I didn’t visit Cantabria in order to milk cows, but that’s what happened.
The idea of staying on a traditional farm in a region where dairy farming is massive, seemed liked a good way to get to know the locals and learn more about the food of this unique part of Spain.
But, really, they didn’t actually want me to get up in the dark and milk cows for my tea, did they? Pull the udder one!
I lived on a farm in Yorkshire for many years and never, but never, got up close and personal with cows.
But, when in Cantabria, do as the Cantabrians do.
Fresh dairy products are the lifeblood of a kitchen up here. Farmers such as Eduardo, who I stayed with, produce their own cheese and other diary products that are sold on locally.
Cantabria is a region for those who love mountains. I relish Spanish mountains. I have no wish to climb them, but I do want to see them while I sit eating home grown Spanish fayre.
I get the impression that the people of Cantabria are not boastful people. They don’t go around singing the praises of local food. In my opinion, they should. For they have much to ‘crow’ about.
Probably the best bread I have tasted in Spain was consumed in vast quantity here. The lobster… oh my word! The lobster was terrific. Just as others had told me it would be.
On the coast, sardines and anchovies are served up in a variety of ways. I could have sampled mussels with olives, but instead chose a local meal called Arroz Santanderino.
I’m a rice freak. Leave me only with rice and I’ll be just fine.
Well this dish sees rice combined with Salmon. Light and delightful, there is a recipe for it on this site.
And, from time to time, you will want a light meal during your stay in Cantabria.
For inland the meat dishes are, to put it mildly, filling. Cocido Montañes is the best mountain stew to pass my lips. A friend also enjoyed the Venison stew (Ciervo a la Monañesa).
Cottage cheese is plentiful. I ate more of that on Eduardo’s farm than I had in my previous years on the planet. And milk. Well it was like being back at primary school in the 1960’s. I could have once again been a milk monitor!
The farmers of Cantabria are busy producing cream, butter and yoghurt. Much of it is exported elsewhere in Spain and to France and beyond.
Predictably the dairy based puddings here are a bit special. Classic Spanish sweets such as Caramel custard (flan al caramelo), Leche frita (deep fried custard slices) and, my favourite, rice pudding (arroz con leche).
Santander is the place everyone knows about. It is where you go if you love fish and seafood.
I’ve lost count of the people who had told me that you hadn’t sampled the best seafood in Spain – of which I am a devotee – until you had dined out in Santander.
Those people were correct – and then some.
If you want to taste Spanish cooking at its most authentic, get to Cantabria.
If you want to milk cows, get an alarm clock!