Thursday, December 14, 2006

by Marissa Williams
Tobago Bureau

Healthy, Happy goats producing good milk equals great cheese. That's the equation according to Josefa Patience, producer of Orange Hill Nature Ranch Feta Cheese, another one of Tobago's well kept secrets.

Patience, a German citizen, is the island's sole producer of cheese, having started her business almost eight years ago, after moving to the Orange Hill Plantations owned by her husband's family in 1999.
She specialises in making feta cheese — a Greek goat cheese normally used in salads. It is a fresh cheese which is placed in salted water for four to six weeks before sale.

making cheeseAware that she would need a sustainable income when she moved to Tobago, Patience and her husband felt that it was safer to continue in agriculture and decided to make a living out of cheese production, having learnt the basics in Germany where she managed a major catering company.
Armed with a few parting gifts from her friends in Germany, more knowledge about rearing sheep than goats and her determination to succeed, Patience began the business with just six goats.

She later attended a seminar on cheese making at the Kendall Farm School in Tobago, sponsored by the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) and the Tobago House of Assembly (THA), to assist local farmers in utilising their milk.

Her husband, Trevor Patience, left the cheese business in 2001, and she now single-handedly runs the farm.
With a stock-that has grown to 70 cross-breed goats such as British Alpine, Saanen, Toggenburg and Anglo-Nubian, Patience is taking her business in stride.

She initially dabbled in yogurts but settled upon making cheese. Through trial and error, the business has matured and she now distributes to several of the island's major supermarkets and restaurants, along with the Greek salads.

Always striving for perfection, Patience is on a constant drive to improve her cheeses and recently came up with the recipe for the "Tobago Chèvre" which is a fresh goat cheese with a creamy garlic and dill heart.
"I needed to survive and I had to make money and now I am successful with the small amount that I have been doing", she says with a strong accent. "Because I am the only person making cheese, I would say it is a very good business. If i had more milk and enough labour and all those sorts of things on stream, I could even deliver to Trinidad, where I would have business right through the year instead of it being seasonal, like in Tobago."

josefa and her goatsPatience explained that her product becomes more popular during the peak tourist season as foreigners tend to appreciate its value. She said cheese making was a lot of work and lamented the lack of labour on the island.
"Good local help is so hard to find," she said, noting she had to work alone several months from early in the morning straight into the night.
"I ran this farm with these two hands cutting feed for the animals, milking them, making the cheese, packaging the cheese and then delivering them myself, sometimes at night," Patience said.

She now has two assistants; a gentleman from Guyana and a German veterinary student. In the past, she has had participants from Switzerland and Austria.
Apart from finding valuable help, she also faces rising animal feed prices, hassle from supermarket owners about the prices of the products and improper handling by their staff. The cheese culture she brings in also meets close scrutiny from Customs. Patience said that she prefers not to distribute to smaller supermarkets which do not have suitable facilities to preserve the quality of the cheese.

Her love for her animals has prevented her from selling the animals for meat. "I wouldn't even touch goat meat because, for me, that will be like eating my dog or my cat." Neither will she sell them to take part in the annual Buccoo Goat Race Festival. However, she sells goats to other farmers for breeding purposes.
"Even then it is so hard to part with them because I know that they will not be getting the same treatment that they get here. People have known me over the years to sell quality animals, healthy goats," she said, adding, "It is very bad that the goats have to be boxed in whole day, they need exercise."

Patience's herd is allowed to roam free on the 70-acre farm and eat whatever they want as "this is very important for the taste of the cheese." She is currently preparing to do her annual Christmas baking which, she said, is highly anticipated by customers who often pre-order the cheese. She also has plans to extend the business to include a bakery and café and to refurbish the sugar mill on the over 300-year-old plantation for tourism purposes.

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