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Cheese festival in good taste

How much cheese do Belarusians eat? According to official statistics, just 2kg per head annually
By Vladimir Sobolevsky 

Those from Poland and Lithuania consume six times more cheese than Belarusians, while the Greeks and French lead, eating 29kg and 25kg per head annually. Producers say that the average Belarusian eats more than 4kg of cheese each year, including soft, hard and curd cheeses, but, clearly, it does not feature highly in most people’s diet. The Director General of Marketing Systems Strategic Development Centre, Anatoly Akantinov stresses that cheese is being promoted in various ways in Belarus, including through the Minsk Cheese Festival — to pique local buyers to try domestic cheeses and improve the image of our brands with foreign distributors.

Themed ‘food’ festivals are long established around the world, with celebrations of beer, cheese, meat and, even, tomatoes. These attract both the press and tourists so it makes sense for Belarus to cultivate its own niche. Steps have already been taken, with the Slavgorod District of the Mogilev Region organising its own cheese festival for local producers. Minsk’s major national event will gather all the leading producers, as Mr. Akantinov notes. He adds hopefully, “Next year, our Belarusian cheese festival will be international.”

His plan is ambitious but this year’s event should show if the idea is feasible. As well as plenty of tasting tables, there will be contests, music, animation, prizes and other entertainments. Appropriately, it’s being hosted by the Belarusian State Folk Architecture and Life Museum, located in Ozertso, just 4km from the Minsk ring road. Covering over 150 hectares, the site has enough to keep visitors entertained all day and its folk museum will place the ancient skill of cheese-making in context.

Anatoliy Stetsko, the Director General of Slutsk Cheese Factory, tells us, “In quality our products rival those of Europe.” He also has confidence in other cheese making enterprises, which produced over 160 cheese varieties in total. Most follow traditional ‘Soviet’ recipes — such as ‘Russian’, ‘Dutch’ but new cheeses are being launched, using more complex methods and longer curing periods. Affordable yet tasty, these ‘elite’ cheeses are produced in smaller numbers, making them often difficult to find in the shops.

The first cheese dairies appeared in Novogrudok and Minsk District in the late 19th century, copying Western recipes, as Mr. Stetsko confesses. Cheeses from Sweden, Denmark, New Zealand, Italy and France have been reproduced successfully, making Belarus among the top five dairy producers worldwide.
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