Food entrepreneurship is alive and well in Mexico. I am constantly amazed by the small start ups selling fruit cakes or home made flour tortillas or typical sweets or fruit liqueurs or crepes or cookies or, in this case, cheese. Penajamo, a small municipality (county roughly) in the state of Guanajuato in central Mexico has no less than four small cooperatives making goat cheese.
Now goat cheese is new to Mexico and is still far from being as well known and liked as it is in the United States, say. And Pénjamo is a center of big agriculture and meat processing plants. So how in the world did artisanal goat cheese making get under way.
At the Expigua livestock show in Irapuato last month, María Carmen and her niece Susanna who were demonstrating the products of the Joya de Lobos coop, explained.
About a decade ago, the parish priest somehow made contact with the Secretario de Desarrollo Económico y Turismo and with the French Embassy in Mexico City. As a result a French woman by the name of Solange Manier turned up in Pénjamo and spent several month teaching goat cheese making. Then she left and there’s been no further contact as far as I can tell. This, and other stories I heard, raise echoes of the mythic origins of many European cheeses, something I’ll talk about in another post.
Now they milk twice a day, refrigerating the evening’s milk for the following morning. Then they pasteurize the milk, coagulate it, wait twenty four hours, and mold it, and the fresh cheese is ready twenty four hours later. Apart from natural, they turn out cheeses rolled in ash, red pepper (pimiento), sesame, pecan, and one flavored with chipotle (very mildly flavored). They also make an aged cheese.
Their products are whisked off to Mexico City on the Flecha Amarilla bus line–much cheaper than using one of the messenger services. There they go to prestige restaurants (Águila y Sol, Ginos, Au Pied de Cochon), hotels (El Marquis, Fiesta Americana, Intercontinental) and organic stores (The Green Corner) and El Museo de Queso.
Cost: MN$25 for 200 grams (about US$2.50 for 4 ounces).
If you’re interested in visiting, Joya de Lobos is at Matamorros 37-C, Col.Centro, Pénjamo, Guanajuato. The phone in Mexico is 469 692 3517 or Cel. 044 469 100 1419. Agustín and María Elena Gutiérrez are the proprietors. They can point you to other makers. Combine this with a visit to the pyramids, to the two Guanajuato tequila makers close to town, and to the birthplace of Padre Hidalgo, one of the leaders of the Mexican independence movement, and you have a lovely day.