Discover Georgia
Sulguni with Lapland Motives
11 March, 2019
Marika Niklason from Georgia, lives in Asele in the south part of Swedish Lapland, with her husband and children and produces Georgian smoked cheese called “Lapplands Mejeri”. When I called her for an interview, she was on a business tour with her Swedish husband -participating in Stockholm Cheese Festival and in Hunting Trade Fair in Salzburg. She was happy and told me that they had participated in Stockholm Festival for the first time and were even awarded a prize.

Who is
Marika Niklason, how she ended up in Lapland and how she managed to set up a Georgian cheese producing plant in the northernmost part of Europe? You are going to learn from her interview.

Marika Niklason: - You can’t find cheese which is the same as we produce. When I offer it to someone to taste, some don’t have an idea what it is and some of them even start arguing: “this is not cheese, this is either smoked fish or smoked meat” they say. Then I explain: “It is made by me and I think I know better whether it is cheese or fish”.

- How come you ended up in cold Lapland from Sunny Georgia?

- I was born in Georgia but I have never lived there. My surname is Mamucharashvili and I am from Akhmeta, my mother’s surname is Berikashvili. I was 9 months old when my family moved to Estonia. After serving in the military in Tallinn, my father found a job and stayed there and that’s why he took me and my mother with him, my brother, who is 3 years younger than me, was born in Tallinn. You might be surprised to hear me speaking Georgian fluently. We always speak Georgian in the family. My children know the Georgian language as well, though their accent is different. In summer, we used to visit our relatives in Georgia when we lived in Tallinn, we also have our house in a village in Georgia. Father says, when he retires, he will go back to Georgia and live there.
First, I married a Georgian man who lived in Tallinn and I have two children from my first marriage – my son Kristian-Akaki and my daughter Elza. I received higher education in Tallinn; I studied business organization and management. We ran 4 restaurants there and it was there I discovered that I am good at business. We divorced after 10 years of marriage and closed the restaurants. I started a new business in Tallinn - Tours in Georgia - sending tourists from Europe - namely from Sweden, Finland, Norway, and other countries - to Georgia. That’s how I found my future husband on the Internet- Emil Nicklason from Stockholm, who had graduated from a hotel management school in Lapland, with a specialty in hunting and fishing tourism and stayed there in Lapland. Travelers, namely fishermen and hunters, visited him from nearly every European country and I asked him to advise them to visit Georgia as well. We started sending emails and messages and to communicate with each other online in January 2012. He would tell me that he couldn’t trust anyone blindly and that he had to meet me and visit Georgia as well. Once, during our conversation, I learned that he had a birthday on the 1st of February. I thought he was going to have a big celebration, but he told me that his friends all lived in Stockholm and he had few friends there and that he was not going to have a party to celebrate his birthday. I was surprised and felt pity for him, I offered him to celebrate his birthday together on Skype after work. I said: let’s have a glass of wine while chatting online, offer toasts and even dance. We had a great time together and he visited me in Tallinn a week later.

- Was it love at first sight?

- No, it wasn’t. On the contrary – I was not impressed at all when I first met him. He didn’t look like a businessman; he was wearing casual clothes as if he was going for a walk in the forest. It turned out that in Sweden it is quite normal, even millionaires can be dressed casually; while I was dressed up, wearing high heeled shoes. I found out later that Emil didn’t like me either, because of my dressing style. One day we went to a discotheque… and dancing together helped us get closer. Then we went to Georgia, where we found ourselves involved in a real adventure. It was April and it was warm in Georgia. My cousin, a friend of his and I showed Emil around Tbilisi, then we took a bottle of wine, some glasses and sat down in the yard of one of the houses. My fellow-villager and a relative happened to be nearby; he didn’t come to us or talk to me. Instead, he appeared to have called my brother in Tallinn telling him some stupid things about me, something like this: “Marika is with a ‘Santa Claus’ (Emil has a pale complexion and white-blond hair)”. My brother called me, he was very excited, telling me: “Someone is watching you there (my brother doesn’t speak fluent Georgian) and who knows what rumors they will be spreading in the village”. I got very angry. Emil had no idea what was happening around. I told him that I would explain everything later and I asked my cousin’s friend to take him to the nearest hotel. I promised Emil to join him soon. My cousin and I planned to meet that fellow-villager and talk. My cousin’s friend took Emil to a strange hotel, where you first have to enter a garage, and then go upstairs to find yourself in the hotel. Emil failed to find the staircase there, he thought he had been kidnapped and locking-up there. Emil even called him friends in Stockholm, who were alarmed. Fortunately, everything ended peacefully…

We got engaged in Tallinn. I introduced him to my family members and in 2012 I went to Lapland together my children. He also has children – William and Liam, we have a wonderful relationship with one another. I enrolled my children in school there and I started learning Swedish in a language school. After that, I found a part-time job as an English teacher. But I decided to find another job there and we decided to start producing Georgian cheese.

It was my husband’s choice to start producing Georgian cheese using Swedish milk there in Lapland because Lapland is ecologically cleaner than Stockholm.

In 2015 we arrived in Georgia. We met some cheese manufacturers, who helped us learn something about the production line. Then we met a young girl and a man who agreed to come to Lapland with us to give our business a go. We rented a school kitchen and bought a 200-liter cauldron, but failed to give it a go. It turned out that Georgian milk is very different from Swedish milk; it has different fat percentage, pH level and even its physical and chemical composition is very different. We even found it difficult to smoke it and in fact, had to throw away the first 400 kg of cheese we had produced. But we did not give up. There is a single school in Sweden, which teach how to make cheese and I went to that school to attend a course there. I learned some technique and my practical experience together with theoretical knowledge gained there had a positive result. It was then when I realized that I hadn’t known so many things about cheese production. By the way, before enrolling in the courses, Emil and I tried to produce and smoke cheese using a different technique and it was a success. In 2016 we participated in a cheese exhibition, where cheese composition was scrupulously examined and we get in a category “And Others” as no participant had smoked cheese. There we were one of the winners and were awarded a gold medal. This gold medal served as an incentive for our business. This was followed by some courses I had to join. Then, I wrote a business plan, and received funding for my innovative project, we purchased some machinery and hired three employees, but I have to be there and control everything, all the time. On two occasions I had to leave when the preparation of cheese was at the stage when milk was to be curdled and in both cases it was overdone.
The cheese we produce belongs to eco-friendly products; it is distributed in 47 supermarkets, but sometimes we have to export it as well, as here in Sweden it is not yet well-known and popular, whereas the production costs are very high. In 2018, we built our own factory and purchased huge machinery. The partition wall separating the shop space from the space for production is made of transparent glass so that the customers who enter the shop are able to buy products and watch cheese making processes and assess the quality of the conditions under which our cheese is produced, simultaneously. My husband made some wooden tables and chairs himself.

Everything follows Lapland motives. It was my husband's idea to start producing something resembling game-pies by giving sulguni-cheese a shape of elk, and stuffing it full of smoked elk meat. You cannot find here meat stuffed cheese and our products were sold out at the Stockholm. We have big plans and the future will show whether we are able to fulfill them.

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