Cheese ballade, or How cheese saves village

Cheese ballade, or How cheese saves village

A story on how the decision to establish a cheese dairy in the Hlybotska hromada saved a stagnating village.

Author: Dmytro Syniak

If there are not at least fifty varieties of cheese and good wine in the country, then it has reached the end of the line.

(Salvador Dali, Spanish artist of the ХХ century)

Cheese can be disappointing. It can be boring, it can be primitive, it can be too sophisticated.

However, cheese still remains a jump of milk to immortality.

(Clifton Fadiman, American writer)

Way to prosperity

It takes only 7 kilometers to get to the Bukovyna village Mykhaylivka from Hlyboka, the center of the amalgamated hromada. An old VAZ car of Hlyboka village council is hardly overcoming the steep climbs through which the road is twisting. We are going to Mykhaylivka to see the preparations to the cheese dairy opening initiated by Hryhorii Vanzuryak, head of Hlybotska amalgamated hromada. He asked me to take the front seat as a guest, and now I can hear his voice from behind my back.

- Before amalgamation Mykhaylivka was the most depressed village of the Glyboka rayon, - says Hryhorii Vanzuryak. – The subsidies reached 95%. Although Mykhaylivka once was an extremely powerful collective farm (kolhosp), where elite species of cows and sheep were bred. I was the head of the Glyboka rayon council twice, so I had access to all kinds of statistical data. Thus, in the villages where the collective farms survived the longest, people are now living the worst, because the collective farm is a mess. For example, “ UAH 500 thousand are still hanging over on the account of the Mykhaylivka collective farm, but no one can withdraw them, because some of the shareholders are no longer alive, and the heirs do not register the inheritance... The car is finally overcoming the last steep climb, and reaches the top of the hill, overlooking Mykhaylivka: a long curve of cottage houses braced against a small river.

- When we were just beginning to discuss amalgamation with the representatives of the Mykhaylivska hromada, they demanded all kinds of repairs: “Make a road for us”, "Set up the street lanterns”, “Renovate the school”, - continues Hryhorii Vanzuryak. - I tried to immediately put the question in a different way. I said, “Count, please, how many people died in your village in the last year and how many children were born. Now imagine the picture in ten years. Just math! Now there are 58 children in your school, 6 pupils less than last year, and how many years will it take to have 24 children, when the school must be closed according to the law? But do not forget: the fewer people live in the village, the bigger  will be the outflow of youth. At some stage it will turn into an avalanche with only retired people remaining in Mykhaylivka. And in a few years the village will disappear. Where do Mykhaylivka residents work? They work either abroad or in Chernivtsi. There is no work for them in their native village…

The car jumps on the pit, and for a while Mr Vanzuryak is silent.

- I said: Are you sure Mykhaylivka really needs a new road? – he proceeds. “In ten years there will be no one to ride along it!" That’s exactly what I told people.

- And what about them?

- They scratched their heads, and asked: "Are you hinting that we should first create job places?” That is how the idea to open a cheese dairy in Mykhaylivka appeared. You do not need to be a great economist to understand: only tourism and dairy production can be developed at this locality. Especially since we have some experience: once there was a butter factory in Glyboky processing 100 tons of milk per day. In Chernivtsi, the production of this dairy factory was queued and sent mainly to Moscow, Leningrad and Minsk.

Reaching stars

Everything the hromada head told me looks outwardly simple. Though more than two years had passed before the idea of the milk processing enterprise creation was implemented. At first, Hryhorii Vanzuryak registered all cloven-hoofed animals of Mykhaylivka. It turned out that there are 87 dairy cows, about 100 sheep and about 50 goats in the village. On average, the cow gives 7 litres of milk each morning, since only morning milk is used in the production of high-quality cheese. It turned out that Mykhaylivka cows will be able to provide the future cheese dairy with about 500 litres daily – quite a good raw material base.

Mr Vanzuryak’s second action step envisaged working trips to the best Ukrainian cheese-making enterprises, where each time he took a few Mykhaylivka farmers with him.

- We were almost everywhere! – tells Hryhorii Vanzuryak proudly. – Cherkasy oblast, Ivano-Frankivsk, Zakarpattia... We realized that milk should be bought from people at not less than 70-80% of the market price. Only then will they be interested in not bringing milk to the markets. And only then will it be possible to demand product quality from them: Petro Pryhara, one of the most famous Ukrainian cheese-makers, told us that he had to exclude several families from the list of milk suppliers after he noticed that they diluted milk or brought evening milk instead the morning one. We have carefully studied negative experience as well. For example, in a neighboring district the dairy business does not work now, because people were paid inaccurately, so they stopped providing raw materials. In Cherkasy region, the cheese dairy has to be stopped because of energy-consuming equipment in winter time…

The third step was uniting Mykhaylivka dairy farmers into a cooperative, which in future was to become the owner of the cheese dairy and at the same time undertook to supply it with milk in time. The cooperative was called “Good Farmers”.

- People were reluctant to join the cooperative, but I made them interested with purely economic issues, - proceeds Hryhorii Vanzuryak. – For example, I drew their attention to the fact that in winter there is little milk, and the price for it is the highest, and in summer - on the contrary: the milk is often sold for nothing on the markets. Thus, the cheese dairy could solve this problem, since milk can be used to make cheese, which will grow for several months. That is, milk can be bought at the lowest price, and sold – in the form of cheese – for the highest price with considerable profit gain.

