Agroecological cheeses: a factory run by women that supplies large restaurants and continues to grow – The Urban Planet | UPR

Achieving notoriety and recognition is not something usual. And less in only two years of existence. Among the many factors to achieve it is the random (a stroke of luck) or the concrete (offering exceptional products or services). In the case of El Abascay, the cheese factory run by Rosario López Seco and her daughters Consuelo, Lucía and Romina Maffia from the field of Brandsen that rosary beads has owned since the early 2000s, the latter clearly prevailed.

“You called me just today, that we have the final inspection to give us organic certification,” he laughs. Consuelo, Rosario’s right handsitting behind the wheel of her truck while contemplating the field where the Holland and Jersey cows that provide the raw material for the production of products the abascay.

She is excited and does not hide it: “We already have the agroecological certification, but the organic process takes about two years. In fact, we are already organic producers, but this means that we can put the label on the products”.

More than 60 years of history

The history of El Abascay (also from the countryside and the dairy that are its origins) starts in the 1950s, when Mario, father of Rosario and grandfather of Consuelobegan with the activity. The man came to have 2,000 hectares, 6 dairy farms, a dairy factory and 10 children..

When he died in 1991, that factory had been closed for decades, but the dairy farms were active since after the bankruptcy of his enterprise he continued to sell milk to the big names in the industry. After his death, some of his children continued to work the dairy farms and others opened, but the family business continued to function.

“My mother has been working for more than 20 years. She had another activity and then joined. Later, each one became independent until she was left alone”, she narrates. Comfort. “The original field was parceled out and my mother got 160 hectares and a dairy, because in reality when they divided it up it was into productive plots, some with more or less hectares, but taking into account the quality of the field. Now we have those 160 and we rent another 180 from an aunt, which are productive for the dairy.”

I joined 4 years ago. We are three sisters, none had had an approach, each one made her life; In fact, I went several years to Buenos Aires to study Human Resources. I also worked in gastronomy. I said I was never going to work with my family because I saw my mother suffer with the field and with her brothers. I wanted something else for my life, but now I am very happy”, she says, convinced.

Consuelo says that the animals graze in the field every day and her nutrition plan is completed with organic balanced feed. “Today we have 160 cows, but we got to have 200, 220”, details. “Everything for dairy farming; the only parallel activity we have is a chicken coop, with free-range hens that also graze daily and produce eggs; at night they sleep in the chicken coop, but mostly for security reasons. That is our philosophy,” he adds.

Deal Failed, Opportunity Found

The fortuitous also played its role in this story. In August 2020, when the procedures for organic certification began, Rosario and Consuelo began to have conversations with a giant dairy company to which his grandfather historically sold him.

“They already bought milk from us and one day they tell us they want to launch a line of organic products. At that time it was good because they paid us a higher value for being agroecological milk. After thinking about it, we said yes because we had nothing to lose and there was also the support of this company”.

“Obviously it was quite a challenge, I thought that My mother used to work with the same system as my grandfather: she sold to the truck that passes by, collecting milk from different dairy farms. And when that proposal came, we were already making cheese, but twice a week, we still didn’t have anything very well prepared. Just a delivery truck, all very precarious. And we didn’t have money to make a big investment either, it was all very easy, making small productions, testing.”

But the illusion was short-lived. “They told us to start, that the contract was already in place, and after a couple of months of embarking we were told that the company was getting out of the project and that they were going to continue buying milk from us, but at the price of conventional milk. Obviously, since the costs are much higher, it did not help us to give them our work. We asked them to continue paying us the agreed amount for 6 months, so that we could settle in, and in record time we asked for a loan from Banco Nación in order to buy a large van to transport the refrigerated products.”

“Later we had to set up a chamber for fresh cheeses and another for maturation, we hired people to be able to sell the milk and to place all the production, which was a great challenge because they are 3 thousand liters daily the ones we make. So in those first months we had to accommodate ourselves as best we could and in July 2021 we began to process all the milk for our cheeses”.

That is to say that the misfortune was finally an impulse.

