For weeks now the debate about local cheese has been percolating in the
news. The Minister of agriculture says we shouldn't be importing
cheddar and mozzarella cheeses since the Mennonites make them at
There have been decidedly mixed reactions to that - with many saying
that the quality in taste, texture and aroma of the local cheeses just
does not match up to their imported counterparts.
One man with a unique perspective on the debate is resort owner Ian
Anderson. His resort, "Ian Anderson's Cave's Branch" is home to their
very own cheese house where they make various kinds of specialty aged
and fresh cheeses. We visited today to learn about the many splendors
of local cheese production - and, of course, to taste the difference
for ourselves. Courtney Menzies reports:
It's a little-known slice of heaven for cheese lovers and owner Ian
Anderson brought his knowledge of cheesemaking form the States to Belize.
It all started with the goats and sheep he had producing more milk than he
knew what to do with.
Ian Anderson - Owner, Cave's Branch
"I decided I would learn how to make cheese so I tried teaching myself how
to make cheese over the internet. Only to have my wife one night get so
tired of me making my son sick from trying all my homemade cheeses, she
threw all my pots and pans out the back door and said no more cheese making
until you learn how to make it properly. So, I went to Vermont for two
months and I learned how to make cheese in Vermont, the cheese making
capital of the United States. We make about fourteen different kinds of
cheese. We make old bar bander which is a Flemish cheese, we make espresso
cheese which is from northern Italy, we make triple cream camembert which
is delicious creamy French cheese, we make feta cheese which is a Greek
cheese, parmesan cheese. We have right behind us here provolone."
And that's not the half of it. They also make mozzarella, ricotta, soft
ripened, quark, and more.
After Anderson arrived from Vermont, he taught one of his employees who
later went on to be the head cheesemaker at the lodge. She explained that
the cheese is made with zero additives and only two ingredients.
Claribel Guitano - Head Cheesemaker, Cave's Branch
"When we get our fresh milk, we put it in a pot and we add two ingredients,
we only add two ingredients, that's what makes the entire fourteen
different kinds of cheese. What makes the different cheese is the different
manipulations on the curds like the different stirring, the different
acidity level and the different temperature level. When I mention stirring,
it's like you are stirring slow, you are stirring fast, some of the cheeses
you might have to stir it a little faster. We use a culture to raise the
acidity level of the milk and we use an enzyme that is to curdle the milk
and that's all we use."
And being a cheesemaker is no easy task. The simplest cheese to make,
according to Guitano, is the feta which still takes four hours. The most
difficult is the provolone, which must be made while the curds are burning
And while the staff at the Cave's Branch takes pride in their cheeses,
Anderson is not in favor of the restrictions that will be placed on
imported cheese by the Ministry of Agriculture. While he says he buys the
cheeses he doesn't make like cheddar from Western Dairies, not everyone
shares his love of the local stuff.
"Even though this restriction might benefit us, I'm totally against any
government restrictions on importation on any type. When the government
gets involved in restricting importations, it diminishes the choice of the
citizens. Some of the chefs and some of the businesses and some of the
hotels don't feel that for their purpose, some of the cheese made by
Western Dairies is up to the standard that they need to provide a five star
product for their businesses. For that purpose, Western Dairies has to, if
they want their business, and other cheese makers, if they want their
businesses, has to improve the quality of their product in order to satisfy
or to equal imported products. At that time I'm sure the local hotel will
buy local product. But until they can get the quality, they need to be
allowed to buy imported product."
And Anderson agrees that to strive for the quality, it would take training
from international cheese consultants. While he says that the cheesemakers
from Western Dairies have done classes with him, he too has needed to bring
in specialists to ensure that his product remains at a high standard.
Guitano had some words of advice for fellow cheesemakers who wish to hone
"You need to study more, you need to practice more and you need to find new
techniques to improve the end product. As a cheesemaker, you really have to
be patient because it's not just making cheese and put them in the aging
room, you have to be taking care of them. Since we don't use any anti mold
any additive in our cheese, we have to clean our cheese because its
naturally that the cheese would grow mold because of the moisture that the
cheese have so we have to be cleaning the cheese with the brine, salt and
water. And not just cleaning, we have to spend hours flipping the cheese
like let me show you how when I mention flipping the cheese, you have
to turn it like this so that the humidity keep balance on the cheese. The
cheese shouldn't keep dry on one side."
Pre-pandemic, the cheese house made cheeses every day, but now they only do
so once a week - and while the quantity is reduced, the quality remains
Andersen says he has quite a few Belizean cheese lovers or, as they are
known, "turophiles", who visit regularly to stock up on cheese.