The Craft Of Cheese, Not Kraft Cheese

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 Spanish Lookout.

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 hot.

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.

Ian Anderson
"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 their craft.

Claribel Guitano
"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 high.

Andersen says he has quite a few Belizean cheese lovers or, as they are known, "turophiles", who visit regularly to stock up on cheese.

Channel 7