Greg Perkins is from Chicago originally, but he has been living and working in Central and South America for many years. He is currently helping a small cheese making operation, Productos Lacteos Yaznan in Cayambe, Ecuador* with a new product line.
He told us that the land is flowing with milk, but few cheese makers make anything but the traditional queso fresco. The family business he is working with also makes queso fresco and queso de hoja, but now, with Greg’s help, they are making 4 varieties of Cheddar (plain, smoked, with oregano, and with local hot peppers – aji rocoto), plain Mozzarella and hickory-smoked Mozzarella. They also produce drinkable yogurt in a variety of flavors.
How did you end up in Ecuador?
I’m a graduate of University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point where I majored in Biology. I’ve worked in food plants since the 80’s. In 1994 my wife and I decided to move to Guatemala to participate in voluntary educational work.
While there I ran across a cheese plant that happened to be in need of a microbiological and physical analyses laboratory. I accepted the challenge and spent some 12 years on and off establishing and updating the laboratory, training personnel and working in production. This was my first exposure to cheese making.
Two years back we transferred our focus from Guatemala to Ecuador where we continue in our volunteer work. I met the Cabascango family in Cayambe when I was offering my cheese making experience to local artisans whose sole products were queso fresco and queso de hoja.
While these products are good, everybody makes them thereby driving down the price. Pablo readily accepted the offer to expand his operation and I introduced him to techniques for making aged cheeses so as to stand out from the rest. Aged cheese is a market in its infancy here in Ecuador so it has proven to be to his advantage to strengthen his range of cheese offerings to the community.
Do you work for an organization?
We are Jehovah’s Witnesses. We fund our own education work. It is actually amazing how little one needs to survive economically in Central and South America.
So, you can go wherever you want?
I decide where I want to be, go there and then search out work. Since I pay all my own expenses for being here, I select an area that best suits my economy. If someone is industrious enough, there is always opportunity.
How are you helping this business?
Initially I was helping them prepare for sanitary audits by the government. After that the focus switched to helping them expand their product line. We started with Cheddar (incorporating the varieties mentioned) and then added Mozzarella. We began work on an aging room and are just finishing that now. Now that we have product, we are trying to create a consciousness for aged cheese. This is the biggest challenge.
Are you offering free tastings?
Yes, we are giving out samples at local stores and to the wary (of new cheeses). That is how we’ve achieved basically all our sales. Some restaurants now buy it for their menu items.
Where do they get their milk?
The majority of the milk comes from family farms that provide about 100 liters (26 gallons) each per day. Pickup trucks are contracted to pick up the milk at the farm and deliver it to the plant. The amount varies from day to day, but it’s an average of 400 to 500 gallons per day. Most for cheese (including ricotta) and some for yogurt twice a week. It all depends on orders.
Is pizza popular there?
Pizza is food of the gods, even Ecuadorian ones. The popular Mozzarella here is so water logged that it leaves lakes of whey on the pizza, hence, our Mozzarella. Loaded with flavor and no lake effect.
What are your future plans?
We’ll be returning to the Midwest come June. If in your network of contacts there is some cheese plant in need of my skills, I’ll be available for long term employment. I will have accomplished my objective here by then and I need to attend to some family issues. (To contact Gregemail@example.com)
* For more info about the business:
Productos Lacteos Yaznan, Distributing from Quito to Ibarra
Pan-American highway esquina La Nina frente al Parque Yaznan