Thursday, August 14, 2014

Artisanal Cheese Production in Nicaragua

Leonardo Castro with some cheese made during this visit.
Since 2012 the Nicaragua Farmer-to-Farmer (F2F) program has been working with Leonardo Castro on improving his family-owned dairy farm’s practices, production, and cheese quality.   His goals for the upcoming years include diversifying his cheese products, improving cheese quality, and increasing production, sales, and access to niche markets. About a year ago, shortly after receiving technical assistance from F2F volunteer Daniel Hewitt, Leonardo began producing and selling raw-milk Gouda through his start-up enterprise, Queso San Ramon.

Salting the milled curd before placing it in molds.
Due to customer demand, Leonardo has decided to diversify his cheese products by beginning to produce a cheddar-style cheese.  To support Leonardo in meeting his goal, Daniel returned to Nicaragua in July 2014 to train Leonardo and other community members in cheddar-style cheese production.  

Through hands-on activities and a five-day cheese-making workshop at the Queso San Ramon facility, Daniel was able to teach the principles and practices of artisanal cheese-making. Activities included tweaking and experimenting with different starter culture and salt amounts, milk heating schedules, and pressing weights. Throughout these interactive trainings, Daniel facilitated discussions with Leonardo and his team about how these changes could impact the final cheese product. The group also learned how to use new cheese-making equipment.

Testing the pH of the cheese after overnight press.
Thanks to Daniel’s trainings, Leonardo and his team are now well on their way to producing a cheddar-style cheese and there are also plans to increase Queso San Ramon’s production to twice a week. As Queso San Ramon continues to grow, Leonardo hopes to eventually expand and include two dairy neighbors.  

To learn more about this F2F assignment, watch the video below (in Spanish). A big thank you to Daniel for putting this together! And to find out more about how to become a F2F volunteer, please visit our website.

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