Tuesday 5 March 2024

Nigal, mathematical solutions for the Galician 4.0 industry

Nigal is the acronym for New Galician Industry (and also the name of a goddess from Mesopotamian mythology) and already from the name the founders of this start-up from Lugo set the ambitious goal of bringing innovative and revolutionary solutions to different sectors of the industry Galician, always based on Machine Learning and mathematical models. Although the company is barely two years old, they already have three products for various sectors in the purchased one and they aspire to develop many others in the future.

Lara Neira, Nigal’s CEO, explains that the idea came from a group of Galician researchers who, like her, were working abroad and wanted to return to Galicia to start some kind of innovative project that generates added value. “With this idea we went to the call for 4.0 projects of Galicia Open Future and we were selected to participate in the accelerator. Then we won the award for the best accelerated project and in May 2020, in the midst of a pandemic, we created the company”, indicates Neira.

Libatio is the main project in which Nigal participate. It is an intelligent stopper for barrels that controls the evaporation of wine and improves its quality. The initiative is developed in collaboration with the Vigo company SC Robotics and has a grant from the Conecta Hubs program of the Galician Innovation Agency (Gain) of the Xunta de Galicia. At this time, the solution will apply to the wine sector, but it may also be extended to other sectors that work with other types of liquids, such as oil, for example.

The other two projects that are already being marketed by Nigal are an application that makes it possible to digitize the process of cutting down wood (Notifor) and a waste management platform (Lixo), which has already begun to be applied in collaboration with the Ribadeo Town Hall. As in the case of Libatio, the application of mathematical models to industry is at the base of the products. Neira points out that the growth of the company is being very fast due to the knowledge with which the founding partners started. She herself has a doctorate in Machine Learning and another of the founding partners, Adrián Rodríguez, has a doctorate in Applied Mathematics.

“For the immediate future, our plans are to scale the products we have to increase supply and, at the same time, develop new solutions for other sectors. Our fundamental objective is to create value for companies. Internationalization is something that we also have in mind and we already have some contacts in that line”, Neira tells. In just two years the company already has 8 employees and in 2022 it aspires to consolidate the business generated.

Neira highlights the importance of the public support obtained for the development of the company, both within Galicia Open Future, as well as Conecta Hubs and a grant from Igape to attend a food fair in Germany where Libatio was presented.

Artificial intelligence

Nigal is an example of a company that knew how to detect an important market niche and in a very short time was the one who brought out products for very diverse sectors. The fact of basing their model on artificial intelligence facilitated their entry to the buyer and now they have to face the challenge of bringing these innovative products to companies that are demanding solutions for an industry 4.0 that is increasingly developing in the Galician economy.

It is also worth noting the fact that the company was created by researchers who decided to return to Galicia to develop their skills and that from a small place like Ribadeo it is possible to develop a leading start-up in a sector with a lot of competition and that is capable of to generate a lot of added value.

High-precision timing for steel athletes

The incorporation of new high-precision technologies into sport has meant a leap in quality for CCNorte Multisports Galicia. This company based in the industrial estate of O Ceao, in Lugo, draws on applications to offer accurate measurement and plotting of timing or timing of athletes in almost any type of sporting event.

To achieve this, they have imported to Galicia the Dutch technology MyLaps, a world leader in sports timing, and offer a comprehensive event management service that includes both virtual registration, organization and development, as well as its management, dissemination and communication. 

What does MyLaps allow them? It combines the chip with GPS positioning and adapts to a wide range of sports: running (road, cross, trail), cycling, cyclocross, mountain biking, triathlon, duathlon, aquatlon, swimming, cross country, obstacle courses, skating, canicross…

Behind Champion Chip Norte, Multisports Galicia S.L.U is a team of more than twenty professionals of various profiles (computer, administrative, commercial and sports technicians) with as many years of experience behind them and who have made use of R&D to improve the management and efficiency of the competition, smoothing out those tenths of a second that often make the difference.

“It makes it easy to follow the position of the athletes in real time and offer personalized videos of their arrival at the finish line”

At the head of the company is José Sánchez del Valle, and behind him, in 2019, for example, before the pandemic, the comprehensive organization of more than 250 sporting events, including complex events such as the Ironman (Northwest Triman) of As Pontes with distances and records almost impossible for most humans.

“Since the year 2000 we have collaborated with all kinds of organizers: private clubs, town councils, provincial councils, sports federations, sponsorship brands,… even leading the market in the north of the Peninsula”, company sources explain. We have been expanding from Galicia to Asturias, Cantabria, El Bierzo, Catalonia through a network of branches to promote the sporting event wherever the organization wants to take it.

Covers all the needs of a test

“We cover all the needs of a test: registration management, permits, image, physical and online advertising, merchandising, physical structures, insurance and we offer the client the possibility of being able to fully control the event through our online platform. line: registration management, billing, bib management, virtual secretariat”, they explain from the headquarters of this company rooted in Lugo, and which has the support of the Xunta in aid for business innovation.

“Our technology allows us to know at all times through the Internet the data and the position of the athletes with GPS and Live Results, with our own developed software. The times and statistics of each race are uploaded to the Internet at the same moment in which the athlete crosses the control points and we implement video arrivals; Once the test is over, all the athletes can access the video of the moment of their arrival at the finish line with their exact mark”. There is no final photo, they joke; “The chip always sends”.

