Peruvian cheese makers produce a taste of home

by Shogo Takagi

Kyodo

Having grown up eating fresh cheese every day, two Peruvian brothers living in Shizuoka Prefecture were inspired to go into business making the dairy product they had found to be scarce upon their relocation to Japan.

The fledgling cheese-making operation has gradually been finding success, with a number of South American food stores and restaurants across Japan among its customers.

Jean Garcia, 39, and his brother, Fredy, 37, came to Japan to work in the central prefecture of Shizuoka in 1999 and 2004, respectively. After spending some time in Japan working at factories and other places, they saw a gap in the market for fresh cheeses.

Fresh cheese was a staple for Jean and Fredy on the farm where they grew up in Peru. But in Japan, fresh cheeses are not commonly available as production is low, partly because the products spoil easily.

Missing this taste of home, the brothers began making fresh cheese for themselves. Fresh cheese does not require much ripening, and its texture is soft with high water content. As the Garcias’ cheese became popular among their friends and family in Japan, they decided to enter commercial production.

Although they could count on the knowledge and experience of Fredy, who majored in animal husbandry in college, it was not easy for them to carry out the plan. Since they did not have money to start a new business, it took them more than five years to save enough funds and set up the necessary equipment.

The Garcias also had to deal with discrimination when they tried to buy milk from local farmers, they said. When they first visited local dairy farms to buy milk for their cheese, their request was immediately rejected for no reason. But they ultimately won the farmers’ trust by visiting the farms many times and proving themselves trustworthy.

After acquiring permission to commercially market their cheese from a local food-hygiene authority, they began selling the products three years ago.

While Jean still works for a ship-coating factory and Fredy for an auto-parts factory on weekdays, they engage in fresh-cheese production on weekends. The Garcias now look forward to visiting local dairy farms in the Asagiri Kogen highlands in the prefecture to buy milk in the early mornings, enjoying the view of Mount Fuji located nearby, they said.

On their goods, the Garcias first placed a label that said “Dekasegui Products.” Dekasegui came from the Japanese expression dekasegi, which means to go away from one’s home to work in cities or foreign countries for a higher income. But after a while they renamed their brand Shimizu, the name of the area where they currently live in the prefectural capital of Shizuoka, to show their pride in the locally made cheese.

“Making cheese is really fun because cheese appears to be alive,” Fredy said. “Its flavor changes depending on the maturation time.”

They now receive orders from around Japan, including from food stores and restaurants in the prefectures of Ibaraki, Gunma and Aichi. The two brothers are trying to produce new types of cheeses for their customers, they said.

www.jf-shokuhin.com