The Secret Cheese-Making Industry in Belize
It has become a popular destination for adventure-seeking travelers, wildlife lovers, history buffs and R&R takers alike. But one thing it has not been known for, largely due to its location in the tropics, is its dairy industry.
Until now, that is.
Three years ago, an entrepreneurial local lodge owner become one of the only artisanal cheese makers in the country. Today, after honing its craft, Caves Branch Adventure Company and Jungle Lodge produces 12 varieties of cheese from a small batch factory on its property. The Cheese is used to feed its own guests and sold to other hotels in Belize.
But more exciting, they offer cheese-making classes to their guests.
I talked with Ian Anderson, Caves Branch proprietor, about his journey to becoming a cheese maker, how the property’s jungle-made varieties are gaining international popularity and how you, too, can make cheese in Belize.
So, what initially inspires a jungle lodge owner to start making cheese? Heartwarmingly enough, Ian and his wife, Ella, initially got the idea after a philanthropic project they had established to help local at-risk children and seniors.
“It all started through another program that my wife established nine years ago called the Belize national youth chess foundation,” Ian Anderson said. “We invited elementary school-aged children and encouraged them through the chess clubs.”
To help these children further, Ian and Ella decided to set up a petting zoo on their property, where the children could spend time with the animals.
But as Ian explains, nature took its course and the animals began having babies.
“We ended up with a lot of goats,” he joked.
“One day I realized we need to find something to do with the milk, so I said to myself, ‘I’m going to teach myself how to make cheese.’ And that is how simple it was.“
After a couple of false starts involving cheese recipes he found on the Internet, Ian came across a book called Mad Sheep: The True Story Behind the USDA’s War on a Family Farm, the true story about Dr. Larry Faillace, his wife, Linda (who penned the book), and their home, Three Shepard Farms.
“It’s an incredible read about family farmers in the United States who are being overrun and bullied by the USDA,” Ian Anderson said. “They had their herds confiscated. It’s this little family business. But they were also cheese makers that teach cheese-making classes all over the United States.”
Ian reached out to Linda Faillace to inquire about taking a course, and within a week he was up in Vermont getting one-on-one training.
"I spent three weeks in Vermont in September just as the leaves were starting to fall. It was beautiful,” Ian said. "And that is how I learned to make cheese.”
Back in Belize, Ian and one of his employees set about making their first batch in a 10-by-12-foot room on the property, and three years later they are producing 12 kinds of cheese, from double cream mozzarella and triple cream camembert to Parmesan and even a blue cheese. Some aged up to two years.
“It is a lot of work,” he says. “Three times a week the cheeses have to be turned to keep the moisture level center. Every single cheese round. And we have over 7,000 of them!”
But Ian’s passion for and pride in the venture is clearly apparent.
“People have said to us that we are making international-quality cheeses and next year they want us to take our cheese to the U.S. and enter them into some cheese-making competitions,” he said. “So we are very, very proud for what we have done. We really work hard.”
Sharing his passion has taken the cheese-making business to the next level for Anderson and Caves Branch. They now offer specialist cheese-making workshops taught by Ian’s own cheese-making mentors, Dr. Larry and Linda Faillace, who fly down to Belize for the courses. Through their journey, the two families have become lifelong friends.
The all-inclusive, five night cheese-making package includes all meals, five nights’ accommodation in a jungle bungalow, four days of cheese-making instruction from Dr. Larry and Linda Faillace where you will learn how to make six types of artisanal cheese, and a group outing on the last day to round out the trip. It’s all for $1,275 per person (based on double occupancy).
And all in a truly magical setting. The Caves Branch Lodge is located on 15 acres of lush botanical and orchid gardens, surrounded by tropical jungle rich with wildlife. It’s an adventurer’s paradise. Especially if you love cheese!
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This article was originally published by Sophie Forbes