Features

This cheese-making social enterprise helps fight poverty

Keso Beso merges carabao’s milk, new flavors, and a collaborative approach that can create change in the local cheese industry

Photos by Jilson Tiu

Jeson Estorba, 24, and Mark Jayson Landayan, 20, started the artisanal cream cheese social enterprise Keso Beso in hopes of providing more jobs to carabao raisers and decreasing dairy product importation.

Their only exposure to cheese however is the cheap, processed product ubiquitous in supermarkets and sari-sari stores everywhere. Cheese was not something they dreamed of making or was even passionate about at first, but their journey began when they stepped inside Gawad Kalinga (GK)’s Enchanted Farm and applied for its social entrepreneurship program under the School for Experiential and Entrepreneurial Development (SEED) two years ago.

Estorba, already a TESDA graduate from a Gawad Kalinga community in Negros Oriental, wanted to study again and was lucky to be one of the four accepted scholars from the region. Meanwhile, Landayan was a young hopeful who simply wanted to continue his studies. But because of poverty, he had to stop studying agriculture at Fortunato F. Halili National Agricultural School in his home province of Bataan.

Here’s their journey so far and the lessons they’ve learned along the way:

BE OPEN TO CHANGE
Ingredients for the cheese include rennet, olive oil, salt, basil, and pepper

Akala ko typical school lang na may classroom at buildings. Pagdating namin dito, farm pala ‘to,” says Landayan.

Initially intimidated by the business side of the program, Landayan threw all his apprehensions out the window and embraced the new culture entirely. “Dito more on attitude ang focus. Na-encourage ako sa mission namin na tulungan di lang sarili namin pero at the same time ‘yung community namin,” he says.

The two emphasize the need to start changing your mindset in order to become a successful social entrepreneur. “Madaling gumawa ng product pero mahirap baguhin ‘yung isang tao. Nanggaling kami sa scarcity, sa pinakamahirap na status kaya kailangan talaga ma-build ‘yung confidence,” says Estorba.

When they started learning inside the farm, they considered eating three times a day a big change in their lifestyle. “We’re not poor anymore. Kahit sa simpleng bagay na yun,” Landayan says. And this itself motivated them to learn more and do more inside the farm.

TRY SOMETHING NEW AND KEEP LEARNING
Pasteurizing the milk and cooling it down to 45°C
Coagulated milk is drained for eight hours to produce the cheese

Their introduction to cheese was not through divine intervention or a eureka moment. It started when Estorba started taking responsibility for GK’s goat farm. The task after all was familiar to Estorba as he raised livestock back in Negros. “I know how to take care of goats but in terms of creating an innovative product out of the goat, I had no clue,” he says.

Fortunately, he was assigned together with French intern Marguerite Delage who had experience in dairy goat farms. She used to work in a dairy factory and knew how to make cheese. Even though they only had a handful of goats then, Estorba was determined to learn as much as possible from Delage who in turn helped him create a prototype using the goat’s milk. However, scaling it up wasn’t sustainable due to insufficient supply so he switched to carabao’s milk instead.

“We decided to create cream cheese because we wanted to showcase carabao’s milk by turning it into a high value product,” says Estorba. “‘Yung first cream cheese na natikman ko is ‘yung product pa namin,” Landayan laughs. “Ako rin,” Estorba admits. Earlier this year, the two had the opportunity to attend different trainings sponsored by SEED Philippines to expand their knowledge on cheese. Landayan trained for two weeks at the Philippine Carabao Center, learning the ins and outs of the production cycle—from raising carabaos to creating cheese—using the right facilities and ensuring quality control throughout the process. For his part, Estorba traveled around France for three weeks to examine the cheese industry in Normandy, Britanny, Lille, and Paris.

IDENTIFY THE GAP AND COLLABORATE
Mark Jayson Landayan and Jeson Estorba

Without any dairy background, the duo was sold into pursuing cheese-making as they saw the product’s potential not only for profit but also for community involvement.

According to the 2017 Philippines Dairy and Products Annual Situation and Outlook report prepared by the USDA Foreign Agricultural Service, the Philippines produces less than one percent of its total annual dairy requirement and imports the balance from New Zealand (39 percent), the United States (24 percent), and Australia (six percent).

Earlier this year, the two had the opportunity to attend different trainings sponsored by SEED Philippines to expand their knowledge on cheese. Landayan trained for two weeks at the Philippine Carabao Center, learning the ins and outs of the production cycle—from raising carabaos to creating cheese—using the right facilities and ensuring quality control throughout the process. For his part, Estorba traveled around France for three weeks to examine the cheese industry in Normandy, Britanny, Lille, and Paris.

This led the team to ask more questions. Why do we need to import milk from other countries? Why can’t we use our raw materials? Why are we seeing an almost all-imported dairy section in the supermarket? “May advantage tayo kasi abundant tayo sa natural resources. Sa France, may four seasons sila. Kapag winter di sila nakakagawa. Tayo kahit umuulan, pwede pa rin tayo magpakain ng kalabaw,” says Estorba.

The farm already raised carabaos but it wasn’t enough to provide for all the enterprises that also need their milk. As the procurement officer in the team, Landayan ventured out to nearby carabao raisers. “Bibilhin ko ‘yung gatas na kaya nilang i-produce tapos tatapatan namin ng appropriate amount,” he says.

Estorba admits that there is still a lack of knowledge on dairy production in rural communities as most only produce enough for their family’s consumption. So, instead of simply partnering with farmers, the two go the extra mile to teach farmers how to turn this collaboration into a business too.

BE PATIENT AND KEEP THE VISION ALIVE
Cheese in basil-olive oil flavor

As young entrepreneurs, they still have a long way to go to turn their dreams into reality. Many challenges have come their way and many more have still yet to be defeated.

Some problems they continue to encounter is the need to fix their supply chain. There are farmers who are willing to partner but require them to buy milk every day. “May mga farmers na kumakagat sa mga iba pang entrepreneurs na mas mababa ang presyo pero bibilhin naman lahat,” says Landayan.

Currently, their production is only twice a week as they are still on the product development stage. They had four flavors but decided to trim it down to two: dill-garlic and basil-olive oil. Unfortunately, they had to stop producing their bestselling dill-garlic as the variety they are using from the farm is actually false dill. Another challenge is marketing. They have yet to collaborate with a marketing person or learn it themselves along the way.

What’s their strategy in the near future? “For now, we’re building social entrepreneurs within the community,” says Estorba “Kami ‘yung mga young entrepreneurs na magpapakita sa kanila na kahit galing sa hirap kaya naming gumawa ng social enterprise at kaya rin namin silang tulungan,” says Landayan.

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