Asuque, sum of talent to take advantage of food waste

The period of the beginning of Covid-19 pandemic was a very complicated stage for many professionals, but there were also those who knew how to take advantage of the break in activity to launch new ideas. This is the case of chef Javier Olleros (Culler de Pau) and the entrepreneurs María Veiga and Miguel Garea, from the Bisqato de Guitiriz cheese factory, who began to talk about the possibilities of taking advantage of the surpluses of agri-food companies such as Bisqato itself.

The idea grew and today there are already professionals from other sectors to advance in a project that has many elements to become a long-term idea in Galician gastronomy. “With Bisqato the idea arose of working with whey to try to take advantage of it and we began to test different preparations and techniques. People from other disciplines were incorporated, such as a researcher and a farmer, and we came to see that it was an idea in which progress could be made”, explains Olleros.

The research is in a second phase where they try to explore the possibilities of being able to industrialize processes that, for now, are done in an artisanal way. The ultimate goal is that this whey from the cheese factory can have a second life and be marketed as a new product. Among the tests that were done were attempts to transform the whey into a vinegar, a fermented drink and also a carbonated drink. “We have many ideas but they are not yet round,” explains Olleros, aware that it is not easy to convert a material of this type into an ideal product for marketing.

“We are going to focus on the use of whey for now and not get confused with other products because it is difficult to transform such a product into a perfect recipe. We are a team of five people and a normal company can take between three and five years to create a product with these characteristics”, says the chef. Olleros highlights the importance of teamwork and with people with different profiles to be able to carry out this type of initiative.

“I am a cook and María and Miguel take care of all the entrepreneurship, but it is also necessary to understand the concepts used by fishmongers, farmers, etc. I would never be able to do the work that a farmer does but it is very important to be able to understand it, that is why collaboration is so important. We all have a lot to learn”, concludes the Culler de Pau chef, who believes that it is necessary to extend the culture of collaboration to advance with projects of this type.

RECYCLING CULTURE

The Asuque initiative has as its fundamental philosophy the use and recycling of food waste and Olleros considers that this is a debate that has to be on the table. “We come from a very wild world where almost everything was thrown away and now we need the support of the Administration to develop this type of project is to spread the thought that we have to make better use of things, not just food. The idea that we don’t have to throw so many things in the trash has to advance in society. We have to take more advantage of the products and not throw them away but recycle them”, adds Olleros.

The Asuque project was integrated into the BFFood accelerator, promoted by the Xunta de Galicia through the Galician Innovation Agency (Gain), Xesgalicia and Igape. In this video, Olleros explains some of the characteristics of this innovative project that is of special importance in an economy such as the Galician economy, which is in great need of initiatives of this type in the agri-food sector, which still has many possibilities for development:

Hermes Smart Control, innovative logistics for the industrial sector

The BFAuto (Business Factory Auto) accelerator, promoted by the Xunta through the Galician Innovation Agency (GAIN), the Galician Institute for Economic Promotion (Igape) together with the Cluster of Galician Automotive Companies (CEAGA), Stellantis, the Consortium Zona Franca de Vigo and the venture capital company Vigo Activo, was a decisive factor in the start-up of Hermes Smart Control, a start-up from Vigo that during its short existence (it was born in 2018) was already able to develop and market innovative products with solutions for monitoring machinery and improving logistics in companies, especially in the automotive sector.

Xabier Barra, one of the company’s founding partners, explains that the Covid-19 pandemic made the company’s path to consolidation more difficult, but little by little they are making progress with the products they are developing. The main one is Whimcom (Where is My Container), a solution focused on the logistics of the automotive sector and that allows knowing the location and status of the containers at all times.

“It is a solution that has a very important impact for customers. We have finished the development phase of the project and now we are starting the pilot test. We also hope that the sector can recover little by little from the crisis experienced and that we can market the product with several clients who are already very interested,” says Barra.

The solution developed by Hermes is based on the implantation of a chip in the container that allows its location to be known at all times. The system uses geolocation with GPS coordinates on commercial networks, which means that its coverage could be worldwide and the costs are very low. Battery life is another of the elements solved by Whimcom, which makes it an open platform solution, strong and adaptable to each client. “It is a product that mixes hardware and software and also has a platform in the cloud, which means that the client does not have to install an application,” says Barra.

Another of the products that the start-up from Vigo is already marketing is the Qair, a high-quality CO2 meter that can be used in both public and private areas such as restaurants, homes, offices or libraries. The device was developed during the Covid-19 pandemic just at a time when this type of product began to have a very high demand.

Mobocen is another of the solutions developed by Hermes and in this case it is a device that allows the operation of machinery to be controlled. It allows to monitor the vibrations and the temperature of the machines, so that the clients can anticipate failures in the diverse elements of the devices. With this it is possible to avoid unforeseen failures and reduce the costs of line stoppage, as well as better planning the maintenance of the machinery.

PORTO CLOSER THAN MADRID

Barra points out that the company is currently located in the facilities of the Vigo Free Trade Zone business incubator in Porto do Molle and both the BFAuto accelerator and the CEAGA automotive cluster continue to provide important collaboration in various aspects of its development, such as training and also customer acquisition.

