Venezuela is, according to information from the specialized bulletin Latinometrics, the second Latin American cheese-producing country, surpassed only by Argentina, and one of the 25 most important in the world.
The balance sheets of this firm are based on the information provided by the FAO, the United Nations, and the specialized monitor Our World in Data.
Despite the serious economic stagnation of recent years, local cheese production –not exports- has not stopped growing, even reaching, in 2009, to be above emblematic nations in the universal cheese industry, such as Switzerland.
Latinometrics today locates local cheese production at 300,000 tons per year.
Widely distributed and appreciated among the population, permanently present on the national table, the profuse production of Venezuelan cheeses is the consequence of a livestock tradition of some importance, linked to the very foundation of the Republic, and to the particular conditions of a tropical and plain environment.
Most of them are fresh white cheeses, with a huge variety of specimens, —those with spun paste, prepared with raw milk, such as Guayanese, telita, braid and hand, the most appreciated—, although cheeses are also famous hard and salty llaneros, like the year cheese.
The Santa Bárbara and Palmizulia varieties, from the south of Lake Maracaibo, semi-soft and with large holes, are also especially valued, and Creole European varieties are produced and consumed, such as Pecorino, Parmesan, Gouda, Edam and Manchego.
The local business community linked to the local cheese industry, however, has some reservations about this international report.
“Colombia currently has a cheese industry that doubles ours, and Uruguay is a historically powerful producer,” says one of them.
"Venezuelan cheese has a number 1 quality, but these figures do not correspond to the reality of the country."
Calculations made by local civil associations, such as the Red Agroalimentaria de Venezuela, estimate local production at around 175,000 tons per year, and place the country in 26th place in the world in tons produced, and in third place in the Latin American ranking, behind Argentina and Mexico.
Although weakened in the big industry, the national cheese has a wide distribution in small and medium-sized companies, and is the livelihood of many humble people in the fields and towns.
Farm cheese is a modality that is widely offered at the foot of the roads.
The economic deterioration of the country has taken away industrial bellows from local cheese production, an activity that has become 80 percent informal in the last 10 years, according to studies carried out by the Agrifood Network of Venezuela.
The elaboration of cheeses with raw milk —that is, not pasteurized—, which for many people makes the real difference regarding the quality of the flavor, and which is a very widespread circumstance in its local manufacturing, constitutes a complete obstacle for export and diffusion of Venezuelan cheese, currently unknown in specialized international circuits.
"There is a major problem with cold chains due to the service problems in the country," says Roger Figueroa, president of the Venezuelan Chamber of Dairy Industries, Cavilac.
"That makes it necessary to have to salt it more than necessary."
"I belong to a family of six generations of producers of llanero cheeses," says Rodrigo Freitas, from Camaguán, Guárico state, in the center of the country.
“I sell them all in Caracas, they sell very well, I have a very loyal clientele, no one has stopped asking for it, even in the worst moments of the crisis.
The production and consumption of cheese is deeply rooted in the fields of the country, in humble people and in those who have money."
"We have had great growth in these years, we work with a dairy account of 150 producers, with new players in the market," say Elisa Grimaldi and Marianela García, owners of Anannké, a company specialized in the production and distribution of goat cheese. Founded 18 years ago, highly appreciated by the consumer.
The local cheese has received in these years the reinforcement of the buffalo variants, thanks to the increase, somewhat uncontrolled, of the herd of these animals in the last 20 years, which adapt with great ease to the savannahs of the plain, affirms the expert and industrialist Rodrigo Agudo, from the National Federation of Cattlemen, Fedenaga.
“The Venezuelan cheese industry received enormous support from Italian immigration in the 50s and 60s. Most of the farm cheese is produced here, perishable fresh cheeses, which are difficult to import.”
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