The Swiss Chesse Makers of Costa Rica
In two previous blogs, I wrote about The Rio Chirripo Retreat/Hotel and Samaritan Xocolata. Here is another tour/workshop, you cannot miss when you visit the area, Quesos Canaan. All 3 are within walking distance to each other. During the 2-3 hour workshop the Mata/Hernandez family will show you step by step this unique artisan cheese factory.
They use a waste digester to convert the manure into energy. He processes the cow manure so he can use the methane gas for his house. He uses millions of worms to reprocess the manure into natural fertilizer for the ground.
|The manure produces methane gas which is captured in this rubber bladder and used in the house for cooking|
A side note here, the farm process and Wilberth’s dedication to his craft was a significant moment for me to witness. Here is a man that is the perfect example of the saying “the salt to the earth”
Ok let’s talk about how a farmer in Costa Rica becomes the best cheese maker anywhere.
Thirteen years ago Wilberth Mata was taught how to make Swiss Cheese in the mountains of Costa Rica. Let’s stop there for a minute, I said, Swiss cheese in Costa Rica. He made the cheese when no one in his community even liked Swiss Cheese.
According to the Tico Times News October 2011:
A Swiss man named Martin Chatagny stopped by the farm and shared his knowledge about Swiss cheese with the family.
“He taught us to make only the most traditional of Swiss cheeses. Most Costa Ricans would probably consider that type of cheese too old and stinky to eat,” Mata said.
One day a group of North American expatriates tasted the cheese at one of the meetings. It was well received, and Mata and Hernández realized that foreigners would make perfect customers for their products.
“Once a French man told us in a thick accent, ‘You Ticos are silly, you eat the bad cheese and dislike the really good ones,’” Mata said.
Wilberth and his wife Kattia with their children Steven, Cristian, Dayana are the sole makers of this cheese. Wilbert’s Grandfather was the original owner of this dairy farm. Then it was pass down to Wilberth’s father and now to Wilberth.
Wilberth Mata uses only the milk from his own 6 cows. The standards are for the highest and pureness of milk, without chemicals. During the workshop, you are introduced to every aspect of the process, including milking the cows, oh yes I did.
|Not bad for someone that never milked a cow before|
|Drinking some milk directly from the cow, yummy|
For every pound of cheese 1 gallon of raw milk is used (not pasteurized) and only lactic culture and coagulator are added. Then the milk is stirred by hand for an hour and it starts curdling.
Wilberth tells us that he sometimes nods off stirring the milk, but won’t compromise the quality of his cheese for any mechanization.
After the stirring for 1 hours the small bits of cheese are now formed enough to put into the molds. Here you separate the whey from the cheese which has a crumbly texture. We molded the cheese into containers which are then pressed for 5 hours.
The end result is a beautiful yellow cheese waiting so patiently for a buyer. The entire procedure reflects a craftsmanship that is a marvel to witness. All of this cheese is completely free of any additives or conservatives. It’s pure cheese at its absolute finest. They now produce their regular Swiss, herb infused Swiss, Mozzarella, Ricotta and a wonderful Goat Cheese. We were so impressed with the quality of this cheese, we bought one of each kind.
|Top left is Swiss, then the goat cheese that was matured for 18 months,Herb infused Swiss|
On the bottom row is the Mozzarella and Ricotta