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Healthy Living in Cotacachi, Ecuador: A Dairy With Raw Organic Milk and Cheese

Healthy Living in Cotacachi, Ecuador:  A Dairy with Raw Organic Milk and Cheese

After living in Cotacachi for some time, we had begun to think the story of an organic dairy that makes and sells raw organic cheese was nothing but a rumor.  For two years Gary and I kept hearing about this great little dairy with fabulous organic cheese not too far from Cotacachi, but none of the taxi drivers we asked knew where it was.  A few people in town had heard of it, but didn’t know how to find it.

When I got a strong hankering for some really good aged cheese, we did some deeper asking around.  Finally we found a van driver who knew the way to the dairy.

He took us out into the country, down the road that was once the primary route to Colombia from Quito.  As the altitude decreased, the climate grew warmer and close to the town of Atuntaqui, after a few turns, we entered rusted double doors and drove down a path lined with huge palms.

There was no sign or name on the door. And no cows to be seen from the entry.  We never would have found it alone.

I immediately felt as if I had stepped into a fairy tale. The road led down through rows of majestic palms to a picturesque white building.

cow-stealing-from-neighbour

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All around us stretched storybook green pastures with wooden fences, corrals, happy cows grazing and serenely chewing their cuds. 

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It was a scene right out of my childhood.  I half-expected to see my grandfather, dressed in overalls and a plaid shirt, coming toward me with a bucket.

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Patricia Hidrobo, the dairy owner, showed us around.  The dairy is a dream come true for her and her husband.

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52 brown Jersey cows munched in fields of oats and green grass, queens of a green domain that covers 25 hectares, or about 60+ acres.

kalfs

Newborn calves watched doe-eyed from their meadow cribs of thick green grass, as happy as any babies I’ve ever seen.

The dairy cows are treated like royalty.  Each one is named and her name recorded on a board that hangs on the wall of the main building.

Each cow produces 15-16 liters of milk each day.  If well cared for, a Jersey cow will produce for up to 13 years.  Jerseys are said to produce the best milk.  The best Jersey cows come from the U.S. and Canada.

old-white-house

On the property is the remains of an old hacienda. There are many old haciendas in the area, built by Simon Bolivar to house his men. This hacienda is only about 100 years old and is in disrepair.

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big-tree

This huge avocado tree near the hacienda is only 20 years old.

Behind the hacienda, the owners have stored tall stacks of chanool, a fine hardwood that is becoming difficult to find.  When the time is right, they will sell this stash of wood to finance restoration of the hacienda.  Evidently, the chanool, like their cheeses, is better when aged.

path

Patricia and her husband bought the finca, or farm, about ten years ago, just the hacienda and land.

tower

They have since built other buildings on the property.  After finding their expert cheese maker while on vacation in the mountains near Zurich, Switzerland, they persuaded him to make the trip to Ecuador to assist them in perfecting their cheese recipes and processing.

He has been coming to Ecuador for years, usually in the summer, testing their cheese quality and helping them develop new recipes. He certifies their cheeses as being made in the Swiss tradition.

Their cheese is Alpine cheese made from his recipes.  There are seven cheeses, including Montana, only made in the summer when the cows are in the mountains eating grass.  It is an organic, all natural cheese.

The dairy makes two kinds of cheese each day, from both raw and pasteurized milk—hard as well as soft cheeses.  The hard cheeses are always made from raw milk for best quality and flavor.

U.S. Commerce allows them to sell raw milk cheese in the U.S. but they cannot sell raw milk. Their milk is marked sanitary.

The cheese is sold mostly in Ecuador. Patricia would like to develop more markets in the United States and Canada for her cheeses.

machine-room

A white-tiled room houses the spotlessly clean steel and copper cheese-making equipment. The Swiss machinery was brought to Ecuador by boat, then put in place in the dairy.

storing-cheese

After the cheeses are made, the 3-kilo wheels  of cheese are stored in wall racks in an underground vault with stone walls. Every eight days the cheese wheels must be cleaned.

cheese an wine

Some are scrubbed in wine during the aging process, which changes the flavor.

During the aging process, the wheels lose a few grams, depending upon how long they are aged.  The vault’s temperature is held steady at 12 degrees C. with 85% humidity.  Cheeses ready to sell or ship are kept in a steel cooler.

