Nepal's Banksy was here!

Nepal's Banksy was here!
Strong message, Simple words

Tuesday, 31 May 2016

A star is born!! Nepal's new Cheddar stimulates National interest....and multiple additional benefits.

"Theki Tabla" on the plate
Way back in 2014, shortly after our arrival in Nepal, we met local entrepreneur Binuka with whom we started to develop some new cheeses. From these initial trials sprung "Theki Maid", a soft cheese, that she has continued to make and sell in her small shop.

Binuka making cheese back in 2014

Jude helps Binuka develop her marketing skills.

Daphne a fellow VSO volunteer, Binuka's first cheese customer.

However, this is not where the story ends. Working with cheesemakers from the far eastern district of Ilam has kept alive the possibility of creating a hard cheese, or even a cheddar. So throughout the last year, firstly during a small workshop for fellow VSO volunteers, Will and Becky, and more recently working again with Binuka we have worked on and finally made Nepal's first real traditional cheddar.

Back in the UK part of my job was managing a farm based cheese factory where we manufactured hand made traditional cheddar that was sold in Waitrose, amongst other places. Our focus was always on quality and occasionally this led to some awards. In 2010, Denhay Farms Ltd. was awarded "Best Traditional Cheddar" in the World Cheese Awards. So bringing these cheesemaking skills to Nepal seemed like a very natural thing to do.

Producing a slow maturing hard cheese, here in Kathmandu faces some severe challenges, such as keeping a constant storage temperature where electricity outages occur each day as well as finding a supplier of appropriate starter cultures.Undaunted by these issues a Nepali cheddar has been created and indeed named....Theki Tabla. I must apologise to my Denhay colleagues since this unimaginative name bears a close a similarity to the "Dorset Drum" one of the small artisan cheeses we made on the farm. However, a 'tabla' is a small drum and since the drum is Nepal's national instrument the name seemed right.

Yet Theki Tabla is a unique product since instead of using lard and cheese cloth to seal its outer surface we have used butter oil, or to use its more familiar name, 'ghee'. The sealing has been a great success and our first attempts have produced a cheese not dissimilar to a Dorset Drum in texture and flavour. Binuka is now at a stage where she is trying to repeat the recipe.

Bandaging the cheese with ghee and muslin. A 'cap' is secured.
'Strips' are put in place to secure the 'cap'.

The finished cheese ready to be placed in the maturing room.
Six months later

Removing the bandages.

Achieving behavioural change through training is best achieved by trainees 'doing and applying' rather than merely being 'told' new knowledge. To this end we have conducted training to cheesemakers in Ilam starting by tasting their cheeses and ending with trainees altering their recipes to improve quality.

A new skill, assessing cheese quality by scoring its texture,
flavour and a number of other characters.

Look, smell and squeeze before you eat!!!

Gathering the results of our tasting.

Group work to share recipes

Sasendra collates the information.

The cheesemakers eagerly note down the new recipe they have developed.

Team photo

Now the plot thickens since after working with cheesemakers in Ilam the counties largest and government owned milk processing company, DDC, requested cheddar training for some of its key staff. So Binuka, and Sasendra, a young food technologist who had carried out the Ilam training, met their needs by conducting a training workshop here in Kathmandu. Such was the interest that several of the Ilam cheese makers, from our earlier training, turned up to share our knowledge.

Binuka discusses the training with DDC's project manager.

Cutting the curd with a 'harp'!

DDC's head cheese maker shows how.

Some improvisation was needed to separate the curds from whey

With most of the whey drained cheddaring can begin.

When the correct titratable acidity is achieved salt is added.

Salted curd is then placed in moulds ready for pressing overnight. Binuka assisted with ghee sealing the cheese next day.

The boss keys her eye on the proceedings and takes photos!

A sigh of relief as the training ends. Its been a long hard day, but the outcomes are good.

I can already hear your question 'What is the development impact of cheddar cheese training in Nepal?' Asked with more than a slight tone of irony in the voice. There were a number of positive outcomes from this workshop besides the sharing of skills and creation of cheeses that I have no doubt will go on to tickle the tastebuds of future DDC customers. By involving Sasendra he was able to demonstrate the depth of young local talent available to the industry in its strive to move forward. Also Binuka had the opportunity to demonstrate her skills in the art of cheesemaking reinforcing the changes that training can bring about, and the developing role of women within the industry.

Oh! and finally this training gave me the chance to reinforce the message that the foundation of all high quality milk products is good quality milk. In so doing it has stimulated DDC to consider adopting the training program that we have developed aimed at improving the quality of milk produced by small holder farmers. 

So we can reach out to our target beneficiaries through activities like this, which bring people together to share knowledge and will ultimately lead to positive life changes for poor rural families.

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