Greetings readers, 2021 got almost completely away from me, but 2022 looks like it may be better. I promise to post a goat a month, this year for sure. Anyway, February in Chilly Colorado takes my thoughts to sunny Spain, where a beautiful goat breed can be found.
The Murciana is an elegant yet rugged Spanish breed of goat known for its ability to convert forage from the barren Mediterranean steppes into rich, delicious milk perfectly suited to cheese production. Native to the Murcia province in southeastern Spain, the Murciana has spent centuries grazing the hot, dry pastures of this arid region. Through careful selection, local shepherds (with the help of the Spanish Ministry of Agriculture) shaped the breed into the ultimate low-maintenance grazing machine. Murcianas have excellent migrating abilities and will happily travel long distances in search of every type of food, from wild herbs and native grasses to agricultural by-products (plainly they are not the couch potatoes my Nubians are). The breed originated in the Murcia province of Spain, no surprise there. And awesomely, the primary Murciana goat farming areas are still in the region of Murcia, in the communities of Jumilla and Yecla. At this time they are raised in sufficient numbers that they are not considered to be threatened by agricultural experts.
This heavy uddered, mahogany beauty is seldom found ranging free in the Sierra Nevada Mountains of the Murcia region any longer. They are too valuable to risk udders tearing on the shrubby trees and cactis indigenous to those arid mountains. Instead, this tough and adaptable goat is raised in semi-intensive farm operations. The Murciana is a quality dairy producer, noted for giving delicately flavored milk, rich in butterfat. With just one milking session per day and one kid delivered per year, Murcianas can produce about 600 kilograms (1,320 pounds) of milk per lactation cycle. While these numbers are not as impressive as those of their American relative, the La Mancha (about 1,700 pounds of milk per lactation), the Murciana is still the best milk-producing goat in Spain and one of that country’s most popular breeds.
With an average of 5.3 percent fat content and 3.4 percent protein, the Murciana’s milk is well suited to cheesemaking and is used in a variety of signature Spanish cheeses, including the popular Murcia al Vino or “Drunken Goat.” In fact, this product’s DOP (Designation of Origin) will only be awarded to drunken goat cheeses whose milk comes from Murcianas and no other breed.
This mild, creamy cheese is soaked in a special brew for 72 hours before aging. After bathing in thick doble pasta (double fermented) red wine it is aged for only 2 to 2 ½ months. It’s an exceptionally creamy, bright white, semifirm goat cheese with a fruity flavor. It’s an excellent snacking cheese with a striking violet-colored rind and a delicious tangy-sweet finish.
This is a product that the town of Jumilla is known for, along with fine local red wines. Here, the weather is hot and the soil is sandy clay with chalk and lime. Goat cheese can be found in many locations, such as Bodega Cerrón. Visitors are encouraged to try their red wines aged in clay amphoras and French oak. Cherry and violets on the nose with flavors of dark fruits, spice, earth and a touch of balsamic on the finish. Goes super well with Drunken Goat. Bodega Cerrón practices sustainable farming and produces only organic wines and goat cheeses so visitors to the town should check them out.
Drunken Goat is not the only cheese that Jumilla is known for. Cabra Romero is an aged goat’s milk cheese from the area with a tangy and slightly tart finish. Covered in copious amounts of rosemary, the flavor of the herb is evident from the first to the last bite but it balances rather than competes with the cheese.
Food tourists who pig out in Jumilla may need to get some exercise in the mountains to lose those calories. A 4-hour drive to Granada and then south to the Alpujarra region will get to a place of stunning views and uber steep trails. The region encompasses about two dozen rustic settlements spread in a rough circle about 30 miles wide dotted with villages of 100 to 5,000 folks, and the primary occupation is farming (and tourism). This is a fairly undiscovered portion of this mountainous region, and is not overly crowded despite its breath-taking beauty. The breath-taking, white knuckle road leading to the area and all through it may be part of the reason why. Too nervous to drive… a direct public bus runs twice a day from Granada to Las Alpujarras. The trip costs about $7 per person and takes roughly two hours.
This vertical landscape helped to shape the form and hardiness of the Murciana. Goats can still be seen, even if they are not of pure Murciana-Granadino type, but rather more scrubby. They roam the charming villages of that area freely and in Capileira, the sound of goat bells is everywhere. About 1,000 feet below the snow line, cut into the shoulder of the deep Poqueira Gorge, Capileira was made for goats.
For brave motorists: To reach Las Alpujarras from Granada, take highway N323 south (follow the signs to Motril) for about 25 miles. Then turn left at the C333 exit (you can’t turn right). This is the road that climbs the high Sierra Nevada and links the Alpujarras villages.
For lodgings, the village of Bubion offers a number of clean and comfortable lodgings from $50 per night to $100, as does Capileira and other villages in the area. For more information, non-Spanish speaking visitors should contact the central tourist office in Granada (Mariana Pineda Square No. 8, Granada 180009; tel. 011-34-58-225990) has lists of hotel prices and phone numbers for the Alpujarras region.
When done gazing at goats visitors can explore the park. A large part of the Alpujarra Alta lies within the Sierra Nevada Natural Park, the largest national park in Spain.
Goat fanatics that want to see Murcianas in their native habitat, a tour at Farm Jurtiga in nearby Grenada may be for you. With 1,400 head of these beautiful animals, and cheese tasting as well, you’re going to have a goat time. Contact information can be found on their website at:
And now for the recipe portion of this post. Even though Drunken Goat Cheese is awesome with bread and wine, a fan in Salt Lake City, Utah, of all places suggested this use.
Photo Courtesy Ben Fink from Leite’s Culinaria
Roasted Vegetables and Drunken Goat cheese quesadilla
2 whole-wheat tortillas
1 ounce drunken goat cheese, sliced
1/2 teaspoon ground smoked paprika
1 slice bacon, cooked and crumbled
1/2 avocado, chopped
Roasted bell and red peppers, onions and corn (and some writers suggest grilled radicchio).
Heat a grill or frying pan over medium heat. On one tortilla, distribute half the goat cheese. Sprinkle with paprika, bacon, vegetables and avocado. Top with remaining goat cheese and remaining tortilla.
Carefully place the quesadilla on the grill and let cook until lightly golden, 2 to 3 minutes. Gently flip onto the other side and cook until lightly golden, another 2 to 3 minutes. Transfer to a plate and slice into wedges.
Servings • 1
Lesli Nielson, Salt Lake Tribune, 2010
Or serve the cheese lightly chilled with chorizo, serrano jamon (also produced in that area of Spain), olives, dried apricots, figs, almonds and walnuts.