Cabrales has a well-deserved reputation for being among the most distinctive and powerful blue cheeses. Traditionally, wheels are wrapped in leaves, though most that find their way to the United States have natural rinds and are foil-wrapped. Either way, when fully ripe, Cabrales has an incredibly strong blue flavor.
Cabrales is produced by small-scale, traditional dairies in the twenty or so villages in the Cabrales and Penamellera Alta districts of eastern Asturias in northern Spain.
The milk used for production is sourced from livestock that live in mountainous areas where, during the summer months, they can take advantage of the abundant summer pastures at high altitude. Although Cabrales was traditionally made with a mix of raw cow's, sheep’s, and goat's milk, today's versions are more commonly made from just raw cow's milk.
The cheeses are aged from two to six months in maturing rooms located in the region’s limestone mountains. The relative humidity is typically around 90%, while the temperature is a cool 45°-55°F. These conditions favor the growth of the Penicillium Roqueforti molds that are instrumental in developing dense, blue-green veins throughout the paste.
When ripe, Cabrales has a smooth texture, punctuated with holes and pockets of blue. The creamy paste is studded with crunchy granules of crystallized amino acids.
Not for the faint of heart, Cabrales is often wild and spicy in flavor and aroma, with distinct notes of salt that become more intense as the cheese ages. In mixed milk versions, these flavors can also be quite acidic and more complex.
Cabrales is best paired with something sweet, like honey or fig jam, to mellow its intensity.