Nicaragua - Cheese production during Paola's first week at La Bastilla

Hello everyone, I’m Paola and I’m the new Field Officer at La Bastilla Technical School.

I’ve moved in this week and I’ve been meeting people and visiting the different businesses since then. On Thursday I had the chance to make cheese with the students, so today I’d like to share this experience with you.

The Dairy Plant in La Bastilla started operating a short time ago (on the 22nd of July, to be more precise), but their ongoing production (they are producing different dairy products from Monday to Sunday) is going pretty well. Mainly sold in Jinotega (restaurants and supermarkets) and the community, some of the production is for “auto consumo”, i.e. selling products back to the school itself and to the hotel.

So we went down to the Dairy plant early in the morning with the students, Juana who is the current monitor of the plant and Jeymi, one of the students whose business assignment for this week is the Dairy plant.

The other two students assigned to this business area had gone earlier with a horse to collect the milk from two different farmers. So after waiting shortly for the milk to come, we put our hands to work!

Cheese production processes are not as simple as we might think. First, we need to filter the milk as it sometimes comes with some cow hair or little traces from the milking. Then, we measure the milk in centimetres to check the amount of litres we have (for example, 11 centimetres are approximately 40 litres). While pouring the milk into the tina de recibo (square metal tub), Juana takes a sample and analyzes it with the electric analizador (analyzer). This will give us details on temperature, density, water, fat, etc. She takes one sample per farmer’s milk. She also performs an acidity analysis using alcohol, before deciding on the type of cheese that we’ll be producing, as the mozzarella cheese needs to have zero acidity level compare to the morolique cheese (Nicaraguan local cheese). Today milk acidity levels are a little high so we won’t be doing mozzarella as we first thought, but instead opting for morolique.

Once both sets of milk are poured into the tina de recibo, we stir them and then take 20 litres out to process them in the descremadora. We manually crank the handle and the process results in milk on one end and cream on the other. The machine separates these two liquids by their different consistency. Then, we take that milk and pour it again on the tina de recibo in order to standardize all the milk.

As a fourth step, we take all the milk to the tina de doble chaqueta (double wall tub) where we’ll heat the milk until it reaches 32 °C. This will guarantee a better cheese performance. We then add cuajo (rennet) and calcium and let the milk rest for 45 minutes.

After this time, we cut the compound with the liras (special metal equipment with tight strings); we’ll take out 50% of the whey and add salt (9%). We’ll leave this preparation to rest in brine for one day and then press it for another day. Once it is ready, the final cheese needs to be cut, weighed and vacuum packed. The result: a tasty and good quality artisanal cheese ready to eat!

To sum up, it’s been a great first week here at La Bastilla Technical School. Getting to see the students working in the different businesses, such as the Poultry Farm and Egg production, Milking, Hotel, Bakery, Vegetable Farming and the Dairy plant with a sense of ownership and self-confidence made me feel that the “Education that pays for itself” model is working and making an impact on their lives. Many challenges and work will come throughout this one year I’ll be staying here but I’m excited about that and I’m looking forward to working together with the school staff and students. 

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