At Roncesvalles they make three types of cheese: Sancho (traditional), Roldán/Roland (smoked) and Miramamolin (organic). Photo: ASPACE NAVARRA.

ASPACE works to improve the quality of life and promote the integration of people with cerebral palsy. Photo: ASPACE NAVARRA.

Today, the Roncesvalles dairy has ten workers. Photo: ASPACE NAVARRA.

Roncesvalles Cheese: A cheese with social taste

The Navarra Cerebral Palsy Association, ASPACE NAVARRA, has set up an artisan dairy in Roncesvalles whose workers are disabled persons. It is a project to promote social integration and access to the labour market in rural areas.

Social taste. This is the slogan chosen by the Navarra Cerebral Palsy Association, ASPACE NAVARRA, for the 2018 Roncesvalles Cheese. It emphasises the two sides of an initiative aimed at giving jobs to disabled persons in rural areas: social and labour integration, and food quality.

Roncesvalles is an artisan cheese made with Latxa sheep’s milk, using ancient methods and techniques. The tasty ingredient, however, does not lie in raw materials or manufacturing processes but in the people who make it, for they are workers with cerebral palsy.

Roncesvalles-Orreaga was a dairy cooperative in the Navarran Pyrenees which was left without management in 2009. ASPACE NAVARRA saw in it an opportunity for a solidarity project. For seven years, they tried various manufacturing and marketing processes, and added staff. Today, the dairy has ten workers, seven of whom have an average degree of disability of 56%. They attend food fairs and tasting events with the help of their workmates.

 ‘We wanted to make a value-added, quality artisan cheese,’ says Rafael Olleta, General Manager at ASPACE NAVARRA. ‘We wanted to have a training programme, a quality improvement plan and new manufacturing methods,’ he adds.

Legendary cheese

In 2015, ASPACE NAVARRA learnt about the work done by José Luis Martín, the guru of artisan cheese, through INTIA. Martín is the Director of the Best Cheeses of Spain Gourmet Competition and coordinator of the section on cheese and milk products in Repsol’s Food and Drinks Guide. ASPACE NAVARRA asked him to visit its dairy.

Following Martín’s advice, they made adjustments to manufacturing parameters and designed new working methods for optimised performance and cheese with enhanced organoleptic properties. In addition, they began to manufacture new products, such as cheese with a more buttery texture or French-style cheese with a mouldy rind.

Roncesvalles cheese is made with milk from pasture-raised sheep in the wonderful setting that marks the beginning of the Way of St James, just next to the Collegiate Church of Roncesvalles, a pilgrimage site and home to a great many legends.

This explains the name chosen for the cheese series: ‘Las leyendas del Camino’ (Legends on the Way), as well as the characters after whom the three cheese varieties have been named after, namely, King Sancho VII the Strong (traditional cheese), the Frankish military leader Roland (smoked cheese) and Caliph Miramamolin (organic cheese).

Cerebral palsy

The Roncesvalles Cheese project has changed the lives of the people with cerebral palsy in the county of Sangüesa. ASPACE NAVARRA gave them an opportunity to work near home and make an income in an area with virtually no industries and few job opportunities for people with disabilities.

In Spain, one every 500 people is born with cerebral palsy. However, it is an ill-known condition. ‘Disabilities, and cerebral palsy in particular, have gained visibility in the past few years,’ says Mr Olleta, ‘this is the result of the sustained efforts made by a number of organisations working for the integration of disabled persons.’