They are quite the most hideous looking creatures on the planet, deformed and ugly…and despite their mutant bad-looks, they are also a much sought after delicacy, fetching up to 200+ euros a kilo.
You’ve got to wonder who the hell first thought sticking one of those in their mouth was a good idea.
We’d arrived in the the town’s picturesque square (known as the ‘amphitheatre’ because it’s shape is less square and more like an…well, that sort of speaks for itself) via a track which led from Hotel Casona de la Paca, an old villa built by Indianos (emigrants who’d made their fortune in the Americas) in the hills above the town.
The meandering route from hill to coast is an excellent way to arrive, offering some of the best views of Cudillero, with a conveniently placed viewpoint overlooking the tightly packed, red-tiled rooftops of buildings of all shapes and sizes that fill the valley floor between two lush, forested hills.
Apart from being easy on the eye, Cudillero is a town of nooks, crannies and curios. A tunnel connects the top of the town with the fishing harbour, a convenient if dark and often wet short cut. Balconies are shared by clothes drying in the breeze and shark skin just drying (good for sanding down boats). Even the fishermen’s houses are interesting in their designs; narrow affairs with long entrance corridors designed especially for storing oars. Huge brown nets with cork necklaces billow on a wall overlooking the ‘amphitheatre’ which is filled, unsurprisingly, with fish restaurants. Anyone who doubts the freshness of the fish in Cudillero need only order fish at one of these then watch their waiter pop across the road to the fish shop to collect the ‘ingredients’.
What’s hidden amongst the maze of higgledy-piggledy streets can even surprise the locals. Part of the oldest building in the town, the 13th century Humilladero Chapel, was only recently re-discovered during renovation work. The small unassuming chapel was where prisoners awaiting the death penalty were taken on the eve of their execution.
Cudillero is more than just a pretty-as-a-picture fishing community; it is one with a conscience. Salvador Fernández, head of Cudillero’s Cofradía de Pescadores, is passionate about protecting a way of fishing that puts food on fishermen’s tables, but also has respect for the sea and its inhabitants. The fishermen of Cudillero don’t use large nets, only hooks and fishing regulations are strictly adhered to in order to avoid over-fishing.
Even the ugly goose barnacle is fiercely protected, although getting hold of the creature that looks like a licorice allsort with a deformed foot isn’t an easy business. It clings to the most jagged of rocks that are battered by the biggest waves. Percebes fishermen have to wear protective clothing to get near it, which can also involve precision timing (to avoid being battered by a wave) and being tethered to a mate by a rope.
It is the last place in Spain which has a small scale hand fishing industry like this and Salvador Fernández is determined to keep it this way, working to encourage projects that protect and promote a way of life that has given Cudillero and its inhabitants its very special and attractive character.
If you fancy visiting Cudillero to sample some of its fish and seafood, Salvador offers some useful advice gleaned from over 40 years experience of fishing in Cudillero’s waters.
Fish in Cudillero is at its best when there’s an R in the month. This apparently doesn’t apply to the goose barnacles, but as I don’t have a spare €200 to buy, I’ll take Salvador’s word on that one.
Buzz Trips Fact file: Cooking Goose Barnacles
Cooking percebes is simple; boil them in water for a couple of minutes then break off their tops and suck out their insides. Don’t ask me what they taste like, I’ll try them is someone offers, but I’m not curious enough to fork out wads of cash to find out.