He is already 34 years old, but he is still the youngest shepherd in Teno Alto and “surely from Tenerife”, says Alexander López Rodríguez, who fears that “I will continue to be so for much longer, because the generational change in the livestock sector, and in this one in particular, has no signs of being a reality, it is going downhill ”. He is pessimistic about the survival of pastoralism on the island. “It is a difficult, hard job, but it would be the same for me to work in the town or in a city; Shepherding my 200 goats, milking them and making cheese, I feel fulfilled, ”he tells DIARIO DE AVISOS.
Alexander studied agricultural training in Tacoronte, began to dedicate himself to the world of cut flowers, and when he was 22 years old, he decided to start a life as a shepherd in Teno Alto, where his grandmother had a house, but lived in Buenavista, as did Alexander. He ran the La Mulata farm for five years, and for seven years he has owned the Naturteno farm, already recognized among the best cheese factories in the Canary Islands, with its traditional soft cheese, the raw milk semi-cured (gold medal in the last AgroCanarias contest ) and curing, difficult to find if not on request: they take it off their hands. These cheeses can be obtained on the farm itself, at the Saturday market in Buenavista, at the stall served by Juana, Alexander’s mother, and at different establishments in the municipality. The idea of the young shepherd is “to reduce the herd, and with it the quantity of cheese and increase the quality, with differentiated products”, maintaining the idea of rehabilitating the farm for guided tours and promoting ecotourism that occurs in Teno Alto, with a spectacular vantage point to see the south and north of Tenerife and the islands of La Gomera and La Palma, with a healthy climate, but cold, above all, due to the presence of a constant wind.
The development of extensive livestock farming with traditional grazing practices of the great Teno Alto plateau constitutes an endogenous resource capable of being valued as an attraction for visitors, allowing, in addition, to maintain the link of economic activity with the island territory, but there are hardly a couple of goatherds left in the fields. That is why it was not surprising that Alexander achieved, at the age of 25, the Agrojoven del Cabildo award in 2013. This year the island institution itself took the young cheesemaker to the Gastronomika fair in Donosti, where he unveiled, together with chef Juan Carlos Clemente , the roasted smoked semi-cured, accompanied by tears of chestnut jam and a few drops of coriander mojo.
Alexander López enthusiastically recalls the reasons why he chose smoked semi-cured cheese to present his cheese factory at Gastronomika: “Perhaps it is one of the cheeses that most represents us, as it is the most awarded. It is a cheese that is smoked for about 35 days, pampering time and humidity to obtain the results we are looking for ”. It shows that Alexander also likes to innovate, two years ago he surprised locals and strangers with a cheese that matured in a cave, which he called Restless. “It is a cheese with more than two months of maturation with a moldy rind and with a certain creaminess inside”, explains the young shepherd and businessman.
Furthermore, in relation to the extensive livestock farming that characterizes these cheeses, he adds that “we defend grazing, because it is beneficial for our cheeses, both in terms of flavors and aromas as well as their peculiarities. it’s a lifestyle. Being able to have cattle grazing day and night in our hamlet is a luxury that must be appreciated for the excellence of the product and because it helps to sustain the culture and tradition of the area, enriching the municipality and the island itself ”, and recognizes that the Technology helps, because “if you have a machine, you are not going to milk by hand, and if you have a dam, you are not going to make cheese by hand either,” he acknowledges.
Lack of rain
Contrary to other economic sectors, “the pandemic was barely noticed in Teno Alto” and the owner of Naturteno acknowledges that “all the cheeses we remove were sold, in this sense I can be satisfied”, but not because of the lack of rain. “We are – he recalls – in the middle of December and barely four drops have fallen and, although the countryside is grateful only for the serene, it is clear that the costs of feed are increasing”, now that it has also begun to work with Canarian sheep, to Get a cheese without mixing, differentiated, although his is still goat cheese, the one that is immersed in a project of denomination in Tenerife as Cabra Norte.
Alexander regrets that he cannot spend more time with his many friends in town, “although now with the virus reappearing again it is not a matter of partying”, he remembers, because “goats do not understand holidays or weekends, they do not I remember when I was able to take even a week of vacation, the most a few days that I took last month to go to Gastronomika in San Sebastián ”, although he continues to affirm that“ for me it is not heavy to go up to Teno Alto every day , because I do it in 20 minutes, but I do not stop recognizing that it is a very sacrificial job to get the goats out to herd, milk them and make the cheese, like that every day, except when the cattle do not give milk or are ready to give birth ”. He has had the opportunity to work in other larger and recognized farms on the island, but “there is nothing like having your own company and working for you and doing it daily in an idyllic place like Teno Alto”, he affirms emphatically.
Alexander, an only child, does not think, for now, about starting a family and if, if he ever had a son, “I would not like him to be a goatherd, because the son of a lawyer does not have to be a lawyer or the son of a goatherd must dedicate himself to the same. If it were really like that, perfect, there is no other way, but unfortunately the days of grazing are numbered here in Teno Alto and throughout the island I would dare to say. I think so myself, if I had to start from scratch, when I did it with the small family farm, I would not do it, not only because of the slavery that it is, but because of the obstacles that the Administration puts on you and the slowness in solving them “. It is said by those who, since they were 22 years old, have taken out two hundred goats -now also sheep- on the great plateau of Teno Alto, where it would be said, if it were not for the visitors who come almost daily to tour the area, that the time has stopped.