Cockle from Noia: the authentic and sustainable flavour of the sea

This bivalve admits an infinity of gastronomic applications: from the simplest to the most sophisticated and experimental

The waters of Noia bay are home to many treasures. In the gastronomic field, the cockle is king for its quality and the large size it reaches. On the palate, this bivalve is characterized by having an authentic sea taste, a flavour that is the result of the care with which this valuable resource is managed.

According to the secretary of the fishermen guild of San Bartolomé de Noia, Adelo Freire, the cockle is the “star product” that is extracted in the shellfish banks managed by the organization. In these banks, more than 1,500 people work daily, 471 dedicated to shellfish on foot and about 1,100 afloat, in small boats.

One of the hallmarks of the Noia cockle is its quality, derived from the sustainable management of the resource, which is extracted at the optimal time for consumption. The season begins in September, when the food is best, and ends in March, in order not to affect the spawning period that begins in April. “We respect natural spawning. Not extracting during the breeding season causes the stock to be renewed. It means that we have 75% of the national production of cockles”, he says.

The current campaign began on September 28th and, in the first two months, more than a thousand kilos of this bivalve have been extracted. With these figures, Freire highlights the good performance of shellfish banks and ensures that, with regard to cockles, “there are brotherhoods that do not take out what we take out in a day throughout the year.

“We respect natural spawning. Not extracting during the breeding season causes the stock to be renewed. It means that we have 75% of the national production of cockles”, assures the representative of the fishermen guild

Although its season runs from September to March, the work to maintain the resource is constant. “We have a way of working that seeks a sustainable fishery, that it does not happen that one year there is something and another there is not. And, to achieve this sustainability, nothing better than taking care of the cockle all year round”, he says.

As he explains, this sustainable management of the resource not only has a favourable impact on the stock, but also benefits the size of the food. In that sense, he points out that “when short-term performance is sought, size suffers.”

Authenticity & traceability

This sustainable management of resources is closely linked to the efforts made in terms of traceability, controlling at all times the local origin of the product, the size and the quality. “We do not sow anything that is not ours,” says Freire, who also points out that Noia’s is the only Galician fishermen guild that has its own kennel.

The commitment to quality, authenticity and sustainability is also visible to the consumer. Not only with the creation of the collective brand “Berberecho de Noia. Rías Gallegas. Pesca Artesanal” to which more than 30 companies have already joined (from canning and treatment plants to an online fish shop), but with a specific space on its website where the traceability of the product can be checked. You just need to enter the code of the product purchased and, through it, you can verify the authenticity and information about the origin.

Little by little, the guild is advancing in its commitment to traceability. Thus, it has promoted research projects such as Valober, through which it worked for two years (together with the University of Santiago and other brotherhoods) with the aim of providing the cockle of the Galician coast with its own and differentiated identity. As a result, genetic differences were identified between the community bivalve and those from other parts of Europe.

Now, the guild takes a step further and by the end of the year it will have its own laboratory ready to work on health and guarantee of origin. In principle, the organization will launch it for its own use, but open to use by other entities interested in differentiating its product.

The guild of Noia works from sustainability. Picture: Confraría de San Bartolome de Noia.

A versatile product

The cockle extracted in the first months of the season (between September and until December, approximately) is mainly used for the canning industry, although quantities are also sold for fresh. Approximately starting in January, the fresh sale of this bivalve increases, which admits infinity of gastronomic applications: from the simplest to the most sophisticated and experimental.

Noia’s cockle empanada, made with corn flour, is a benchmark in local gastronomy, but this tasty bivalve can also be consumed steamed, grilled, in rice dishes or in stews. In addition to these more traditional options, it can also be enjoyed in lasagna, tacos, or even vermouth cocktails.

Renowned cooks from Galicia and from outside the community have passed through Noia and dedicated praise to the local star product: Alberto Chicote, Javier Olleros, Lucía Freitas and Paco Roncero are some of them. During their visits, all these referents of the gastronomic field dedicated praise to the local star product.

Intangible heritage

The cockle from Noia also opts to be recognized for the intangible heritage value associated with this artisan activity. In this sense, the guilds and municipalities of the Muros-Noia estuary are immersed in an initiative that seeks Unesco recognition of the culture of shellfish in the estuary as Intangible Cultural Heritage.

The project is claimed as a testimony of a model of integration of civilization and nature in the coastal area that has created its own, genuine, lasting and changing culture throughout a thousand-year history. In the same way, it defends the way of working as an environmentally and socially sustainable model for the management of marine resources.

Under these principles, they are working on a shared candidacy with Chilean partners with similar characteristics. On the Galician side there are the fishermen guilds of Muros, Noia, Porto do Son and Portosín and the town councils of Muros, Noia, Outes and Porto do Son; while in Chile participate the islands of Chiloé and Tenglo.


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