Internationalization is a natural process for Hermes, since its proximity to Portugal makes it a natural market for the company. “For now, we don’t plan to go any further because we are working with neighborhood circles and Porto is much closer than Madrid for us,” says Barra.

Looking to the future, Barra points out that monitoring is going to be a very important activity and his company works in a sector that is the first step before starting artificial intelligence. “Data is essential to advance in this type of process and we are like the bees that build the honeycomb so that later someone can get the honey from there,” says the Hermes manager.

PhotoIlike, the artificial intelligence that helps to sell

Applying artificial intelligence to create more attractive ads is the core of PhotoIlike’s business, a spin-off company that was born within the Citic (Research Center for Information and Communication Technologies) of the University of Coruña (UdC) and that with just one year of life already has the support of very important clients in the real estate sector, including Abanca. Looking to the immediate future, it is already aiming to extend its activity to other sectors such as the automotive industry or online second-hand product stores, which are also adapted to the solutions proposed by PhotoIlike.

Juan Romero, majority shareholder and head of research at the company, explains that the project arose from the Rnasa Imedir del Citic research group, dedicated to the study of different possibilities of applying artificial intelligence. “We had been working on the application of artificial intelligence in the arts for twenty years and we already had a high level in this field worldwide. That is why we took the step to create the spin-off, which was established in March 2021 after the development carried out through the Igicia program of the Galician Innovation Agency (Gain) of the Xunta de Galicia over the two years previous ones”, explains Romero.

The operation of the system developed by PhotoIlike is very simple. It is about “guessing” the majority tastes of the clients and being able to order a set of photographs of a property that is intended to be sold. Artificial intelligence made it possible to create a tool that facilitates a significant increase in visits to real estate ads, since the most attractive photos for customers automatically come to occupy the first positions. “Abanca has already tested the system and managed to increase visits by 15 percent and the number of people who ask about the properties by 20 percent,” says Romero.

Currently the AutoAd solution designed by PhotoIlike is being marketed above all by real estate agencies, portals in this sector, virtual tour companies and investment funds that acquire real estate. In the short term, Romero points out that other types of solutions will be developed for the sector, such as an auto-renewal system for advertisements, since it is something demanded by the buyer, and a tool to improve photos. But the possibilities of applying artificial intelligence to photographs can be successfully extended to other sectors.

The spin-off from Coruña has already planned to enter the automobile and second-hand market in the coming months. In addition, they are working on the possibility of applying the model to e-commerce, which would allow customers, when they do a search in an online store, what they are going to see corresponds to their tastes and not just those of the majority of customers. To give an idea of ​​the growth that PhotoIlike is registering, suffice it to point out that in one year more than 15 million photos were evaluated.

Slow internationalization

The PhotoIlike research manager assures that the initial help from the Ignicia program was essential for the development of the company and they also obtained support from Igape. “The fact of being a technology company helps us to access financing and we also have state aid through Enisa,” says Romero. Internationalization is a very clear goal of the project from the beginning and they are already working on this line.

Slowly but surely, PhotoIlike aspires to consolidate itself in a sector that has many possibilities for growth, since online sales continue to grow after the pandemic and having a virtual showcase that is as attractive as possible is a fundamental requirement to survive in a shop. increasingly competitive. The spin-off from Coruña has the knowledge and a human team backed by many years of research, which is still in the company’s DNA.

Xouba of Rianxo, delicatessen with an ancient tradition

Rianxo (A Coruña) is a beautiful village in Arousa Norte area with a long seafaring tradition that is lost in time. Located in the largest of the Galician estuaries, this town is a benchmark in sardine fished with the traditional art of xeito. It is also said that it is the place of origin of the best xouba (little sardine), the blue fish most associated with summertime: as the traditional saying recalls, “Polo San Xoán, a xouba molla o pan” (for Saint John’s Day, the sardine dips the bread).

The sardine is a pelagic fish characterized by its bluish colour, with greenish and silver reflections on the belly, and its slender shape. It lives in shallow waters (usually between 5 and 50 meters deep), where it forms large banks that approach the coast in late spring and summer, in the spawning season.

Its sexual maturity comes in the first year of life, when it reaches a size of 13 centimetres, although this species can reach a length of 25 centimetres. Before reaching the point of its maximum development, sardines are usually called xoubas in Galicia, being especially appreciated in the local gastronomy.

One of the fishing gears used to catch this fish is the traditional xeito, in which the Rianxo fishermen´s guild, with 117 exploitation permits (permex) authorized for this art in 2021, is the one that has the largest number. Last year was a bad season for sardines, with a low level of catches: in total, the guild sold 926kg of xouba and 26,250kg of sardine, with a total of 30 vessels that were successful, with an average of two people working on each boat.

The best moment of captures is usually from mid-May to July, although in good years it can last until the beginning of August, explains the chairman of the Rianxo fishermen’s guild, Miguel Ángel Iglesias. It is precisely in the month of July when this fishing village hosts a gastronomic festival dedicated to xouba, an occasion to discover and enjoy this tasty blue fish in traditional preparations and also innovative proposals.

