Fabes Asturias Producto Asturiano Finca El Ribeiro

FABES FROM ‘FINCA EL RIBEIRO’. The most spoiled product of Asturias

One by one, pod by pod: this is how fabes, the identity product of Asturias, are harvested. We visited the ‘Finca El Ribeiro’, in Soto de Luiña, an initiative halfway between a family farm and an emerging company.

A kilo of fabes has between 900 and a thousand fabes. More or less, at a gram per faba bean. With an average of five fabes per spoonful, it is easy to calculate what you get -only in legumes- with a plate of fabada. Fifteen spoonfuls weighed 75 grams when they fell into the casserole. If you repeat, 150. Plus the compango, of course. That is to say, a sure modorra of imperial digestion. Fabada stretches smiles when it is mentioned, widens stomachs when it is eaten and makes books and even poems when it is remembered. José Carlos Rubio gives another number to this sort of cabala of the mythical dish of Asturias: when you harvest, the best pods are those that contain five exact beans, all of equal size. If these lucky pods are plentiful, it means that the year has brought clover. Most beans will offer an extra grade when graded.

This year they could exceed 82 tons of beans marketed in 2019.This year they could exceed 82 tons of beans marketed in 2019.

Never have better fabes been grown in Asturias. On the one hand, the Regional Service for Agri-Food Research and Development (SERIDA) has developed more than a dozen efficient and resistant varieties to bad weather and pests. On the other hand, the number of dedicated and enthusiastic producers is growing everywhere. The Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) Faba Asturiana, the body that seeks to distinguish one of Spain’s most exceptional legumes, already brings together 148 producers working 190 hectares. This year they could surpass the 82 tons marketed in 2019 under its seal. Alejandra García-Braga, the other leg of ‘Finca El Ribeiro’.

José Carlos, 63, is one of those meticulous farmers. He started out as a hobby, to entertain his days off with family and friends: planting, tending, harvesting. And of course eating, because there is no better end to any hoe than to bet it next to the serving table. Today, José Carlos sells some of the best fabes in the region under the brand name ‘Finca El Ribeiro’. Renting some neighboring farms, he has also started to grow apples and blueberries in a plain that crosses the Paniza River and in whose corners he has also planted all kinds of trees, flowers and fruits. Chestnut, rose, walnut or orange trees treated with a care and a disconcerting talent for someone who, just a decade ago, had no notion of the countryside.

José Carlos is a chemist by training and his wife, Alejandra García-Braga, a bank employee. They bought an old house in 2007 in the valley of Las Luiñas, one of those enclaves that can still be discovered in an Asturias as small as it is hidden in a thousand corners. The valley is located in Soto de Luiña, next to Cudillero, the town where the phones run out of battery crammed with photos of its picturesque fishing facade. The mountains protect Las Luiñas from the sea, and the banks of the Paniza and the Esqueiro river feed a meadow that is an orchard.

Here José Carlos has framed some 25,000 fabes plants in 8,000 square meters, raised with guides and netting, with drip irrigation and lined up in perfect 80-meter rows. They are planted in May and harvested in October (this year has been somewhat delayed by the impertinent rains). By hand: plant by plant, pod by pod, in successive days, as each one matures. Seeing the farm weeks before harvest, brimming with greenery, is a spectacle.

“We started out with six married couples getting together on weekends. Harvesting faba beans is couples therapy: each on either side of the row, picking the pods and having to talk so you don’t get too bored,” laughs José Carlos. He chose the area because his wife liked gardening, but without any plan. “You get the hang of it as you get into it, and every year we got bigger and bigger.” Before starting to plough, however, he read books, consulted veteran farmers, and sought advice from SERIDA (Regional Service for Agri-Food Research and Development).

After the study, he chose the andecha variety, unmodified, and also far from the fashions that pursue elephantine sizes in the seed so that the diner opens his mouth prematurely. The andecha is a slightly smaller faba bean, but with a tenderness that trembles on the tongue. José Carlos harvests about 1,000 kilos of the extra category, that is, the one that obtains the best scores in the sensory tastings where granularity, hardness, skin surface and flouriness are calibrated. Those that do not meet these requirements are delivered to the Cocina Económica.

Of the superior ones, he gives 40% to friends and relatives and sells the rest to restaurants (at 7.5 euros per kilo) and to specialized stores (at 15 euros). Also in local fairs, with a zero kilometer conviction. The green faba beans, known in the catering trade as faba fresca, are separated separately and not marketed. Something strange with a product that several restaurants have included in their menus as superior. The fresh faba beans have finished their development but have not begun to dry, so they retain all their moisture. It yields less, because in a kilo it only gathers about 650 seeds, and therefore it is more expensive. It has to be consumed or frozen as soon as it is harvested, which, together with its scarcity, makes it a product pursued by many and often sold among friends.

At first glance, they are indistinguishable, but according to its supporters, the fresh one is more delicate in the mouth. Its detractors, on the other hand, argue that instead of absorbing the broth of the fabada, it expels water, leaving it without thickening. The PGI (Protected Geographical Indication) does not protect it, because as it is a green crop it is not considered a legume, but a vegetable. José Carlos, however, has another argument: “Apart from the fact that as a chemist I don’t see any variation in flavor properties, you take away the value of the product, because the production chain also includes the people who select them, dry them, pack them…”. They also have 2,500 organic blueberry plants.

In ‘El Ribeiro’ they also dry the beans in the traditional way: in hórreos and paneras, where once completely dehydrated, this product from South America was once shelled and now has its main competitor precisely in that origin. The PGI has launched a campaign to warn of the cheating sale of Bolivian beans, identical in appearance and cheaper (and not so exquisite, according to the PGI), but which are sometimes presented to the customer with the false Asturian name. The changeover, logically, is easier to sneak into restaurants, where the “gato por liebre” can also affect the second part of the regional marriage: the compango, or the porcine quadriga of chorizo, blood sausage, bacon and pork shoulder that the canonical recipe registers as untouchable ingredients, and which must share ancestry with the legume to be called fabada.

José Carlos continues to gather his friends and family in the rows every autumn, although now with the assistance of professional crews that he hires to also harvest his 300 apple trees, of 10 different varieties; and 2,500 plants of organic blueberries of the centrablue variety, later than the August blueberry (whose abundance causes greater price drops every year). While commenting on the headaches caused by the suzuki fly and the Asian wasp, José Carlos says that ‘El Ribeiro’ is at that moment between the family farm and the company about to scale, a goal that increasingly convinces his daughter Isabel, 31 years old.

After 13 years working all over the world, from Dubai to Canada, Isabel is seduced by the country life that her parents have started almost by chance: “It’s calling me”, she confesses, while her father doesn’t quite see it clearly: “The problem is not farming. The problem is distribution. That’s where they take the money. Asturian fabes have to be placed abroad as what they are, a unique product of exceptional quality, and that is difficult in markets that only look at the price”. Then Alejandra appears and tells everyone that the fabada is ready, to stop working. As soon as they arrive at the table, of course, the first thing they offer you is a cider.

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