The Only Cheese that comes from Ashes

In the middle of the Berguedà, a Catalan county in the foothill of the Pyrenees, there is a cheese maker with a shy gaze and  long mustaches. Toni Chueca, who at a first glance looks like a bashful and reserved person, welcomed me to Formatges Bauma to tell me the story behind 30 years of passion for cheese. I said at first glance because he is actually a person with a great sense of humor and, after some ironic jokes, his big blue eyes open wide spreading authentic fun. Toni has a huge dairy knowledge, he visits cheese makers of all over the Europe and he makes and distributes his products on both a national and international scale.  He created excellent delicacies such as the goat hard cheese Garrotxa and the goat soft cheese Carrat.

Carrat goat soft cheese

But how did it all begin? Do you know that Toni was neither born nor grew up in the Berguedà?  Almost 30 years ago he decided to leave the city to live in the countryside.  Try to figure out how strange it was! At the beginning of the 80s, when the majority of people was leaving rural places to crowd cities, Toni did the contrary.  “Rural life is not easy. You have to find a way to live. But with a bit of creativity and initiative it is possible to find valid options” he says.  For instance he chose to have a goat flock, but then he realized producing cheese would have been more profitable, and so he did. But he wasn’t alone. Toni told us that at that time a group of people made the same as him. Pushed by a hippie spirit of freedom , they moved to the Catalan countryside and started producing cheeses.  These farmers eventually founded Acrefa.

Nowadays Toni buys milk from local producers;  he makes and distributes 10 dairy products like fresh yogurt, cheese cream, the famous mató, the Garrotxa and the original Carrat.

Carrat is a unique cheese since it is ash-covered. Yes it’s coal ash and it gives the cheese a singular taste. Carrat has goat aromas and a creamy texture similar to yogurt.  Toni told me he had a square mold that remembered him french cheeses, so he thought he could put creamy curd in it.  Then he came up with the idea of covering it with coal ashes to differentiate it. He eventually realized coal gave Carrat an authentic taste but it had a little inconvenient: it stained hands. So Tony had to find a solution and he finally added pennicilium candidum – a food genus –  to avoid hands dirtying and it worked!

Toni also talked about the different coagulations to obtain hard and soft cheese. In the first case, he heats milk at 36º C and adds a consistent rennet quantity. In a few hours milk turns solid and can be put in cold stores. Seasoning lasts 30-50 days.  It is important to touch cheeses once a week to avoid mold spreading. Yes mold, don’t be scared! Mold is actually a natural process in cheese seasoning. “People should know mold is something natural. If it comes out it means everything is ok, we should worry if this doesn’t happen!”

Garrotxa goat hard cheese

In the second case, he heats milk at 20º C keeping the temperature during 24 hours. Rennet quantitiy is minimum and the all process is slower. What comes out is a fantastic cream.

Obviuosly before leaving I stored up both hard and soft cheeses. If you are interested in knowing more or visiting Formatges Bauma here you have some interesting data:

Formatges Bauma, La Solana – Borredà

+34 93 823 90 64 –

Are you ready for the next story?


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5 Responses to The Only Cheese that comes from Ashes

  1. Leire says:

    Amazing story and amazing pictures! Can’t wait to read more! 😀

  2. mark says:

    Bravo fra! You write like a native in english! Very interesting also. We love food!!!!!!!!

  3. I would like to thank you for the efforts you put in writing this blog. Your creative writing abilities has inspired me to get my own site now!

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