The key is in the taste

According to Iglesias, the most distinctive trace of this local fish is its flavour. “Our xouba has another substance, because it has a little more fat than the other ones”, says. He also adds that, taking into account its quality and established reputation, “it is a fish that has a name made in the market.”

From a gastronomic point of view, the sardine and the xouba are very versatile fish, so they admit an infinite number of presentations and accompaniments. Some of the most common preparations are empanadas (made with corn or wheat flour), but also pickled, stewed, with cachelos (boiled potatoes) or according to the simple and tasty presentation typical of the Saint Jonh’s Day festival: grilled and accompanied by a piece of cornbread.

The secret of xouba of Rianxo is its flavour: “Ours has another substance because it has a little more fat than whatever it was,” says the elder patron of the fishermen´s guild

Living with these more traditional options are innovative proposals that invite you to play with flavours, combinations and new textures. Some examples are the different recipes for marinated xoubas, which can be made raw in vinegar (such as anchovies) or using other ingredients such as gazpacho of green tomato and jalapeños, orange and salmon caviar.

In order to value the product, certify the origin and control the traceability of the xouba of Rianxo, the fishermen’s guild is working on the creation of a brand. The future quality label is conceived for all areas: to be used in fresh produce, preserved and even in the field of catering.

From a gastronomic point of view, xouba and sardine are very versatile products.

The xeito, an ancient and selective fishing gear

Most of the sardine catches in Galicia are made with the purse seine, and a small amount with the xeito, which is a very old fishing gear and one of the most selective that exists. Considered within the drift gear, the xeito is made up of a rectangular cloth stretched between two trallas: the upper one (which consists of a buoy flotation system that allows the draft at variable depth) and the lower one, which is weighted with sinkers. . It must remain attached to the boat by means of a rope of variable length, leaving the other end free.

This is a fishery regulated by specific management plans for this species and gear, which fix issues such as the size of the mesh, length of the cloth and catch limits. They also impose the minimum size that the fish must have, which is 11 centimetres.

This type of fishing, in which Rianxo stands out, is a very selective gillnet art that generates very few discards. Among other characteristics, the peculiarity that it allows to extract the fish in good condition stands out, something especially important in the case of the xouba, as it is smaller and more delicate than the sardine. “When it comes to unravelling it, it takes a lot of work, you have to be more careful and treat it with special affection because, if not, it will unravel”, points out the older boss, adding that “even to take it to the fish market you have to put it on ice because It takes a long time, it also ends up unravelling ”.

The first known documentary mention of xeito fishing in Galicia dates from the 15th century

Iglesias especially highlights the “artisan” character of success, since “among all the fishing gears it is the only one that did not change at all” with the passage of time. According to Elisa Ferreira in her work Fishing and Regional Economy in Galicia (which is part of the monograph entitled Fishing in the Middle Ages), the first known documentary mention of xeito (jeito) in the community dates from the 15th century, specifically from the year 1418. In any case, it is possible that the practice predates this reference.

More than 600 years old for a type of fishing in which today we continue to work, maintaining the artisanal practice and working to guarantee the quality of the product. And it is that, according to Iglesias, in the fishing world you have to work by vocation: “I was hooked”, he acknowledges, while expressing his conviction that “if the bureaucratic issue were easier, perhaps he would sign up more people”.

The secret of the costrada de Pontedeume

Costrada is a medieval dish made with special dough and several layers of ingredients, especially meat, which is prepared in the Pontedeume area (A Coruña). Since the 12th century, this tradition continues to this day in the village of the Andrades, where a family of pastry chefs jealously guards the greatest secret of their recipe: the dough.

Tradition locates the origin of this overwhelming dish in the refectory of the Augustinian monks of Caaveiro, in which, on the one hand there is the dough and, on the other, several layers of meat (loin, ham and on the other) seasoned with onion and pepper. Today you can also find a variant made with fish, using turbot, scallop and ham on the different levels. However, not just any ingredient will serve as a filling, since not all meats, fish or seafood guarantee the juicy result that should be obtained.

It is a laborious dish to prepare. The elaboration of the dough has its peculiarities; with a formula that is kept secret (it is different from empanada and puff pastry). But you also have to take special care in the choice of ingredients and in the time it is left to cook in the oven.

The recipe for the dough is a well kept treasure in the family of Lourdes Feal Dopico, one of the owners of the Obradoiro de Pontedeume confectionery and who claims to remain faithful to the original recipe. The preparation of this pasta based on wheat flour has its own, since a balance must be maintained, achieving a rather thin dough but consistent enough to sustain all the steps that make up this delicacy. For cooking, it takes about two hours in the oven at a not too high temperature so that it is done well without burning.

“It is a very laborious recipe: in which a costrada is made, five empanadas are made”, says the confectioner, who emphasizes that, in addition to respecting the original recipe, to achieve the best result it is necessary to “use good ingredients and cook with lots of love”.

Original recipe

Tradition says that the costrada came to the Eume lands from Italy, through the religious community of Saint Augustin who settled in the Monastery of Caaveiro in the Middle Ages. From his kitchen and refectory, the recipe spread among the wealthy people homes (its main ingredients are various types of meat, a prohibitive delicacy for humble families). “Chicken was a luxury then”, sentences Lourdes Feal Dopico, who also says that even today costrada is “not cheap”. It is normally consumed on special dates, such as the patron saint festivities or for the Christmas holidays.

