BUSINESS
Swiss cheese from a Georgian alp
22 November, 2017
A couple from Switzerland combines Swiss tradition and technology with Georgian products. Their cheese is made in the Georgian mountains and sold in local stores and hotels.

„Producing alpine cheese is like doing top-level-sports“, says Daniel Wüthrich, founder of the company “Alpuri Qqro” (Alp
ine Gold). He and his partner Frances Belser spent two summers on a Georgian alp, high up in the mountains of Metekhi, in the western Georgian village of Chorchani. There, they made cheese after a Swiss recipe in a mobile production facility. Getting up at 7 a.m. every morning and producing cheese manually at an altitude of 2200 above sea level, is hard work, the couple tells “Georgian Journal”.

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Cheese making at an altitude of 2200 above sea level. (Photograph: Alpuri Oqro)
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Rosmarie Minder and Daniel Wüthrich at work. (Photograph: Alpuri Qqro)

Frances Belser and Daniel Wüthrich have a staff of three employees and a Swiss cheesemaker, Rosmarie Minder. Minder came for two seasons to help with the production and has years of experience in cheesemaking in Switzerland. The three workers are Georgian students. Two of them have a Bachelor Degree in Food Processing at the Georgian Agricultural University in Tbilisi. 22-year-old Natia Bakradze comes from a farming family of a nearby village and used to spend her summers on the alp. Until this year her family has produced its own cheese. Instead, they now sell their milk to “Alpuri Qqro”. “It’s much simpler for my family”, Natia Bakradze says. “In previous years we made cheese, transported it to the village, sold it. Now we only have to deliver the milk.” The making of the Swiss cheese differs considerably in comparison to the production of her family’s cheese, Natia Bakradze says: “Swiss cheese needs much more work!”

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1700 kilograms of cheese were produced during the summer. (Photograph: Alpuri Oqro)

“Alpuri Qqro” buys milk from several local farmers who have to meet certain quality and hygiene standards. For the alpine cheese, the company only processes milk from cows that graze in Georgian alpine meadows without supplementary food. In the first summer, “Alpuri Qqro” produced about 750 kilograms of alpine cheese, in the second year, the quantity increased to 1700 kilograms. The company’s cheese sells well. It is available in about a dozen cheese shops, hotels and bars in Tbilisi and, starting this week, in a supermarket chain. Recently the cheese was also sold at the Tbilisi Cheese Festival.

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Mobile production facility on the alp. (Photograph: Alpuri Oqro)

“I think we are well on track”, Frances Belser says. She and Daniel Wüthrich have known the Georgian culture for a long time, they first came here 10 years ago. By now, Georgia has become a second home to them. But, as Frances Belser points out, “Alpuri Qqro” is not the result of romantic philanthropy but a business decision. It is the outcome of several years of planning, studying the market, building a network. Frances Belser: „We are the first to produce alpine cheese in Georgia.”

The couple lives in Zurich for most of the year. Both have an artistic background. Frances Belser has an acting degree, Daniel Wüthrich is a former musician. He is the founder of a sound studio in Zurich where he is responsible for the development of TV spots, nationally and internationally. Frances Belser is in charge of public relations for the company. Growing up in Appenzell, a mountainous region in Switzerland, Daniel Wüthrich has spent a lot of time living on alps. By now, both he and Frances Belser have completed an education at a renowned Swiss agricultural school.

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Daniel Wüthrich in his cheese cellar in Okrokhana.

The couple founded the company with their Georgian partner, Zurab Macharashvili. Chorchani is Macharashvili’s home village. Frances Belser and Daniel Wüthrich see it as a necessity to have a local partner in order to be able to produce on the alp. Nonetheless, it was crucial for the Swiss couple to win the confidence of the local population. “I think that was one of the most difficult and important tasks we had”, Frances Belser says. “We had to make the people understand that we really want to establish a business here and won’t leave at the first sign of trouble.”

After two years of producing cheese, the couple is optimistic about the future of “Alpuri Qqro”. The aim of their company is to double the cheese production within a few years.

Author: Simone Herrmann

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