After eight years abroad working in countries such as Brazil, Dominican Republic, Holland or France, Asela and Ruben decided to come back to Spain to live in the countryside. Ruben’s sister and brother-in-law have a sheep farm and they thought it would be a good idea to make cheese from this milk. With no experience in the field they created Granja Cantagrullas, which is the first cheese farm to produce fresh, raw sheep’s milk cheese in Spain. The beginnings were hard, but soon Cantagrullas has become a reference for artisan cheese making in the country.
Recently, Ruben created Quesería Conde Duque shop in Madrid along with Alvaro from La Jarradilla in Cantabria and Juan from Los Quesos de Juan in Medina del Campo. It is a paradise for cheese lovers. At the shop you’ll find their cheeses along with other producers with whom they share values. We visited Granja Cantagrullas and Quesería Conde Duque to speak with Ruben about his fascinating projects.
Why did you decide to create Granja Cantagrullas?
Cantagrullas was born from the curiosity of my wife and I. We were both looking for a radical change in our lives. We wanted to live in the countryside and decided to create a cheese factory. My family has 1300 purebred sheep and in 2011 we started to transform that milk into cheese. My sister and brother-in-law are in charge of the sheep farming, and my wife and I are responsible for the cheese factory. We base both projects on fair trade practices. By the end of 2013, we also started working with cow’s milk from a local farm that shares our same philosophy.
Where did you learn the craft of cheesemaking?
We had not ever made cheese before. We didn’t study it or have any previous experience with it. When we were living in France we visited some cheese factories. I offered my assistance and that allowed me to get involved in the manufacturing process. However, I’ve learned everything by myself. It was all very fast since I was eager to get started.
“We like working with extreme fermentations and short aging periods. You get very interesting cheeses which are very different to the conventional ones.”
What kind of cheese do you make in Granja Cantagrullas? What makes it special?
We make raw sheep’s and cow´s milk cheeses. We’ve had 40 references, which is 40 different recipes! We like working with extreme fermentations and short aging periods. You get very interesting cheeses which are very different to the conventional ones. We also work large formats. The Cheddar I make caught people’s attention since no one was making a 40Kg cheese in Spain before. Working such different formats allows us to achieve a wider range of textures, aromas and flavors, which makes our offerings very attractive.
“For me, the most important thing when I sit to have a piece of cheese is that tells me something, some information about the producer or about the place that it was made.”
You tailor cheeses for restaurants. How do these projects get started and how do you develop a different cheese every time?
Many restaurateurs want to develop their own cheese. They want to differentiate themselves by getting involved in the manufacturing process and achieving something very unique. They usually give us a hint of what they are looking for in terms of texture, flavor or aroma, and we start developing something from there. Some journalists call us the cooks’ cheesemakers and that is the result of the good relationships we have with many restaurateurs.
Why did you decide to create Quesería Conde Duque? What is the concept of the shop?
We created Quesería Conde Duque in order to sell not just our products, but also our friends’ cheeses, with whom we share a philosophy. The idea is having a space where we can communicate what we do. We don’t consider ourselves distributors since it is the producer who sets the price at the shop. We base the business viability in the volume. Actually, we’ve become the main client of the most of our suppliers and this is wonderful. We also guarantee that people buy the cheese at its optimal consumption point. At the shop we try to reproduce the conditions of an aging chamber. We don’t do it for aging the cheeses but to maintain them. That was something new since a shop that was cold and humid didn´t exist before.
What does your slogan “Quesos con Rostro” (Cheeses with Faces) mean?
Each producer comes from a cheese factory that we know well. They are all friends and we’ve worked together for some time. What people can find in Conde Duque are not the best artisanal cheeses in the world. Probably you’ll find more than one that is extraordinary, but above all you’ll find the most fascinating projects that we know. We support people and the projects that we’ve fallen in love with. We all share manufacturing values, respect for the raw material and respect for the customer.
With how many producers you work with?
We are 20 producers. 90-95% of the cheeses are from Spain. We also work with an English producer, an Italian, a Dutch and a French one. There is a good relationship with all our suppliers. For example, we carry cheeses from Neal’s Yard Dairy because Alvaro was the manager of one of their shops in London for 5 years.
What is your definition of good cheese?
For me, the most important thing when I sit to have a piece of cheese is that tells me something, some information about the producer or about the place that it was made. I think the same about bread, cakes, milk, wine or beer. I can eat bread from our neighbor Panic anywhere and I’ll know it is his bread. That hallmark is invaluable.
Your shop is right next door to Panic and you share your space with Home Cake. What do these three projects have in common?
It’s gotten people’s attention to the fact that three artisanal producers have opened their shops on the same street. We share values, philosophy and youth. I think it is generating a beautiful dynamic.
What is your philosophy towards food?
At home I like my children to know what they eat, who has prepared it and how it was made. My kids know about olive oil, bread, fresh pasta, and even beer. At home we drink filter coffee and we grind the beans ourselves. When we drink wine we drink our friends’ wines. Therefore, our children know many producers and are very familiar with this philosophy. They are not gourmet kids. They are simply sensible kids that will have more information in order to make decisions in the future.
“I’d love that more young people could implement their ideas.”
What have you learned from being an entrepreneur of your two projects?
Before I used to work for the University and for international organizations. When you work in such industries, you are not aware of the sacrifice and effort that an entrepreneur makes. I’ve learned a lot. I’d love that more young people could implement their ideas. There have been many things that went wrong but they gave us a lot of strength. It’s been a very stimulating learning process.
Finally, what’s on the horizon for you?
We are going to open a restaurant. We’ll have a very honest and straightforward proposal, and the secret will actually be simplicity. We are going to keep calling people’s attention and making noise. But of course, noise with a solid foundation.
Camino del Calvario, Polígono 1 Parcela 13, Ramiro (Valladolid), 47453 Ramiro, Valladolid
Quesería Conde Duque
Calle Conde Duque, 15, 28015 Madrid