With the passage of time, the old custom of making costrada in the houses was lost. In his book A mesa e manteis, the historian Xavier Castro affirms that this elaboration was one of the “medieval pillars of Galician gastronomy” and that in the 20th century it was reduced to “a culinary remnant officiated in the family kitchen” and “in some heroic establishment”, expressly citing the case of Cristina Dopico and also the Obradoiro pastry shop, set up by her daughters. “I think that today we are the only confectionery that makes the costrada”, claims Lourdes, who defends the preparation with the inherited “original” recipe.

Costrada. Photo: Confeitería Obradoiro.

Regarding the history of the family recipe, Lourdes explains that her mother, Cristina Dopico, had a shop and that, little by little, she began to complement that work with making costradas to order, after a family from the village to provide you with the recipe. Later, after having contact with a local nun who also claimed to have the original recipe, she was able to verify the coincidence of both two production methods.

The secret formula of the dough, the selection of good ingredients and the ideal cooking are some of the keys to the preparation of this dish

Cristina made the costrada in the kitchen of her house and later the family took them to an oven to cook. Little by little the word spread and the orders began to be extended to more houses in Pontedeume, the outskirts and even other more distant places. “I remember my mother sending one on the train to Madrid”, says Lourdes Feal.

When Cristina retired, her daughters Maribel, Beatriz and Lourdes took over the production of their mother’s traditional recipes and set up the Obradoiro confectionery. Since 1991, the establishment has made costradas and typical Pontedeume pastries, among other artisanal articles. In the case of costrada, and taking into account its peculiarities, they have it available only on request.

Lourdes Feal vindicates the role of her mother as an enterprising woman who “recovered” the preparation of the costrada since, at that time, “although there were recipes in some houses, it was no longer being made”. As for the future, when the time comes to pass the baton to a third generation, he predicts that the legacy that his mother preserved with effort and love will continue to be safe: “I think continuity is assured: we have very good people working with us”, she says.

Pontedeume, a town of ancient gastronomy

The costrada of Pontedeume is not the only example of local gastronomy that has its roots in a secular history, keeping alive old recipes and family elaborations handed down from generation to generation. Especially prominent are the traditional sweets, many times used as an after-dinner for the holidays.

In the repertoire of local traditional pastries ones of the most famous are almendrados and melindres, as it happens in other Galician towns. More specific are prollas, manguitos or the Pontedeume cake, because we only can find them is this historic village.

Caaveiro, cradle of the Pontedeume costrada

A few kilometers from Pontedeume, in the heart of the Fragas do Eume, the stone silhouette of the Monastery of Caaveiro stands out, a place where the origin of the so-called “costrada of the monks” has traditionally been located. This monastery located in the municipality of A Capela, on the top of a promontory that rises between the Eume and Sesín rivers, has a long history. It was the place of residence of different religious communities, including one of the order of Saint Augustine that would have brought the recipe for this peculiar dish from Italy.

Mosteiro de Caaveiro, un dos lugares de visita obrigada nas Fragas do Eume. Imaxe: turismo.gal.
Monastery of Caaveiro, in As Fragas do Eume. Photo: turismo.gal.

Tradition indicates that Caaveiro was founded as a monastery of Benedictine monks by Saint Rosendo in the 10th century, although it already existed previously. In the 12th century it was refounded by King Alfonso VII and his wife, Doña Berenguela. Later it passed to the Canons Regular of Sait Augustine and, during the 18th century, it lost its character as a collegiate church, a circumstance that ended up causing the end of monastic life.

In the 19th century, with the Desamortización (confiscation) of Mendizábal, the monastery’s assets remained in the hands of individuals. At present it is owned by the Provincial Council of A Coruña. The architectural complex has undergone rehabilitation actions by the provincial body, resulting in the winner of the European Award for Intervention in Architectural Heritage in the category of outdoor spaces in 2015.

As Mariñas Coruñesas, the place where the product is a declaration of love for the land

A few kilometres far from the city of A Coruña we can find an authentic universe full of rural flavour. As Mariñas, a territory that has the declaration of Biosphere Reserve, is a hotbed of initiatives that work and value quality products. And they do it from creativity, innovation and sustainability.

Not too far from the Cecebre Forest, the one that inspired the famous book The Animated Forest by Wenceslao Fernández Flórez; we found one of these initiatives where the product is a declaration of love for the land. Os Biosbardos, cultura de leira is a project that works faithfully following the principles of permaculture, seeking a model where care for the planet, people and the commitment to return any surplus to the system, closing the circle. Another of its references is syntropic agriculture, based on the maxim “plant what you need where you need it.”

When Miguel Ángel Roig decided to change his professional activity and start working in agriculture, he was clear from the beginning that his model would bet on outdoor cultivation, with an ecological certificate and following the principles of permaculture. “What made the most sense to me was creating food forests, starting a 100% sustainable agriculture model,” he says.

