The Craft of Cabrales

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Despite the variations, there’s a council that certifies authentic Cabrales, the Consejo Regulador, and Bada is president of it. The Denominación de Origen ensures that the cheese comes from the proper geographic area, and that, for all its diversity, it meets with certain health and artisanal standards. Right now, there are 29 shepherd-cheesemakers who meet the denomination’s requirements. The council also tries to mediate between the demands of nature and the equally—if not more—stringent requirements of the European Union, including food-safety regulations and wildlife protection.

The Picos de Europa became a national park in 1918, but in the year 2000, the EU included it in the Natura 2000 program, a union-wide initiative designed to protect and promote biodiversity. For the herders in the region, that program has brought decidedly mixed blessings. Although they appreciate the extra protections, shepherds like Bada have found that a certain amount of trouble trails in the policies’ wake. In an effort to restore an endangered species, for example, the program has reintroduced wolves into a park where they were once nearly extinct. And wolves eat sheep and goats. “You can’t leave your animals out at night like you used to,” says Bada. “You have to bring them down from the mountain each day once it starts getting dark. That makes the job much more stressful.”

If the idea of a shepherd’s life being stressful seems somewhat anomalous to those of us tied to our BlackBerries and laptops, Bada promises he speaks the truth. But still, he wouldn’t trade it for anything. “Our animals, our lifestyles, our cheese,” he says, “this is what’s genuine.”

A longtime contributor to Gourmet magazine, Madrid-based Lisa Abend is the Spain correspondent for Time and also writes for The New York Times, Afar, and Bon Appétit. Her first book, The Sorcerer’s Apprentices: A Season in the Kitchen at Ferran Adrià’s elBulli, was published in 2011.

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