– Absolutely. One day my mom sends me a message and she tells me: “I have bad news.” I guessed it was that the company had gone down. At one point that prompted us to take the step of leaving. Until then the production was small, for a few clients. At first we made the two alone, I loaded the truck and went to Buenos Aires to deliver to the three clients we had, an amount that for me at that time was a lot. We started by making creamy cheese, and then Campeche, a semi-hard cheese that we call that in honor of my uncle., my mother’s brother, who is also an agricultural engineer and always helped us and was present, very close to my mother. We started with those two and then we incorporated.

– And how did you learn to elaborate?

– My mother and her brothers had a factory, which also melted (laughs). Now she is in sales and the administrative part more than in production, but she had some notion. And then I took a course here, in Brandsen, quite basic, with a local cheesemaker. And then it was a lot of trial and error. A tractor driver who worked with us added some knowledge, so between the tractor driver, my mom and I started.

When the agreement fell through, we had already increased production a bit. Hard cheeses came a little later due to the issue of maturationat first we sold them fresh because we didn’t have space to make them and also because we didn’t have financial backing: having a cheese for two months in storage is money that is idle. Once we find the balance we start incorporating other things.

And now we have a lot of products: we make halloumi, butter (which was born half by accident and is now a success), the Campeche, gouda, sardinian, sbrinz, some flavored cheeses, tybo, low-fat port salut; our idea was always to make the cheeses that we consume at home. Argentine cheeses, but well done. We also make a dulce de leche that we are proud of, a product that I wanted to make since we started. The difference with other milk candies is made by the quality of the milk, the use of organic sugar, which is much less sweet than refined sugar, and that we do not add vanilla, which for me dulls the flavor of the milk.

family scale

Consuelo breaks down the structure of the company, which is inevitably also that of a family devoted to El Abascay. “My sisters are one year older than me, who is 34, and they are twins. Lucy He has a separate job, but he joined with the chicken coop project. He launched it during the pandemic alongside Faith, her husband, who also works in the factory with us. And my other sister, Josephinewho is a nutritionist, participates more than anything with me, putting together orders, billing, etc. In total, we are now 17/18 people in the factory, most of them from the area. And the cheese master is Angelof Brandsenwho started working with us three years ago.

– And how is the distribution of tasks?

I am in the commercial part and my mother more in the productive part of the field, is like its main activity. It is also in the making. There are 6 people working in the factory. but she goes every day. I was 100% in the factory and then I left running, now I dedicate myself more than anything to the commercial part, and I am there when we do tests or product development, I love it. Let’s say that from the product onwards I am.

– Because they were recently in the market, they achieved remarkable recognition, especially among chefs. How did they become known?

– I started writing to people, cheekily. One of the first was Julio Báez, the chef/owner of Julia, because I had worked with him a few years ago. I told him about the project and if I could bring him some samples. He said yes and immediately began to buy butter. In addition, he uses our cream, and many people began to write to us because he had tried it in Julia. The journalist also helped us a lot with the dissemination Rudolph Reich. And then word of mouth arrived, they began to buy and recommend other chefs and that’s how we grew.

Consuelo provides data on production, sales and availability of products: “Roughly speaking, we will be selling 10 thousand kilos of cheese per month. The presentations are in 3-kilo form and portions of 300 and 500 grams. We have an online store for retail sales and several points of sale, mostly agroecological stores and natural stores. Y in restaurants we are in Julia, Chuí, 878, Los Galgos, La Fuerza, La favorite, Yiyo el Zeneize and several more”.

He also talks about projects, some advanced and others under development. Among these is the elaboration of a cheese with artichoke rennet, which they would carry out together with the University of La Plata (until now they work with microbial rennet and lyophilized ferment). And it comes in handy —it is already in the final testing stage— a “porteño quarter”a project done in conjunction with Julián Díaz, owner of 878, Los Galgos and La Fuerza. “It is a cheese with starch and added cream. The idea is that it can be eaten in a savory dish and in a dessert. The cuartirolo as it was done before”, he is excited about the future Comfort.

– The last one, why are they called El Abascay?

– Because Abascay is the name of the stream that crosses the field where my mother began. Later she moved from the dairy and the name remained. Describe is a bit of the concept too: a project that started years ago and is still on track. The idea is that: to continue growing and transforming. Between my sisters, my mom and I, it’s like we managed to gradually transform something that already had a structure into a project with other horizons and values.