With these ideas as a starting point, the main challenge was to implement a project of certain dimensions, on an area of ​​5 hectares. “We did some initial calculations and a project, but we did not find any success stories similar to what we wanted to do, it was all on a small scale”, says. Thus, he works with his sights set on being able to scale the model in a viable way and, from there, “disseminate what is being learned.”

Os biosbardos lands, located in Cambre (A Coruña). Foto: Os biosbardos.

Food forests

The “food forest” model in which Os Biosbardos works is committed to creating an ecosystem in balance through the combination of different species and varieties of plants. It is, in a way, to imitate the functioning of ancestral forests, where some species develop thanks to their interaction with the rest of the elements of the place. “What we did is try to simulate this, but with species and varieties of food plants that give us value”, says.

This “food forest” is made up of different strata that allow various complementary uses on land located in the Lendoiro area, in Cambre, where the project has an area of ​​5 hectares. According to Roig, they are working in the different strata, cultivating and experimenting with the coexistence of species such as avocados, walnut trees and citrus fruits such as linkuat, kumquat, Buddha’s hand or citrus caviar, highly valued in the field of restoration.

The “food forest” in which Os Biosbardos works is committed to creating an ecosystem in balance through the combination of different species and varieties of plants

The lower stratum is dedicated to cultivating orchards, with seasonal products that Os Biosbardos offers for sale through various channels. Its clientele is made up of the general public (it does direct sales and has an online store), neighbourhood stores and catering establishments.

Despite being a new project, born two and a half years ago, Os Biosbardos have things clear. In addition to respect for the principles of permaculture, other key points are in collaboration, weaving networks and taking advantage of synergies; as well as in the experimentation and dissemination of the knowledge generated. In fact, Roig is involved in another similar project in the Valencian Community, his territory of origin. “There we are creating food forests with another concept and other species”, says.

The first organic tea in Galicia

Another creative, innovative proposal and the fruit of love for the land is Orballo: an initiative born in Paderne and that revolves around aromatic plants grown organically, both in spices and teas. According to the person in charge of Communication, Óscar Torres, in each product “high quality raw material” is selected and always free of pesticides and herbicides.

“As lovers of the earth that we are, we try to do everything in the most respectful way with people and the planet, always putting people’s health first and above all the health of the planet, which in the end is the same“, he says.

Orballo was born in 2012, as a project linked to the planting of native trees such as chestnut and the production of aromatic plants. Little by little the initiative evolved and currently has a wide variety of infusions, spices and aromatics.

“As lovers of the land that we are, we try to do everything in the most respectful way for people and the planet,” says Óscar Torres, from Orballo

Torres claims that Galicia is a “privileged place in the world” in terms of the quality of its land. Starting from this quality Galician product, it is committed to innovation, adapted processes, the generation of a brand and added value as ingredients in order to “create something that modifies the way of understanding rural areas”.

An example of innovation carried out by Orballo was the production of the first organic tea in Galicia, achieved through research together with the Areeiro Phytopathology Station and the University of Vigo. Torres recalls that the camellia is the “flagship flower of Galicia” and that, however, the community did not take into account the possibilities of this plant for the production of tea (which is made with the Camellia sinensis leaf).

From Paderne (A Coruña), Orballo works in organic farming Foto: Orballo.

Creative gastronomy workshop

The quality product, research, collaboration and creativity in the presentations are some of the characteristics that best define the gastronomic proposals that Paula Patiño prepares in Cambre with the brand Acastrexa.

In her creative gastronomy workshop he makes long-lasting preparations, juices, jams and sauces in which tradition is mixed with experimentation in new flavours, textures and aromas. A great defender of the quality of the Galician product, he cites the specific case of the onion varieties from Betanzos and chata de Miño, which he considers “among the best in the world”.

Patiños’s food craft proposals seek to create healthy and wholesome foods differentiated from the traditional offer. They are normally appreciated by demanding consumers, with an “educated palate” and receptive to new experiences. Physalis jam with herb liqueur, cornmeal cookies and sauces made with hot peppers are some of her proposals.

It also produces more sophisticated but equally healthy options, as is the case with its product Acastrexa 5-8: a cous cous made with corn -that also includes shiitake and spices- that is prepared just by pouring hot water and waiting between 5 and 8 minutes. It is fat-free, has no salt, and is suitable for vegans. An innovative proposal that achieved a very good result in the last European vegan International V-Label Awards: out of a total of 577 participants, it was ranked 19.

Acastrexa works from experimentation and generation of knowledge in its constant search for quality, new flavours and textures

Patiño works from experimentation and generation of knowledge in his constant search for quality, new flavours and textures. Not only does it look for the most suitable varieties of product for each preparation, but when it comes to picking them up, it also takes into account the best time to do so (depending on the state of ripeness, size and time of day when harvest is made).

But this experimentation and the generation of knowledge do not end in the selection and harvest, but it is also in the production process itself: the cooking times, kneading techniques and many other factors to study and analyze.

In this project, Patiño goes hand in hand with local producers, getting to know them personally, working hand in hand and looking for synergies. “For me the farmer is very important. Many times it is a figure that sounds to be behind, but for me it has to go in front”, assures. It also highlights the work with agroforestry experimentation entities, such as the CFEA of Guísamo, with which it has developed several initiatives.

