Camembert. Gruyeres. Brie. Names that have become more associated with the cheeses they produce than the cities themselves.
The same cannot be said of Nakhon Pathom.
When it comes to making cheese, central Thailand is neither on the map – nor anywhere near it. But that hasn’t stopped two farmers – a former Austrian cruise ship chef and a Thai veterinarian-turned-goat herder – from churning out artisanal, locally sourced fromage of their own.
From a vet using the power of science to make goat cheese on a Nakhon Pathom farm to a husband-and-wife curdling wheels from Nakhon Sawan cows, here are two pioneers in the cottage cheese industry.
Little Goat Farm and Cheesery: A Vet’s Journey from Virology to Dairy
Veterinarian Rachanikorn “Kai” Srikong knew that her jargon-filled study on goat viruses wasn’t going to reach farmers or the general public like homemade jars of cheese spread.
Kai found during her veterinary school studies that a string of DNA particular to one breed of Thai goats made their milk suitable for cheese (Conveniently, she’d already been making cheese as a hobby by following YouTube videos). She originally hoped to share her findings with farmers to encourage them to ramp up production of goat-based goods in a country where they’re not widely raised and then mostly for their meat.
But she knew her “piece of paper” degree wouldn’t get farmers to start churning out cheese, so she decided to lead the way herself.
“I knew that it would be useless to publicize the study,” Kai said. “Agro people don’t want to hear about viruses in goats. They’ll stop listening if that’s the first card I turn over.”
Equipped with cheesemaking knowledge from the internet and her scientific know-how, the 42-year-old bought 30 goats and started making cheese at her farm in Nakhon Pathom, calling it the Little Goat Farm and Cheesery.
On a typical morning, Kai and a couple of farmhands milk the goats at 7am and then spend the rest of the day turning it into cheese. As for the goats, they spend their days chewing grasses, hay and banana stalks – but no food pellets.
It was a welcome difference from working in a science lab.
“Every time I make cheese, I’m happy. I created something edible, something not dangerous, unlike in the lab, where I’m surrounded by bacteria, diseases and viruses. As a scientist it makes me happy to see the cheese’s germs change form; happily growing,” she said.
Without a tongue “native to cheese,” the burgeoning cheesemaker got feedback from a French chef. The chef, who was unable to speak English, graded her cheese by ticking off taste descriptors on a table like “tangy” and “piquant.” She then translated the French terms online and adjusted her methods accordingly.
“What’s pla raa to us, is cheese to farang,” Kai quipped, referring to the pungent Isaan fermented fish.
Due to the small scale of production, Kai says she can’t afford to make hard cheeses which can require years to age. Instead, she makes cheese spreads and soft cheeses which only need months or even days.
A 90-gram jar of soft white cheese spread costs 120 baht, and a 150-gram wheel of ripened cheese is 220 baht. Kai is also working on a brie, but the price isn’t stable yet. Although she’s mostly sold by delivery, she plans to start selling at farmers’ markets in Bangkok, like at Gateway Ekkamai.
Her goats’ cheese isn’t like anything found in a supermarket, she swears.
“This kind of soft cheese isn’t like stuff you find in a supermarket, because it’s hard to import from overseas because it’s so delicate and farm-made. It’s not industrial,” Kai said.
Heaven on Cheese
Anyone who’s tasted Heaven on Cheese’s double cream bries, reblochons and munsters may find it difficult to believe that they were not made in the French countryside but by a husband-and-wife operation in Nakhon Sawan.
For the past decade, Austrian Reinhard Matheis has worked from noon into the night and early morning most days crafting cheeses for his dedicated customers.
Matheis worked as a confectioner and then a baker in South Africa before taking his culinary talents onto the high seas aboard cruise ships. In 2005, the 49-year-old moved to the central province with his wife. Missing the taste of cheese, he started making his own from supermarket milk before upgrading to fresh, locally produced dairy in 2008. He got good feedback from friends.
News of Matheis’ products spread via word of mouth, online forums and restaurant suppliers. His restaurant customers include Viva Thonglor, Le Du, Siwilai City Club, Osito and high-end hotels like the M-Club Lounge at the Marriott Marquis Queen’s Park and the Sunday brunch at Le Meridien.
Matheis’ cheeses – he describes them as “artisan handmade cheese made with fresh, raw milk” are of another breed than those mass-produced by pasteurized milk.” He says they compare favorably to the imports, a lot of which are quite expensive despite being of “poor quality.”
Although he’s found that it more expensive to produce cheese in Thailand due to milk prices, he says local Thai milks create unique cheeses.
“[It] adds to the distinct flavor…and it has a better consistency. A bit softer, gooey,” he said.