“CHEESE IS NOT IN OUR CULTURE AS FILIPINOS,” admits Olive Puentespina, Malagos Farm¬house’s resident cheesemaker.
Yet, to her initial surprise, their cheeses have been steadily gaining popularity in the country after she started selling feta cheese in 2005—a hobby-turned-business, after some prompting from her family (since they own the farm, they could harvest the animals products needed for ingredients). Her feta was even chosen as Cheese of the Month by The Cheese Club of the Philippines in 2006. “I didn’t even know there was a Cheese Club of the Philippines!” she laughs. Now, she has over 25 cheese creations and supplies all over the country. In fact, her clients have asked her to limit doing interviews, because demand spikes each time an article on the cheeses comes out and oftentimes, the supply runs out fast.
“I’m just an ordinary person with an extraordinary job,” she says, joking that she didn’t go to “cheese university” and simply learned through experience. Without an intimidating, I’m-a-cheese-snob vibe, she’s the perfect person to lead structured cheese tastings in the farmhouse in the city. She sits down with guests and runs them through the course, giving them information about how the cheeses are made, how to eat them, and what best to pair them with. Of course, questions are welcome.
After the whole course, Olive leaves the guests to enjoy what is left on the table, and you can even bring your own wine or buy from Olive’s stock (some people even hold meet¬ings during the tasting!). And of course, the cheeses are scrumptious—so much so that our group managed to finish almost everything on the table, despite the fact that we just finished a hearty lunch half an hour earlier. Visitors can choose between two schedules: 10:30 AM or 5:30 PM.
But if you don’t have time to go to Olive’s cheese tasting (but believe us, it’s definitely worth the trip), you can have a taste of Malagos Farmhouse cheeses in hotels and restaurants all over the coun¬try (including Seda Abreeza in Davao) which have them in their menus. “Yung mga produkto nakakarating na sa lugar na hindi ko pa nararating!” says Olive. “The cheeses are really selling them¬selves.” Truly the pride of Davao.
After the success of their cheeses, it would only seem natural for Malagos Farmhouse to try selling other products. But it wasn’t the idea of diversifica¬tion that led the family to expand into chocolates, but the need to preserve their farm. A multinational company was about to buy the cacao plantation near their farm, and the family—afraid that the harmful insecticides sprayed by the multinational would affect their own lot—bought it instead. Despite having no experience with cacao, they took seminars and networked with the people in the chocolate industry, even¬tually turning the unexpected business venture into a success.
Because of the good reputation that Malagos Farmhouse has thanks to their cheeses, their chocolate products were a hit when they were introduced to the Manila market last year. You can actually also sample hot chocolate made from their tablea and 65% dark chocolate bars during the cheese tasting or in hotels and specialty markets in Manila.
Currently, they’re trying to introduce their chocolate products to the international market, but they already have a working relationship with Mars, Incorporated (yes, that Mars Chocolate Bar) who help teach their farmers better agricultural practices and how to rehabilitate cacao plants. The people from Mars even helped them forge a trading relationship with Armajaro Trading, one of the world’s leading suppliers of cocoa products, whom they sell about 180 tons of cocoa to a year. Not bad for a company who didn’t want to go into the chocolate business in the beginning.
HERE’S A LIST OF WHAT WE SAMPLED, AS DESCRIBED BY OLIVE PUENTESPINA:
Kesong Puti – “This is the quintessential Philippine cheese. It’s made from pure fresh milk, salt, and a congealing agent. Because the ingredients are very basic, you can’t mask mistakes. If your milk or your process is not clean, it will definitely come out in the cheese.”
Chèvre – “The kesong puti of France. It’s fresh goat cheese. It’s our top seller because it’s very versatile and can be transformed easily.”
Mango Chèvre – “The people from Philippine Airlines approached me and asked me to craft a cheese that would create a signature PAL experience, to entice people to fly business class to try it. So I married Filipino and French techniques, and made chèvre with dried mango.”
Feta – “I age this in brine for a month and then serve it with olive oil. It’s perfect for Greek salad.”
Hardinera – “This is cow’s milk cheese topped with macerated mint, honey, and a bit of thyme. There’s a contrast between saltiness of the cheese and the sweetness and herb taste of the other ingre¬dients.”
Queso Rustico and La Marea – “These are two of my best sellers. Both go well with nuts and honey.”