Products of Acastrexa are a mix made of tradition, creativit and innovation. Photo: Acastrexa.

Biosphere Reserve

Los Biosbardos, Orballo and Acastrexa are based on lands that are part of the Mariñas Coruñesas and Tierras del Mandeo Biosphere Reserve, a territory that seeks to harmonize the conservation of biological and cultural diversity and economic and social development through the relationship of people with nature.

In the case of Mariñas Coruñesas and Tierras del Mandeo, it covers a total of 17 municipalities in the province of A Coruña: Abegondo, Aranga, Arteixo, Bergondo, Betanzos, Cambre, Carral, Coirós, Culleredo, Curtis, Irixoa, Miño, Oleiros , Oza -Cesuras, Paderne, Sada and Sobrado.

The three entrepreneurial projects are within the brand created in this reserve with the aim of distinguishing agri-food products aligned with the values ​​of this figure of the territory. It is, therefore, recognition of their commitment to quality, the guarantee and origin of the products, responsibility and respect for the environment.

Muxía, the last guardian of the secrets of the dried conger

In the town of Muxía (A Coruña), exposed to the action of the Atlantic winds of the Costa da Morte, two peculiar wooden structures are preserved: the unique cabrias (winches) for curing the conger. They are the only ones in the entire Iberian Peninsula that remain standing today, and have witnessed intense commercial activity that placed large quantities of this unique product in distant inland lands. Despite the fact that today it still resists some entrepreneurial initiative, the artisan production process and its secrets are in danger of disappearing.

Next to the rough sea of ​​the Costa da Morte, the drying houses of Os Cascóns and A Pedriña are the last material traces of a tradition, historically, it also developed in other points of the Galician coast, such as in the bays of Vigo and Corcubión . The main destination of the Galician conger was Calatayud, an Aragonese town that today continues to be the main demand for this unique product.

Lemar Elaboraciones Artesanas is an initiative launched by Javier Lema and Carla Castro based on the production and commercialization of dried conger in different presentations, but always respecting the artisanal process. According to Castro, with this project he decided to take over from the drying activity that Javier’s parents, who worked on the winch, had been developing so that “tradition would not be lost”.

Old picture of the cabrias of Muxía. Photo: Lemar.

Innovation & tradition

Castro emphasizes that the artisanal method that is maintained during the production of his dry eel, working the pieces “one by one”. But, based on tradition, it is also necessary to adapt to new times and health requirements. In this sense, the company no longer carries out the drying in the open air in the traditional winch –which was done taking advantage of the action of the northeast wind-, but instead uses a special chamber that works as “a giant dehumidifier”. In it, the levels of humidity, temperature and quality are controlled.

On the other hand, in Lemar tradition is also a starting point to innovate in presentations. These Muxian entrepreneurs have just added a new proposal to the usual pieces of dried conger (which they sell preserved in a vacuum): conger escales, packed in a glass jar. This innovative product, made from zest, gives a new life to the dried eel, admitting new uses and culinary proposals.

This elaborate can be used in croquettes or as a condiment to flavour foods. “It was an idea that I came up with… And it turns out that people like it” he says. The reception of the scales has been so good that “there are even people who eat them directly with the spoon”, she says.

In addition to the activity of drying and processing, Lema and Castro also work the conger from their restaurant located in the town of Muxía, where this fish can be found along with other seafood and seasonal products. There, the conger eel is present in the offer and, indirectly, also in the very name of the establishment: A Furna (that’s how the sea caves where these large fish sound to inhabit are called).

Muxía-Calatayud: a gastronomic connection

The main destination of the dried fish from Muxía is the province of Zaragoza, the place where 80% of what is produced goes. Calatayud has a tradition of more than five centuries of consumption of this product (the first reference dates from 1446) that allowed its conservation in good conditions despite the long journey that the transfer from the production area to the consumption area involved.

The traditional gastronomic repertoire form this town located in Aragon includes various ways of preparing it, especially in stews and pot meals: conger eel with chickpeas or with potatoes are some of the best known recipes. Taking into account these types of culinary applications, it is not surprising that the best time of sale of the product is winter.

But, where does this deep-rooted consumption of Galician dried fish come from in the inland? Tradition speaks of the fact that, already in the Middle Ages, the bilbilitanos – great rope makers – brought ropes for the Muxía ships and, as payment in kind, brought back to Calatayud pieces of conger eel from the drying rooms on the Muxian shore.

Documento histórico sobre comercio do congro. Arquivo Municipal de Calatayud
Historical document (17th century) about the consumption of conger in Calatayud. Archive of the city of Calatayud

For now, the investigation has not found documentary references on these specific exchanges of which the tradition speaks. This is indicated by the work entitled “Historical information on the supply and consumption of conger eel in the city of Calatayud” -prepared by the Archive of the town in 2014-, in which it is noted that “the frequently reiterated statement that from the workshops of ropes from Calatayud part of their production was exported to the Galician ports, taking advantage of the return of the muleteers who transported conger eel and other fish in demand in Calatayud, it has not been possible to document it ”.

