Dreams to Create Home-grown Cambodian Cheese

French cheesemaker Nicolas Rousseau shares with Kiripost his ultimate dream to leave a lasting cheese-making legacy in Cambodia.
French cheesemaker Nicolas Rousseau. Kiripost/supplied
French cheesemaker Nicolas Rousseau. Kiripost/supplied

French national Nicolas Rousseau is aiming to revolutionize Cambodia’s cheese industry as he unveils ambitious plans to help found cheese producers in the Kingdom.

The agro-food engineer consultant and trainer in dairy processes previously founded a cheese factory LACTIMAD in Madagascar, and has been sharing his expertise in Cambodia for the last 2.5 years.

In Madagascar, he started out with a food engineering school before running his own business. He became an expert in several countries and has built up 20 years’ experience in the dairy industry.

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In the Cambodian context, introducing soft or sweet products would work. Kiripost/supplied
In the Cambodian context, introducing soft or sweet products would work. Kiripost/supplied

“That was a really successful cheese business in Madagascar. After that I worked in Africa, and then Niger. Now I’m in Cambodia working with Khema, Topaz, and Le Deli Bistro Gourmet,” Nicolas told Kiripost.

Among Southeast Asia, Cambodia is the first country where he started carrying out training.

He said, “I train the team at Le Deli Bistro Gourmet, Khema, and Topaz. Now I start to do expertise in different countries, but my specialty now is to start cheese factories in countries which are difficult or haven’t done it before.”

With the success of the cheese factory in Madagascar, his objective is to start a dairy where products are fresh and locally-made.

“One day I would like to make a hot Cambodian cheese of Cambodia with one year of ripening. It can become the best one and be taken to competitions.”

Nicolas's objective is to do something simple but professional using his knowledge.

“I use local products like salt and pepper from Kampot, which are wonderful products. Thus, I make a process with Cambodian products, Cambodian staff, and ripening in Cambodia, so it is Cambodian cheese. That is my objective,” he said.

“My first objective is to compete with imported products. Here, we have farm fresh milk, but people don’t know how to process it. With all the available resources you can make Mozzarella, hot cheese, and that is the reason I started this business.”

He said it offers huge opportunities for the dairy industry to evolve in Cambodia. “For example, in Madagascar now there are a lot of Malagasy-owned businesses in cheese. So, if they didn’t give a chance to foreigners to experience, this won’t happen.”

However, the dairy process is complex and a specialty because it is micro logical.

Nicolas said, “For example, in one gram of cheese you have more than a hundred million lactic bacteria. So, when you give this product to somebody, you need to control and know your work.”

In Cambodia, pasteurized milk is produced at the likes of Kirisu, Moo Moo Farm, and Dairy Farm. Nicolas has already started short-term courses training chefs in making Mozzarella, hot cheese, Camembert, and other types of cheese.

“I do not see many people eat cheese. However, you cannot assume that in this country it is not possible to operate a cheese-making business. It is not true. In the Cambodian context, I see people enjoy eating mozzarella on pizza. For example, Pizza 4P's cheese from Vietnam is a really successful business. So, we can see that we can do something here too.”

There are many different types of cheese. In France, people tend to have a strong cheese. But in the Cambodian context, introducing soft or sweet products would work. And there is the possibility to make cheese using natural ingredients.

“I never work with chemical products. To make cheese is really simple, all I need is fresh milk, lactic bacteria, rennet, and salt. If you think making cheese is a complex process, it is not true. With only lactic bacteria, I can make the cheese. So, everything is possible as soon as you have good milk,” he said.

“From my previous experience working in Africa, there are a lot of concerns about hygiene. But in Cambodia, we see no problem at all because the milk is very clear in a natural way. In Cambodia, I can immediately start the work in process.”

Regarding the time taken to make cheese, Nicolas said it depends on the type. “If it is about pasteurized milk, we need an hour to reach a good temperature and to cool down the milk. Overall, the whole process takes six hours. To make white cheese takes two days, fresh cheese takes 10 days, Mozzarella takes a day, hot cheese takes a month, and some cheese take longer.”

He said what is interesting is the older the product, the better it tastes and can be sold at a higher price.

Nicolas’s ultimate dream is to create home-grown unique Cambodian cheeses. He said, “For example, Pierre from Le Deli Bistro Gourmet asked me to make a soft Camembert because he believes Cambodians would try the soft taste rather than the strong or original taste.

The older the product, the better it tastes and can be sold at a higher price. Kiripost/supplied
The older the product, the better it tastes and can be sold at a higher price. Kiripost/supplied

“We don’t have to copy what already exists; we can create a new taste. Because every country is different, that is why we don’t need to copy exactly the same Camembert from France, we can create our own Camembert. Thus, it is better to create a taste matching with the local rather than keep the original taste.”

Pierre Favitski, Executive Chef at Le Deli Bistro Gourmet, has been in Cambodia for 18 years. He began making cheese two years ago. “To me, it is not really a business, it is training. It is not to replace the imported cheese that we use, but to create our own cheese.”

During the training, Pierre tries to find out the top quality of cheese before rolling it out for sale.

“We are still training and trying to reach the top quality that we start to sell. It is more about reputation and experiencing something new. We try to develop our brand and the cheese of Le Deli Bistro Gourmet. We don’t aim to compete in the market or make big business.” he added.

Pierre said his mission is to bring high-quality products to customers and promote local products.

“There are a lot of challenges because it is completely new for us as chefs. Making cheese is a lot of work. Like I did the training with Nicolas, it is a very long way to go in order to make one good quality cheese,” he mentioned.

He added that in terms of ingredients, it is convenient as they collaborate with a milk farm that is locally produced.

“In Cambodia, it is easy to operate your business if you deliver good quality and value at the right price to your customers. For example, during Covid-19 we missed most of our customers, but due to our quality, now our shop is always busy,” Pierre stated.

Nicolas added what he loves about Cambodian people is that everyone is motivated to develop.

“I will be staying three more years in Cambodia and I believe we can do a great thing here. When I leave, I hope to see people start cheese businesses. I started to cooperate with the University of Battambang and do lessons online with students. That was very nice and interesting, and I think we need to include daily process training or lessons directly for students in university. We need to start from the beginning in the education sector.”