“Ah, that ammonia smell—a great smell for great cheese,” proclaimed Vashti, a visitor to Cotacachi and to the dairy.  She writes a food and wine column for a California publication.

samples

Back above ground, we were all treated to generous samples of the dairy’s cheeses—Mutschli, a semi-hard cheese made from raw milk, Dorado, one of 3 kinds of gruyeres they make and Fresco de Montana, six days’ old and made from pasteurized milk.

Yanayacu is another gruyere, only seven months old and sweet.  Dorado de Montana is an 8-month-old cheese, which is aged up to 2 ½ years.

Ten years ago Patricia decided to make cheese and bought the farm.  On vacation in Europe she learned of new cheese products.  She found people happily enjoying all kinds of cheeses with wines, which at the time was a gustatory combination not indulged in much in Ecuador.

She has four people to milk the cows for her—2 couples who work alternate days–plus one administrator, a gardener and one helper.

Four cows are milked at a time.  Eight cows enter the milking area at one time, but four eat while the other four are milked.  The milking takes one minute per cow, or one hour for the whole herd and milking is done twice a day.

Gary and I have not drunk milk for years, but quickly joined other gringos from Cotacachi in purchasing milk weekly from the dairy.  For a while, one couple went each Thursday to pick up the raw milk and bring it back to Cotacachi for all of us.

Prices are currently $.50 a liter or $2.50 per gallon. The milk has several inches of thick cream on the top.  We can make butter from the cream, shaking it for an hour in a lidded jar.

leafes-and-old-house-in-background
Want to have a wine and cheese party?
Patricia’s brother makes organic white wine at his organic winery on the road to Intag.

Click here to read more about raw milk.

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17 Comments

  1. I currently live in Cuenca and I would love to make a trip up there to visit the farm. Is there a way you could email me the number?

  2. Greetings, I just ran across your blog through South of Zero and enjoyed the 2 articles I read. My wife and I are planning on visiting Cotacachi around Sept., and would love to visit the dairy what is the best way to get there, we don’t plan on having a car. If you could e-mail me I would kindly appreciate it…
    Regards,
    Doug

    • There’s no sign for the dairy and it took Gary a very long time to locate it. Now it’s much easier to find. Best to take a cab but even then you may find the entry gate locked and there is no guard or way to get in. They are not really open to the public without prior notice, so you’d need to call. Let us know when you are in town and we’ll give you the info/phone number.

  3. I am very interested in visiting this organic cheese establishment. I currently live in Cuenca. Does somebody have the contact information for them? Thank you!!

  4. Pingback: Ecuador in the Raw | Living in Ecuador Blog

  5. Sofia Aguirre says:

    Encantador!
    Soy estudiante de Ingenieria Agronomica de la Universidad Central del Ecuador, hace un mes volvi al pais luego de hacer una pasantia en Estados Unidos en una finca lechera de produccion organica, actualmente estoy interesada en escribir un manual.

    Me gustaria mucho poder visitar su finca y de ser posible realizar pasantias un tiempo para intercambiar experiencias!!!!

    Espero poder ponernos en contacto!

    Sofia

  6. Organic farm in Eucador. We are moving to Manta. We will difinetly visit you soon.
    Jan

  7. Fred Reinhardt says:

    Patricia and her husband really are inspiring people.
    Their hard work and vision have certianally brought rewards and with this exposure and being able to sell their cheese in USA. It will be a great export in the future, as well as locally.

    I wish I was younger and had an opportunity to undertake an operation of this nature.
    Good luck the Hidrobo family.
    Viva Ecuador!
    Great story Gary -like reading your blog.
    I really need to visit that country that has wetted my interest.

  8. Larry Schunk says:

    I wish we had seen this place on our recent tour. Please include it on our next visit!

  9. Please, can you tell us about churches in your community?I know the locals are Catholic. Are there any services or masses in English?

    • There are two large Catholic churches in Cotacachi, and several smaller Evangelical Christian Churches. There is a fairly large contingent of Jehovah’s
      Witnesses in the area, and in Ecuador. I just noticed a sign in a store window that was advertising an English service at one of the local Evangelical churches.

      I don’t believe there are any masses in English.

  10. I love this article! It reminds me of my childhood on a small farm with fresh milk every day. My folks skimmed the cream off the top for their coffee. The pictures are beautiful. Of course once again I can’t wait to make my journey to Ecuador!