The main destination of the dried eel from Muxía is the province of Zaragoza, which accounts for 80% of the production

What documentary evidence does exist is that of the historic activity linked to the export of hemp (unprocessed) and the import of conger, having a special preference (and paying better prices) for Galician fish compared to others such as that of Brittany. This good reputation for the quality of Galician produce seems to have survived until today, as the dried eel from Muxía has become a successful gourmet proposal among palates accustomed to strong flavours.

Muxía, last bastion

Although the dry conger is the modality that triumphs in the traditional gastronomy of Calatayud, in Muxía the habitual consumption of this fish is fresh, admitting a multitude of tasty preparations that range from baked fish to caldeiradas. Even so, in some establishments in the Coruña town it is also possible to purchase the dried product.

Muxía is today the last bastion that guards the secular tradition of the Galician dry conger, although the work to preserve it is not without obstacles. According to Castro, the production process is tough (the pieces are large and must be handled by hand).

It is also difficult to widen the gap that the product has in the market: its flavour is very peculiar, due to its intensity, and the type of preparations that it admits require time and some foresight. “Before cooking, the dried eel should be hydrated between 48 and 24 hours but, in general, today the pace of life is fast and people do not have as much time to dedicate to food”, he points out.

Congro secando ao aire libre nas cabrias. Foto: Lemar
Conger drying in the cabrias. Photo: Lemar

In view of all these conditions and difficulties, Carla Castro predicts that tomorrow there will probably be no one to take over the business. “I sincerely believe that we will be the last”, she confesses.

However, from difficult moments, opportunities can always arise. Taking into account the characteristics of this tasty delicacy from the Costa da Morte, its ancient tradition and the preparation possibilities it offers, its survival could come from the hand of some very specific consumer profiles: people who love authentic flavours, who are committed to gourmet products and defenders of slow cooking and slow food.

Galician researchers design a vaccine against Covid-19 in yeasts

A year of research. A team led by María Isabel González Siso and José Manuel Leiro Vidal. A very clear idea: to design a vaccine against Covid-19 that can be produced in yeast. “In reality, this project is based on a technology that we were already developing for other types of vaccines”, explains the researcher, who is also Professor of Parasitology at the University of Santiago de Compostela (USC). In any case, Leiro appeals for calm and patience. “A very interesting field is opening up for in-depth research, but it is so different that there is still a long way to go to develop it to its full potential”, he says.

As he goes on to explain, his regular work in the lab focuses on designing vaccines against parasites, especially in fish. And from these studies —together with Gonzalez’s ideas— the idea was born. “When we work with parasites, it is often difficult to obtain and know the antigens. Therefore, we use the pathogen’s proteins and produce them ourselves, expressing them in yeast“, says the USC researcher. At the same time, he clarifies that there are many expression systems: from bacteria to human cells.

Covid-19

On this basis, directly linked to the daily work of the two principal investigators, they decided to apply their knowledge to SARS-CoV-2. And to open up, perhaps, the possibility of designing a vaccine that is expressed in yeast. “We choose these organisms because they do not have any toxicity. More specifically, we use those from the fermentation of milk and bread”, says Leiro. At the same time, he insists on the innocuous nature of yeasts and reminds us that they are present in everyday foodstuffs.

“We choose these organisms because they are not toxic”

“Yeasts play the same role as cells when they are infected by the virus”, says the researcher. Therefore, they are capable of producing the proteins of the pathogen  —in this case, SARS-CoV-2—. In addition, yeasts can produce changes in proteins by adding sugars that enhance the immune response. In other words, the team headed by González and Leiro chooses the proteins that can be protective and expresses them in other systems and organisms, which in this case are the yeasts used in the food industry.

Difference with other vaccines

But… What is the difference between this vaccine model and others on the market? According to Leiro, the only thing they are getting is a protein synthesised through yeast, but it has nothing to do with the use of messenger RNA, as is the case with Pfizer and Moderna sera. Secondly, the other vaccines use a very specific SARS-CoV-2 protein, spike. However, Leiro’s team adds at least fragments (peptides) from three proteins found on the surface of the virus. These peptides are apparently selected using bioinformatics programmes that predict their ability to stimulate the immune system.

His vaccine uses peptides from three proteins on the surface of the virus

However, Leiro also points out the complications that can arise from this project. “Working with these chimeric synthetic proteins has a problem. When you build them yourself, you run the risk that they don’t look very similar to the natural one. That’s why we need to do structural studies that reveal whether this protein can generate an immune response when it is inoculated,” says the USC researcher. Another drawback of this technology is related to yeast. “We don’t know if these organisms, in the end, consider synthetic proteins as something foreign and try to eliminate them. Moreover, we want them to secrete it, to expel it, but for that they have to pass through the yeast walls, which are very impermeable and selective,” adds Leiro.

A fast process

In any case, the USC researcher points out that the “process is quite fast”. The difficulty lies in producing this type of recombinant chimeric proteins in large quantities. “This whole initiative is quite innovative, but there is still a lot of research to be done behind it,” Leiro acknowledges. He continues to insist that his project is promising, and predicts that it may have another advantage: “To tell people who are afraid of vaccines that ours is based on something natural, that they are produced in organisms that are eaten. It’s very innocuous,” Leiro reflects. He is well aware that his project is full of hope and enthusiasm, but that it also requires patience and financial support from institutions. His goal: to achieve an innovative and technologically transferable product.