After a long drive high in the mountains, where we stop frequently to enjoy the beautiful views, we leave the main road and turn left onto a dark forest path. Leaving the asphalt behind, we bumped for about twenty minutes through the deathly quiet forest until we came to a valley. The green mountains and remote farms are so beautifully intertwined that we enjoy this sight for a moment. We continue at walking pace, passing a handful of horses and cows. We don’t have to be afraid of getting lost, there is only one road that leads to our goal: cheese dairy HolaAndes. When we get out, the fresh mountain air meets us. In the pasture, cows are grazing contentedly. We are at about 3,000 meters in altitude and nothing reminds us of the Netherlands. Except for the archetypal Dutch owner Tobias who cheerfully approaches us in his white boots. Oh yes, and of course the primal Dutch cheese made here! Over the next few hours, we get a tour of the cheese factory, have lunch with our neighbors and ask Tobias all about it. Because a twenty-something Dutchman making Gouda cheese high in the Colombian Andes: that’s pretty special.
Cheese factory HolaAndes: Dutch cheese in Colombia
Gouda cheese in Colombia: how do you get it? Tobias Rijnsdorp had absolutely no clue. Still, he quit his job at Heineken in 2015 to delve into making Gouda cheese. After his graduate internship in southern Colombia, he and some friends came up with the idea of producing Gouda cheese locally to then sell as a luxury product in Bogotá. So be it, and in early 2017, the large cheese machines from the Netherlands arrived in the small village of Monquentiva in Cundinamarca, Colombia. A village in the forests where until barely 10 years ago the FARC still “lived” and where they held their hostages. By now, this is a safe area and very beautiful where, in addition to lots of cows and horses, you can encounter black bears and other wildlife just like that.
Working with local farmers
Cheese dairy HolaAndes is affiliated with milk cooperative COLEGA (Cooperativa de Lecheros de Guatavita), where 54 small local farmers supply their milk every day. The village of Monquentiva, which belongs to Guatavita, was without electricity, clean drinking water and adequate food until just 20 years ago. By establishing the COLEGA cooperative, farmers in this area were able to start producing milk and participate in the formal market and raise their standard of living.
Most dairy farmers in Colombia are very poor, and the large dairy processors to which these farmers sell their milk pay very little for that milk and also have a lot of power. The idea of HolaAndes is to sell their Gouda cheese as a luxury product to the wealthier Colombian, thus bringing a competitive product to the market, giving the smaller, and therefore poorer, farmers a better price for their milk. So a very nice sustainable business model. Added to this is the fact that Tobias’ business is very focused on self-reliance, and he teaches employees and farmers how to make cheese so they can eventually do it themselves.
A tour of the Dutch cheese factory in Colombia
Besides the impressively beautiful setting in which this cheese factory is located, you immediately notice how small-scale it all is. Not a big factory, but a small house where cheese is made with a few machines. The farm seems to be pretty much in the middle of the farming village, so we see cows and mountains everywhere. On the gate is large COLEGA and every Sunday the villagers come here to church. The cheese factory is extremely clean and we get a complete explanation of how things are done here. Tobias is tremendously passionate, which is great to listen to. It is a real pleasure to visit this special cheese factory!
And then the question: is this cheese really as tasty as in Holland?
A very simple answer: YES! Not only does it look like Dutch cheese, it tastes exactly the same. And yes for the attentive reader: we vegans have also eaten of the cheese. Bad? No, this was really enjoyable in Dutch for a while. My parents bought two cheeses (which quickly ran out) and my mother-in-law also feasted on this Dutch delicacy. Do you happen to live in Bogotá or Cundinamarca and miss Dutch cheese? Then this is the place to be!
Where exactly can you find cheese factory HolaAndes and how do you get there?
Getting to the cheese factory takes some planning, especially from Bogotá. We live relatively close, yet the journey there is quite a challenge. The easiest way is to drive your own car, but no doubt it should be possible to use public transportation as well. The best thing to do, if you are going to contact Tobias, is to ask how to get there. In any case, you have to go first to Guasca or Guatavita, from there by minibus and the last part by cab (or directly already from the village where you arrive). In any case, take your time: you can easily spend all day on this trip (which is without a doubt 100% worth it!).
How do you arrange a tour?
Go to the website of HolaAndes and contact Tobias via what’s app or email. He is often only on the farm two days a week and the rest of the time in Bogotá. Thus, an appointment must be scheduled in advance and preferably on weekends. A tour costs 100,000 pesos per person and includes lunch, a tour to páramo Vista Hermosa, a visit to the cheese factory and a tasting.
Where and how do you buy the cheese?
Tobias’ Gouda cheese is only for sale in Bogotá for now, but there are plans to expand. If you live in Bogotá or surrounding areas, you can also easily order it over the Internet, namely here. Nowadays, you can also order from Cali. You’ll also find it in certain restaurants and stores. Contact Tobias for details and more options.
Want to take a fun, interesting and very special day trip from Bogotá? Then this is absolutely recommended!