Life On The Wire: Because, It's Cool That's Why!
Nobody walks into a cheese shop and goes “hi, I’d like a Castillian raw sheep milk clothbound cheddar.” Nobody. So what possessed me to order a 70 pound behemoth called CG40 that's going to take me four or more months to sell?
Because it’s a Castillian raw sheep milk clothbound cheddar that’s why.
People often wander into the store, look around the cheese case and then ask me for a recommendation or ask what I'm liking right now. You will probably never hear me recommend a Brie or anything with truffles, I won’t recommend the cheese you saw a self proclaimed chef selling on Food Network. I’ll probably reach for something totally cool that you never heard of or had only heard of and never tasted or something you might not like because its weird. I’m both spoiled and jaded; although admittedly tasty those other cheeses rarely excite me, seventy pound Spanish sheep cheddars are exciting.
Cantagrullas Quarenta aka CG40 is the creation of cheesemakers Granja Cantagrullas in partnership with Queseria Cultivo which is a cheese shop in Madrid that promotes and works with to improve artisan Spanish cheesemakers.
After a visit to England and some legendary cheddar makers, Ruben Valbuena and Asela Alvarez started making cheddar using the milk of the local indigenous Castellana sheep. Castellana sheep are not the traditional sheep for cheesemakers, a breed usually raised for meat and wool, but as their milk has a higher milk fat and protein percentages they’re becoming more popular which in turn helps the area take one step closer to sustainability. Sustainability was one of the goals of Ruben and Asela when they decided to make cheese in Romiro, to prove that their family and community (their village only boasts 49 people) could work and live in their region’s natural environment, subsisting on cheese production while promoting the endangered indigenous breeds and farms of the area. When not making CG40 the sheep milk is used to make exquisite soft ripened cheeses, that unfortunately are not available stateside.
Every wheel is “made to order,” and usually only five to seven wheels are made a month. Made using techniques and traditions they learned in England, the raw sheep milk is coagulated, cut and salted, stacked, unstacked and stacked again, before being milled and pressed into forms before going into a cheese press for two days to further expel moisture. After they’re removed from the press and forms they are wrapped in cheesecloth that has been soaked in cultured butter; butter that they made (after learning how to in Normandy, France) from the milk of local cows. BTW, the butter is amazing, we’re getting it in sporadic bursts and it is unlike anything we’ve ever had, insanely rich and cheesey with hints of salt and funk. From there the massive wheels are sent to Queseria Cultivo in Madrid where they are tended until they’ve at least a year old before being sold either in shop or as a whole wheel.
Queseria Cultivo is a unique thing in the cheese world; it’s a cheese shop, it’s a cheesemaker, its an affineur, its an exporter, it’s a promoter, its an educator; and they’ve been doing it since 2014. Inspired by the folks at Neal’s Yard Dairy in London, who champion and support and sell farmhouse British cheeses, several cheesemaking families came together to create a store where they could sell their progressive cheeses. Because that’s what Queseria Cultivo is about, not selling cheeses that everyone knows and can get everywhere (hello Manchego!) but the small production, sustainable family owned cheeses. Because they are cheesemakers at heart they work closely with all of their producers to create new cheeses, age those cheeses and then sell the cheeses in their shop and also export them to the world. They’re pumping new life into the Spanish cheesemaking scene, and helping to highlight the growing movement of progressive cheesemakers.
Cantagrullas Quarenta is a cheddar that tastes like no other; it’s tart and sour and acidic, it’s lean and feral, it’s citrusy and salty and spicy, its crumbly and lingers in the mouth. It tastes like fried potato skins, like unsweetened sheep yogurt, like earth and sharp sheep cheese. Its a punch in the palate that you didn’t see coming.
It’s a experience.
Milk: raw Castellana sheep
Rennet: traditional animal
Age: this wheel, 15 months
Spanish magazine article talking about CG40: http://fueradeserie.expansion.com/2013/04/19/gastroteca/1366364887.html