Dear Family and Friends,
My trip to Minas Gerais, Brazil’s most important cheese-making region, was postponed last week. Guilherme Ferreira, my guide, had to go to São Paulo for urgent family business. I had hoped to spend more time with him (we met at Cheese in Italy last September when Slow Food recognized Guilherme for his commitment to improving the Brazilian cheese industry) but quickly formulated a plan B.
Plan B, which resulted in visits to three dairies near my home (Fazenda Ambiental Fortaleza), would not have been possible without my host Silvia’s help. She is very well connected, made the right phone calls, and together we toured Leiteria Santa Paula, Caprilim, and Chancliche. Each of these dairies deepened my knowledge of Brazilian cheese production for each told a different story and represented a different business model.
To my surprise, my favorite visit was at Chancliche (a Syrian cheese company). Owner Carmen Silva Ribeiro explained her family’s immigration to Brazil and how she built her parent’s home cheese-making operation into a business that is now large enough to sell Syrian cheese in supermarkets all across the country.
Toward the end of our interview, Carmen lamented the daily struggle of dealing with Brazilian food safety officials (a complaint voiced by all of the cheesemakers I have met so far). Most recently, the authorities threatened to revoke her right to sell cheese if she does not upgrade her fire safety plan to include sprinklers. As much as Carmen wants to oblige, the renovation is estimated to rack up over $20,000– a cost well beyond the means of her business. As such, the future of Chancliche is far from certain.
My extra time at Fazenda Ambiental Fortaleza this week was quite productive as well. Per request, I am helping the farm to develop new products. The bulk of my experiments have involved integrating local flavors (such as coffee and bananas) into their cheese.
In addition to preparing for my next project country, Mongolia, I have also been teaching the kitchen how to make sourdough bread. In return, I learned how to make foccacia in a private lesson with farm guest Felipe Cruz (head chef of La Marina in São Paulo).
Anyway, Guilherme is currently on his way to pick me up and so I must pack my bags now.
Much love to you all,