Pere Argudo was born in the foothills of the Pyrenees but came to Malaga with his family three and a half years ago, attracted by the abundance and quality of the milk from the Malagueña breed of goat. He is proud of the fact that his extraordinary soft cheeses are taking the name of Malaga to specialist shops and major restaurants in Paris, Turin and Milan. “We are one of the biggest local exporters. Around 85 per cent of our production, which will be 200 tons this year, goes to Italy and France,” he says.
Lact-Argudo, the company this master cheesemaker runs in Campillos with his sister Margarita and his children, Mateu (25), and Marina (22), is not easy to find. It has no website, is not on social media, and only recently appointed a local distributor (Comercial Galera).
The reason is that the Argudo family came here to satisfy the demand of a loyal European clientele who wanted more products; it was only later that they started exhibiting at trade fairs, after joining the Sabor a Malaga association.
“We don't see the Spanish market as our main focus, because this type of cheese isn't in such demand here. It isn't traditional of this region” says Pere. “There is no section for cheeses like ours in local competitions but we are delighted that people like them and now that our labels identify our cheeses as being made in Malaga we are collaborating on promoting the quality and variety of local cheeses abroad,” he explains.
Pere Argudo began to make cheese from the milk of his own goats when he was 23 years old. In the 1980s, when the very traditional industry began to adapt to the demanding European sanitary regulations, he was the first producer in the region of La Garrotxa (Girona) to obtain a sanitary certificate and make his popular Garrotxa cheese, which nowadays is produced in Campillos under the name Gris de Montaña.
“There is a lack of goat milk in France and Italy, where the most cheese is consumed, so in 2002 I started to produce cheese for those markets. Even today, more than 50 per cent of goats milk from Malaga goes to France and because of that, and its quality, it seemed the perfect place to set up a business. A factory was up for sale in Campillos, so we came here. We modernised it and now it is working at full capacity,” says Pere.
Every day, the Quesos Argudo factory processes 6,000 litres of goat milk from local farms and produces 12 different cheeses, including the five specialities it sells under its ownname, blue cheeses and others which are only made to order.
In 2016, its 'Briqueta de cabra', a soft square cheese, won first prize in its category at the National Cheese Fair in Trujillo. It also makes Timbal de Cabra, Pastura, Raclette and the Gris de Montaña.
The process of making soft cheese is different to that of hard cheese because the whey is allowed to drain naturally, just being turned occasionally. Soft cheese needs a higher humidity so the rind ripens properly.
Throughout the whole process, the cheeses are looked after as if they were babies. Every Thursday, the week's production is rushed by refrigerated lorry to be sold in France and Italy. Mateu, who shares his father's passion for cheese, is in charge of the daily production.
“We are a team of 14, most of them young people who live locally. We can process this quantity of milk because we have optimised every step of the process. We have two shifts, one in the morning which carries out the production and one in the afternoon which does the cleaning (hygiene is absolutely essential in cheese production). It is hard work but it's ok - we always make sure there is time for a beer or two after work,” he laughs.