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This family business has more than 10 varieties of cheese on offer. SUR
Quesos La Laja: The artisan cheese makers breaking the mould in Ronda
Food and drink

Quesos La Laja: The artisan cheese makers breaking the mould in Ronda

This small family business, which works with fresh milk taken from its own herd of dairy cows, is an exception in Malaga province where dairy products from goats and sheep predominate

Javier Almellones

Ronda

Monday, 24 June 2024, 23:55

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From fresh to extra mature with different flavourings and coatings. Quesos La Laja is a young, family-run company from Ronda that has opted to make cheeses with fresh milk from its own herd of dairy cows. In a province like Malaga, where the primary cheese producers make goat's cheese, in some cases also using sheep's milk, this small business has set out to swim against the tide.

It does so because the company is convinced that it brings added value to the market, not only in terms of originality, but also in terms of the quality of the raw material. At the helm of this dairy and cheese enterprise is the married couple José Manuel Orozco and Reme Conde. He represents the third generation of dairy cattle farmers who dedicated themselves for many decades to the breeding of Friesians for milk production.

Today the farm has around 400 cows, but only part of their milk output is used to make La Laja cheese. The idea came from José Manuel, who was convinced that high-quality dairy products could be made from this raw material. "We control everything from the rearing of the calves to the distribution of the cheeses", explained the manager of this small family business.

The first steps in starting up La Laja cheese, named after the farm of the same name in the Partido de la Sanguijuela in Ronda, were taken five years ago. At that point they did not even have the cheese production area set up, which is now only ten metres from the livestock farm. "We were making the first cheeses in the facilities of another company for two years, until, when we saw the good results, we decided to set up our own maturing rooms", said José Manuel.

Friesian cows

From there, José Manuel and Reme started working together with pasteurised and fresh milk from their Friesian cows to make a wide range of cheeses that are made in the most handcrafted way possible and with no chemical additives. Until this business venture started up there was only one cheese factory in the province of Malaga that made cheeses from fresh cow's milk, but none that dared to make mature, extra mature, or even vintage (aged) cheeses. The range of flavours added to the latter, which have been aged for much longer (nine to 24 months) than the former (mature - ripened for six months), is as varied as it is original. The cheeses are coated with some of the typical flavours, such as paprika or rosemary, but also with some surprising ingredients, such as mustard with extra virgin olive oil or dried tomato and basil. The most ripened cheeses are also used to make a high-quality, spreadable cream cheese.

Where to buy

La Laja's main point of sale is the cheese factory itself, which is located on the MA-7402 road, that is the road leading to the Roman city of Acinipo from Ronda. "For the moment, we mainly want to sell from here and at some food fairs because we want to be the ones to explain the product," said José Manuel. There are some exceptions for restaurants that already buy their cheeses for resale and consumption and the couple don't rule out taking their products to other points of sale in the future.

Prices for their cheeses vary between 10 and 18 euros per kilo, depending on the maturity and the flavour of the cheese in question. "We are looking for a balance between a price that is doable for us and good for the consumer." Bear in mind that eight litres of milk are needed to make just one kilo of fresh cheese.

"We know that we work with quality milk, the freshest possible, and it tastes very good because we pasteurise it just right," said José Manuel.

Many customers have visited the cheese factory. Many are surprised by the existence of a cheese producer that works with cow's milk in Andalucía and others by the flavour and quality of the cheeses. "It is true that it is difficult for us to find customers, but those who do visit, come back", said Reme.

Today, while José Manuel and Reme are already thinking about making new cheeses, such as a blue cheese, the Friesian cows that provide the raw material are fed with natural products: from grains to beet pulp. As such they cannot acquire organic certification, but both their livestock and cheese production processes are pretty close to being as natural and healthy as the qualities of products assumed to be organic. Still, La Laja's cheeses are truly the work of artisans, a unique selling-point that few cow's milk cheese producers can boast of today.

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