On May 30, the Canary Islands will celebrate El Día de Canarias, a yearly holiday celebrating the unique culture and community of the region. Cities and towns explode in color from flags and flowers hanging from balconies and parades take over the streets. We are lucky to have our own connection to the islands through its cheeses. Our partnership with Grupo Ganaderos de Fuerteventura is fairly new, but their cheeses with unique island flavors have already become an important part of our catalog.
Connection between the Canary Islands and the U.S. has a long, little known history. The islands, located off the northwestern coast of Africa, were the first colony of the Spanish Empire and were used as a gateway for the near constant passage of ships traveling to the Americas after the 15th century. Canarian people were some of the first sent to what is now the U.S. to populate Spanish territories, many through the Tributo de Sangre. For every thousand tons of cargo shipped back to Spain, 50 Canarian families were sent to regions where the Spanish needed to boost their numbers. In this way, several thousand Canarians ended up in Texas and Louisiana, founding settlements like San Antonio and La Concepción, which later became St. Bernard Parish. Their descendants and influences remain today. Back when we were doing demos, we even met a woman who was a direct descendant while sampling our Canarian cheeses in Texas!
Since culture moves both ways, Americans have influenced the Canaries in their small way, too. There are words like naife (knife), queque (cake), and piche (pitch) that have become part of the Canarian language that come from American and British presence on the islands. One of the most peculiar is the word for bus, guagua, which may have originated from the initials of the American company that manufactured early buses, Washington & Walton and Co. Inc., or Wa & Wa.
If you’re looking to celebrate the Canary Islands today, there’s no better place to start than its distinct cheeses. We have several options: pimentón-covered Alisios®, made with cow’s and goat’s milk, Maxorata (Queso Majorero DOP), from the milk of the native breed of goat, the Majorero, Smokin’ Goat, a creamy young smoked goat’s milk cheese, and Cabra al Gofio, a flavorful goat cheese coated in the cornmeal typical of the Canary Islands. Any or all of these cheeses will give you a taste of Fuerteventura, the island on which they are made, and the rich history of goat farming there.
Our producer in the Canary Islands is deeply rooted in tradition but the owner, Esteban, is moving the company forward through technological innovations and efforts to become more self-sustainable. Last month they installed their first solar panels at their aging facility, which will produce 60% of the energy consumed there and reduce CO2 emissions by more than 30 tons. Over the next few years, they will continue their shift to solar power, with the aim of producing 70% of their total power from renewable sources in five years. Now that’s something to celebrate!
Gofio, the toasted cornmeal coating Cabra al Gofio, is thought to have been a staple in the diet of the Guanches, the indigenous Canarians. They made it from barley and the roots of ferns, but today it is more commonly made from corn or wheat. Gofio finds its way in all sorts of Canarian foods – from stews to desserts and even mixed in with a daily cup of coffee, as Esteban does.