ASTANA – Kazakh entrepreneur Yekaterina Payazitova from the Abai Region became a member of the International Cheese Guild (La Guilde Internationale des Fromagers) at the Le Mondial du Fromage international cheese competition in September. Payazitova spoke about the challenges of the competition and what it means for her to join the guild in an interview with The Astana Times.
The guild aims to promote artisanal cheese production and share knowledge among cheese enthusiasts.
“Participating in competitions like this is akin to the Olympic Games for athletes. While winning medals and accolades is certainly a significant achievement, the pinnacle of honor for cheesemakers is being welcomed into the guild and earning the title of a knight in the brotherhood of St. Uguzon,” said Payazitova.
One hundred and five participants from 68 countries participated in the Le Mondial du Fromage competition, presenting 1,500 cheese samples.
A 6,000 kilometer journey
Participating in the competition was both a challenging and exhilarating experience for Payazitova. She had to ensure her cheese maintained its characteristics and quality during a journey of approximately 6,000 kilometers to the competition venue.
“My cheeses competed in three categories – blue cheese, semi-hard, and semi-soft cheese. Overall, I received three medals, including silver for Mulatto cheese (semi-hard), and two bronze for blue cheeses – Patisson with truffle mold, and Amorelli with purple, dried cherries. However, the most significant recognition came in the form of an order from the international guild, an honor surpassing any victory at a cheese competition,” she said.
International guild opens ample opportunities
Payazitova emphasized that the guild represents a vast network of support and a platform for collaboration and knowledge exchange. It enables cheesemakers to connect, conduct experiments, visit each other’s cheese factories, and share their respective cultures and traditions.
“Unfortunately, we lacked specific support and incurred significant expenses. However, the idea of representing our country for the first time and the determination not to falter or bring disgrace upon ourselves kept us going for a long time,” said Payazitova.
Hobby turned to profession
Payazitova first learned the art of cheesemaking in France in 2009. She didn’t start producing cheese until 2017 due to a lack of resources, including information, materials and knowledgeable teachers.
Operating a small cheese factory equipped with three long-term pasteurization baths of 150, 40, and 20 liters, Payazitova specializes in crafting artisanal cheese products. Her cheeses, known for their uniqueness, are featured in her restaurant. These rare cheeses are typically sold to dedicated customers who are willing to wait for months.
“I successfully completed courses at the All-Russian Research Institute of Butter and Cheese Making in Uglich in 2020. Currently, I am pursuing further education at the London School of Cheese Production, which has granted me the opportunity to serve as a judge in cheese competitions,” she said.
In the future, she plans to expand her small-scale home production and hire people who share her passion for the craft of cheese making.
“The best aspect of my work is that my hobby has transformed into my profession. I engage in what I am passionate about, crafting intricate and delectable varieties of cheese, some of which require time and effort, resulting in exceptionally flavorful creations,” said Payazitova.