Officially known as Principáu d'Asturies or the Principado de Asturias, Asturias is an autonomous community within the Kingdom of Spain.
The Mediterranean coast and the cities of Madrid and Barcelona capture the hearts and minds (and wallets) of most foreign tourists to Spain. In the know, Spaniards however flock to Asturias for both its rural character and its outstanding food and drink. Here’s what you need to know in order to join them.
Asturias is on the northern coast of Spain, nestled in between the regions of Galicia and Cantabria. They, along with the Basque Country, form España Verde, Green Spain. It is an excellent descriptor. What it is referring to is the part of Spain that has a temperate oceanic climate. So, here lush pastures and forests thrive, providing a landscape similar to that of Ireland, Great Britain, and the west coast of France.
Asturias, and much of the rest of Green Spain, is separated from the interior of the country by the Cantabrian Mountains (Cordillera Cantábrica). This creates a very mild wet climate, unlike most of the rest of Spain. This climate is perfect for growing fruits and vegetables, as well as raising cattle.
Asturias is cattle country, virtually the only cattle country in all of Spain. This is why butter, milk, cream, and cheese are more plentiful, better, and more varied here in Asturias than anywhere else in the country.
Speaking of cheese, Asturias is one of the regions in Europe with the widest variety of cheeses. It seems that every village has a cheese maker, and almost every conceyu (equivalent to an American county) has a cheese type to call their own. Forty, fifty, and one hundred are popular numbers for counting the cheeses of Asturias. Perhaps in time I will be able to document them all.
It is impossible to talk about Asturias without talking about cider. The region produces (and consumes) more than 80% of all the cider in Spain, and there is a well-developed culture centered on it. Remember what I said about the rainy coastal climate? It turns out that this is ideal for growing apples. And growing apples is something Asturians have been doing since at least the 2nd century CE. For more information, see my Brief History of Asturian Cider.
In addition to cheese and cider, Asturias boasts a large number of embutidos (sausages and other preserved meats) and a deep culture of stews and soups that I am looking forward to sharing with you. Add to that a love of growing vegetables that extends to almost every yard, and one of the most varied fruit supplies in Europe, and we have a lot to talk about.