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Cheese made in Grande Riviere
Harvati, Alverca, Pepper Jack, Venaco…its name is as varied as its taste. There are Web sites dedicated to it. Societies have been created in its honour. Poems have been dedicated to its great taste. Now T&T is commercially prepped to become a part of the age old tradition of cheese making.
Although the exact date of when the first block of cheese was produced is uncertain, some suggest cheese was made from as early as 4,000 BC. According to the International Dairy Foods Association Web site, lore suggests that an Arabian merchant who placed his milk supply in a pouch made of a sheep’s stomach first found that after travelling in the sun, his milk separated into curd and whey (the two main elements in cheese production).
The Web site said further: “Travellers from Asia are believed to have brought the art of cheese making to Europe. In fact, cheese was made in many parts of the Roman Empire when it was at its height. The Romans, in turn, introduced cheese making to England.
During the Middle Ages—from the decline of the Roman Empire until the discovery of America—cheese was made and improved by the monks in the monasteries of Europe. For example, Gorgonzola was made in the Po Valley in Italy in 879 AD, and Italy became the cheese-making centre of Europe during the 10th century. Roquefort was also mentioned in the ancient records of the monastery at Conques, France as early as 1070.”
In the sleepy, quiet and homely town of Grande Riviere, known for its leatherback turtles, Piero Guerrini, originally from Italy, works quietly but sustainably. His concern is to create something that is not only nourishing for the people of Grande Riviere that he has come to know and clearly loves but in the age of food uncertainty, to create something that the people on T&T’s north coast can survive on if food truly became scarce.
His background easily tells why he would consider cheese making; he grew up on a farm with a mother who made ricotta and his business partner, only identified as Massimo, comes from an Italian family whose cheese-making knowledge goes back three generations.
On Thursday the T&T Guardian visited Guerrini, curious to learn of his cheese-making business. The paper communicated extensively with Guerrini when tragedy struck the small Grande Riviere community, when hundreds of leatherback turtles were killed in an attempt to correct a meandering river.
A five-minute drive away from Guerrini’s hotel Mt Plaisir, tucked quietly away, past a duck and chicken farm, past his neighbours who he waves to as he heads to the 15-acre property which houses the two-lot building from which Guerrini produces ten types of local cheeses (handmade mozzarella, provola bianca, provola ribiena, ricotta, casatella among others) as well as yogurt.
The exterior looked no different from a three-bedroom home but on entering the two-room building, painted and tiled white, it appeared clinical, almost sterile. The stainless steel equipment added to the surgical feel of the space. When Guerrini donned his white coat and galoshes, one could not shake the feeling that some type of an operation was about to occur.
Although there was a sterility to the atmosphere there was also the undeniable passion an artist possesses for his art. He moved with precision, ensuring the machines were turned on and all was in its place. With a small hose, Guerrini and his assistant constantly washed with chlorine and filtered water the equipment, molds and utensils used in the large, tiled room in which the cheese is prepared.
Creamy, dripping mozzarella
During the almost three-hour process he created creamy, dripping mozzarella and told the story of why and how. His love for cheese was evident as he bit into the mozzarella and fed the reporter a piece, beaming with pride at the quality of the finished product. On April 1, 2012, Dolce Valle (the registered name for Guerrini’s line of diary products) was officially born, but from as early as September 2011 he was making home made mozzarella from his kitchen at Mt Plaisir.
He said, “The idea came from seeing all the buffalo in T&T and wondering why no one was doing something with the milk.” Although he currently uses cow’s milk to produce the range of cheeses and yogurts, he hopes someday to fully utilise the buffalo milk to create cheese and other products.
The entire start-up capital for the business cost him $1.5 million (TT). He imported his equipment from Italy, which has approximately 450 years of cheese-making knowledge. He began the cheese-making process by pumping the 150 litres of milk from the milk bulk cooler which maintains the milk’s temperature at three to five degrees celsius or approximately 34 to 36 degrees Fahrenheit. The milk cooler, Guerrini said, keeps the milk agitated so it does not settle.
The milk was then strained and transferred into a large white container. An acidity test was conducted to ascertain the age and authenticity of the milk. After the test the milk was pasteurised. It was then heated to 52 degrees celsius.
Through a process of cooling and by adding culture, the chemical process to begin the formation of curd was begun, rennet was added to act as a coagulant (one should wait 20-30 minutes before adding rennet). After the rennet was added, and 20-30 minutes went by, curd began to form at the top as the whey settled at the bottom. Different types of cheeses form in different ways, for example, ricotta is formed using the whey, Guerrini informed.
Lining plates in T&T’s finest restaurants
Guerrini’s 30 gram balls of mozzarella line plates in T&T’s finest restaurants—Buzo, Chaud and Jaffa. But like any good businessman, Guerrini understands that expansion and diversification are key. He said he was looking to expand his market throughout the Caribbean, Barbados and Grenada among others.
The sale of his cheeses and yogurts earns approximately half a million dollars per year. He said, however, he is yet to earn a profit and hopes to break even from the initial $1.5 million investment in approximately five years.
Beside the diversification of the products (making ravioli and using the whey as fertiliser for a farm and animals among other things), he hopes to add local flavour to the line of cheeses and yogurt, like shadon beni to the cheese and pommerac to his yogurt.
He said there was currently only one challenge which stands in his way and that is the cost of milk. He said he hopes Food Production Minister Devant Maharaj, who visited Guerrini last week, is truly able to assist with providing a subsidy on milk which would make it competitive and able to be on shelves in T&T’s supermarkets.
But the cost of milk has not impeded Guerrini from putting into motion the realisation of having his cheeses among other things on the shelves in T&T’s supermarkets. He has and is awaiting health inspection and the accompanying certificate of resale to be in supermarkets. He plans, he said, to move from producing an 800 litre per week of milk to the full capacity of 2,000. This, he hopes, would occur by April or May of this year.
But Guerrini said he has no wish to become a huge industrial cheese producer. He wants his label to be one line which reads: “Milk, salt and love and care.”
Having worked as an international photo journalist where he witnessed widespread hunger in many parts of the world, he expressed hope that his cheese-making business would assist in reversing the dependency many Caribbean societies have on foreign imports.
Always with sustainability at the fore, Guerrini shared his dreams for the development of his cheese-making business, hoping to not only expand the building’s physical capacity with the addition of a packaging room and an extra storage room, but to also once a month have an open day for members of the public to visit, sample and purchase at a reduced cost the local cheese and diary products.
He hopes as well to use local labour when operations have expanded, bringing in foreign currency to Grande Riviere and T&T. Guerrini said his cheeses should retail at supermarkets across the country for approximately $35 to $50 per pound.
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