The fourth step was to convince the members of the cooperative to take part in the contest of the Austrian Development Agency, which, in case of victory, could assist in purchase of cheese dairy equipment. Finally, with the support of the Hlyboka rural settlement council experts, Mykhaylivka “Good Farmers” prepared and sent all necessary documents to Vienna, and surprisingly won the contest. They were informed of the victory by Hermine Poppeller, the Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Austria to Ukraine, who personally came to congratulate the peasants.

- The arrival of the Austrian Ambassador to the downtrodden Mykhaylivka was something incredible,” – says Hryhorii Vanzuryak with enthusiasm. – And this is what made people believe in themselves: if such a miracle is possible, then other ones are possible as well. Subsequently, this confidence was strengthened by the following honoured guests. For example, Hendrik van Zyl, the UNDP international project manager, presented a computer to “Good Farmers”. Some equipment for the production of hard cheese was sent by Johannes Leitner from Austria, who came to Hlyboka a to find the grave of his great-grandfather, and was also keen on the idea of Mykhaylivka’s revival.

The Austrian Development Agency has allocated EUR 20,000 for the purchase of cheese dairy equipment. Another 2 thousand euros were raised by the cooperative, and the same amount was provided by the Glybotska AH. Although in reality the community share in the cooperative is much larger, as it provided an old bath-house as the premises for the cheese dairy, which was re-planned and repaired for about UAH 600 thousand.

School cheese-makers

Our car stops near a small, Austrian-time building of the Mykhaylivka Primary School. Here, in the school canteen, cheese production unit is temporarily located, while the basic premises are being prepared. At the canteen’s doorway we are met by a portly, tubby, cheese head-like man in an apron. This is Vasyl Zelenivskyi, deputy chief technologist of the “Good Farmers” agricultural cooperative and a part-time manager of the affairs of the Glybotska AH. Every day for already two months he has been coming to Mykhailivka to work out cheese production process on small batches with cheese-makers.

- Morning milk is of 30 degrees, as it becomes fermented at 32 degrees. Therefore, the energy costs here are small, - he says with enthusiasm. – But the quality of milk, its purity and technology abidance are of great importance. Cheese should ripen for a period of 44 days. Moreover, the longer it will ripen, the more expensive it will be. 50 kg of cheese will be produced from 500 litres of milk per day. We plan to sell cheese at a price of about UAH 200-250 per kilogram. We expect to earn some money from tourists, whom we are happy to welcome at degustation. Now we are making only three cheese types: Maasdam, Edam and Emmental, but the range will be expanded later…

Small cheese heads lie in rows in the ripening chamber. Each day they are extracted from there and thoroughly washed in pure salty water. Once the premises are ready, the equipment purchased in Sumy will be brought there. Then Mykhaylivka cheese-makers will venture into large parties. A guy from Hlyboka, who is now graduating from Chernivtsi National University and writing his master's thesis in biochemistry, was chosen as a Chief technologist of the cheese dairy after a difficult competition with consideration of over 10 resumes.

- Ukraine is a powerful agrarian state, but for some reason we almost do not manufacture cheese,” says Hryhorii Vanzuryak, while we are eating fresh cheese slices. – “Almost every Austrian and Swiss village has two or three small cheese dairies. Though in Ukraine for some reason people enjoy products, usually made from palm oil and dry milk …

Hryhorii Vanzuryak is talking about his plans for the development of the cooperative for a long time. He wants to interest the hromada residents in breeding goats, whose milk can also be used in cheese making. He dreams of large sheep flocks, grazing on the mountain slopes of the Hlybotska hromada. He is convinced that the “Good Farmers” will win the USAID grant to pay 50% of the cost of the milk packing line (the rest will be paid by the hromada) – the relevant documents have already been submitted.

- How many taxes does the hromada expect to get from a new business? – I am recalling him from his dreams.

He's a little awkward.

- At the moment, only five people will work at the cheese dairy,” – says Mr. Vanzuryak. – “And frankly speaking, the sum of personal income tax from five job places is quiet inconsiderable. Though we get far more than money. After all, 33 families will be employed in the cooperative, that is one third of Mykhaylivka’s population. Moreover, people will earn good money. Count, please: 7 litres for UAH 10 (the price at which the cheese dairy is currently purchasing milk) – it makes up UAH 70 per day, or UAH 2,1 thousand per month. Those who have two cows, will get UAH 4,2 thousand. This concerns only morning milk, and if we receive a USAID grant, then we will also accept the evening milk, so the peasants' income will be doubled. In addition, at the end of the year, the members of the cooperative will receive dividends from the cheese dairy operation – by the amount of milk delivered. In order for the cheese dairy to survive, at the beginning the Hlybotska hromada will purchase its dairy products for schools and hospitals...

Traveling around hromadas, I often hear similar stories about plans and ideas. But the difference with the plans of Hryhorii Vanzuryak is that they are almost implemented – the equipment has already been purchased, the old bath-house is in the final stage of renovation, and the cheese produced by Mykhaylivka cheese-makers can already be tasted..

- The biggest problem of the village is not about money, it’s about the fact that people are disappointed and do not believe in themselves, - says Hryhorii Vanzuryak, when we step out into the fresh air and look – already in darkness – at the lights of Mykhaylivka houses at the foot of the hill. – Competition is very high in politics, but not in business, especially on the periphery. Thus, everyone can engage in the favorite business in the rural area. People just have to open their eyes. And if they succeed, Mykhaylivka will get a new road, repaired school, and the light ...  Yes, a few lanterns, really have to be set at least here, near the school. Now it is reasonable.

I do not see the face of the hromada head, but I feel like he is smiling in the dark.

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