Monday, May 25, 2015

Number 21

 The Swiss Chesse Makers of Costa Rica
Quesos Canaan

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.

But first let’s talk about the farm.  By all standards this is a small farm about 20 acres and 6 cows.  The amazing thing about the farm is Wilberth’s use of all the natural resources.
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 cheese at this stage is soaked in a salt bath, which hardens the crust.  It then sits in a small room for a minimum of 3 months to mature.  As you walk into the room the aromas are unbelievable.  You know instantly that this cheese will be special. But Quesos Canaán is still a very small business. They produce only about six kilograms of cheese every day, and each round of cheese is left to mature for up to five months.

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

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Number 20      

  Making Chocolate in Costa Rica

Samaritan Xocolata
Canaan de Rivas, Pérez Zeledón, Costa Rica

Within minutes of Rio Chirripo Hotel is a small 100% organic chocolate business, Samaritan Xocolata

The business began in 2005 and was moved to this location in 2011. If Hollywood were making a movie about this business, they could not have selected a more perfect location, nesting into a mountain side. Tao, a co-owner of Samaritan Xocolata works in this small space, producing the finest chocolate I have ever eaten. 

Roger and I signed up for her chocolate workshop (usually held by appointment on Tuesday or Saturdays). In total, it is a 2 ½ hour hands-on walk through of the entire chocolate making process. She purchases only local grown purely organic cacao beans from local farmers.  She takes you through the entire process of fermenting, drying, peeling, toasting and grinding cacao seeds.

The cocoa beans before and after peeling the skin off

 I was amazed at the number of steps there is to making chocolate.  Tao hires local women to “shell” the skin off the cacao beans which provides income to these women that might not have the chance to work.  In most mass produced chocolate processes the thin skin is not even taken off, just ground with the beans. It is bitter so to compensate most processes just add more sugar.  Here, when you purchase 90% chocolate that is exactly what it is… 90% chocolate with 10% sugar, nothing else.

The beans are ground and 
produce this thick liquid of pure chocolate.


It’s not totally smooth after the first grind so it goes into a stone on stone grinder to remove even the smallest lumps.  The chocolate is tempered in small batches and then molded into their final shape and flavors.

Tempering is the science part of making chocolate.  It has to be at exactly the right temperature

We decided to make almond bars.  All the other ingredients used here are also organic. 

The final product is cooled.  Gloves are worn (body temperature will melt the chocolate) to remove any excess spill over, and to make the bar look perfect.

I happen to mention that my all time favorite chocolate is orange creams.  Those are my “go to” chocolate; if I’m happy “go to” orange creams; if I’m sad “go to” orange creams.  I have literally bought orange cream chocolates around the world. 

Tao said let’s make some orange cream chocolates.  Now I am really happy!

I was totally confused when she took out a mold and began to fill it totally with 70% chocolate.  OK, now I’m thinking how is she going to get the cream inside? 

Tao laughs as she pours out the excess chocolate and leaves a coating on chocolate in the mold.  The orange cream consists of white chocolate with condensed sweeten milk.  Added to that mixture is the pure orange extract.   After the molds have cooled we begin to fill the molds with the orange mixture.  Then the chocolates are topped with a layer of chocolate to seal the cream inside.  Cooled again, then we all try the end result.


 These are not chocolates that you stuff in your mouth and eat.  They are like a glass of very fine wine.  Take a bite then let it sit on your tongue as your body heat melts the chocolate in your mouth, and the flavors explode.

Oh yeah they are that good.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Number 19

Rio Chirripo Retreat & Hotel
San Gerardo, Costa Rica

It was time to do some serious exploring of Costa Rica.  We rented a car (oh, how the feelings of ownership returned).  As soon as I sat down in the car, I looked at Roger and said, “I want a car”, but I do know it is only my car addiction talking.

Anyway, we planned a 3 night/4 day excursion to Rio Chirripo Yoga Retreat and Hotel. We looked at it on line ( and decided it would be a great place to experience a totally different Costa Rica.  Rio Chirripo is located in San Gerardo de Rivas, near Costa Rica’s Chirripo National Park.  Or in other words, a 4 hour drive from San Jose.  I will give you my best advice on how to find Rio Chirripo…  “Get a GPS”.   Roger had printed out all these maps and the GPS got us to the front door without a wrong turn or any angry words. I am convinced we would be still be driving the mountains of Costa Rica without one.

As you drive up a very steep mountainous road to Rio Chirripo, you may think you are lost.  The 2 lane road is paved then suddenly not paved, then suddenly paved, then not again, but just keep climbing the mountain.  You are greeted with a very welcoming sight, the sign that lets you know, you’ve made it. As you pass through the open gates you already know, this is going to be very different.  The joy of Rio Chirripo unfolds before you.  “Oh, this is nice”, turns into “Wow, this place is beautiful” in a matter of minutes.  Oh, and the energy, yes I said energy.  You can feel it.  I could use all the clichés tranquility, serenity, peaceful but I would not be able to describe that energy properly.  All I know for sure is that the positive energy there is real.

We are greeted by Oriana.  She welcomes us and gives us the overall tour, but immediately you know, she is not only there to help you, she wants you to feel like this is your home. And, will go out of her way to make that happen.  We ask her, so how many other guest will be staying here during our visit, and she says you two are our only guests.  It’s the rainy season in Costa Rica but as far as I am concerned, all the more reason to go there and have the experience of this retreat with you being the total focus.

 We are brought to our room, which is lovely.  The river below provides a wonderful hum to fall asleep to.  

The back open air porch

One of the focal points of Rio Chirripo is the “Rancho”.  An open air building that has a huge fireplace and comfy places to sit. It is the place to gather in the evening besides the roaring fireplace with a glass of wine.  This is where we met Frank, the proprietor extraordinaire. A wonderfully gentle soul that reminded me of Leonard Cohen (the poet,song writer and singer).   I would look forward to our pre dinner conversations and rocking in the rocking chairs placed directly in front of the fire.

There are options for meals.  We opted for the breakfast and dinner option included with the room rate.  Again, I wish I could describe the food, ok I’ll try, absolutely delicious!  Everything made from scratch with wonderfully fresh ingredients.  Dinner consists of a 4 course meal starting with soup (the leek and potato was out of this world), to a freshly tossed salad, the entrée (and I’ll give the fish with a parsley sauce my 5 spoons of excellence) and dessert.

The pool area is so peaceful, it is set downhill away from the cabins.  There are 4 hammocks hanging there and I have officially named one of them “Linda’s Hammock”.  Also please try the hot tub at night under the stars, wow.

We took short hikes each day.  Our first adventure was up to Cloudbridge Nature Reserve.  This is not a hike for the weak or weary.  It really gets the heart pumping. But the views are worth every step

Another easier hike was to the Hidden Garden. It costs $5. This man has created a very nice hike on his property with 5 small spring fed ponds that you can sit and experience nature at its finest.


We also did 2 workshops while we were there which I highly recommend The Chocolate making workshop/tour and The Swiss Cheese workshop/tour.  They were both so wonderful that I will write about them in another blog.

So, here is the bottom line….Don’t miss this opportunity whether in the dry season or green season.  They are usually busy starting in November through April, but you will not be disappointed, I promise.