they are in fact second generation farmers who for years have produced for their neighborhood and community supported agriculture groups (CSA). As it stands they are not interested in growing past the production capability of their 25-28 livestock, the milk is and will continue to be delivered on a first come first serve basis. They repeated over and over again that one of their main reasons for waking up in the morning and doing what they do is "the people." Not consumers, not empty faces purchasing "burnt milk" tetra-bricks covered in landscapes of farm houses and speckled cows, not a business, not a CAFO (concentrated animal feeding operations), but a family who is fed and feeds others from their cows, a reverse if you will of the norm, or a rebellion to the norm, where respect is given to the animal, not only what the animal can give us; to coddle versus to generate.

But I'd like to call out an important point here, as Julio and Alfonso by no means have a highbrow stance on their business. They follow these practices because they know the non-organic methods of agriculture and have seen first hand what works, what doesn't, what is harmful, what makes their bodies feel more energetic and the cows' life more secure. You see, they changed their practices, just as you will have the opportunity to change your buying habits. Eleven years ago the land they own and pasture today contained a special American breed of Holstein, a super-breed, engineered to produce 60 liters of milk a day (whereas a standard milking amount is 15-20L), production may have been high but the cows were unfit for the farm - they couldn't keep up with the fodder required to feed these "mega cows" nor were they able to convert them to the diet and lifestyles of the ecological cows. They changed, they started from scratch, all organic, all in-house. "You reach a point where you realize you are not in-charge of the situation, you are not the owner of it, and you have to reevaluate what you can and cannot manage," Julio told us of this important moment in Crica's history. Since then they haven't looked back, and in the last three years, because of trends or necessities (depending on your point of view) they have seen profit growth in their business, but they also recognize that as a country, even as a province (Castile and Leon), agriculture has quite a fight ahead of them.

A revelation if you want to call it that, sure. A special moment, certainly. The gratification of looking into the eyes of a cow, a beautiful creature, and giving it thanks for the wholesome offering that we partake of. She was relaxed as could be during her milking session, content, as if Bach was playing in the background. She may be used to the schedule, twice a day at 7am and 7pm, but she wasn't used to our presence. None the less she didn't make a fuss, and just as orderly as she and her three lady friends had entered from the stable (where they munch on alfalfa and rye), they were led outside, back into the open, back into the fresh air to recuperate for tomorrow's milking.

Crica only bottles and sells their milk in glass containers, for reasons of quality control, taste and health concerns. I suppose it's difficult for me to tell this experience without sounding ostentatious. I was moved by meeting the Criado family, their warmth and transparency confirmed what I saw through and on the Crica bottle, and gave me hope that there are likely others working as hard to reach us "the people" with products they believe in and aren't afraid to show to anyone who is interested in learning or partaking.

This use of glass brings me to another Salatin quote; "If we put glass walls on all the megaprocessing facilities, we would have a different food system in this country." Yes, he's talking about the United States, but unfortunately the world population isn't getting any smaller and Spain too has fallen victim to having to produce enough commodities to feed its first world population, its meat and dairy hungry citizens.

Perhaps you've already heard that this week mad cow disease was found in a dead diary cow in California. So isn't it time you made a choice about where and who your food comes from? Let the integrity of the product speak for itself.

Crica milk, yogurts and cheese can be purchased in Madrid at:

Salud Mediterranea
Paseo Santa Maria de la Cabeza #3
28045 Madrid Spain
Metro: Atocha

Ortega y Gasset 77
Madrid Spain
Metro: Lista

A Salto de Mata
Calle Doctor Fourquet 17
28012 Madrid, Spain
Metro: Atocha or Lavapies

Also check out my blogger friend Lauren's post at Spanish Sabores, as she tackles the touchy issue of UHT milk and Crica.

1 liter of fresh milk and on the right their queso fresco, a soft cheese matured 1-7 days that resembles the consistency of a compact cottage cheese. 

A wee-little one! All of the cows share the same space and pasture, mothers are not separated from their calves or vice versa. 

4 x 4 the girls are milked. The building is constructed in such a way that the milk is naturally transferred  by gravity from this room to the milk and cheese pasteurization room, a level below to ensure it maintains its protein structure. 

"We say NO to genetically modified products (GMOs)!" The Farmer's Union of Castile & Leon

To enter the processing room we had to put on these stylish boots. Love the contrast with the tiles!

Semi-curado, semi-hard cheese wheels in the maturation room (20 days, whereas the curado will mature 4-5 months). 

The final product, April 2012, semi-curado tender inside with a thin and edible rind. Bright and clean flavors. 


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