Entrepreneur Gocha Gagashvili started his milk collecting and cheese production business in 2008 in the small village of Kurdgelauri in Georgia’s Kakheti Region. Almost a decade later, in 2017, he welcomed Steve Morgan, a U.S. volunteer with ACDI/VOCA’s USAID-funded Farmer-to-Farmer Program in the Europe, Caucasus, and Central Asia regions. The Farmer-to-Farmer Program mobilizes highly qualified U.S. volunteers, who provide technical assistance with the goal of increasing productivity and raising farmers’ incomes.
Soon after arriving in Georgia, Steve assessed Gocha’s operations, introduced new cheeses to the facility, and suggested the best techniques for milk pasteurization, skimming, curd cutting, pressing, molding, maturing, brining, and packing. He made several recommendations, including replacing plastic piping with stainless steel for better cleaning. Steve also advised Gocha to separate pasteurized milk from unpasteurized milk to prevent cross-contamination and invest in a salometer to measure the daily salinity of the brine.
Following Steve’s advice, Gocha successfully grew his processing capacity to 2,500 liters per day, and the facility’s hygiene improved dramatically. With his now sterling reputation, Gocha could explore new markets. He started selling his dairy products to five additional supermarket chains — and even the Tbilisi International Airport, the country’s largest airport.
Because of the volunteer assistance he received, Gocha grew from a small-scale producer to a medium-scale producer. He hired new employees and added a packaging room and cheese maturing chambers to his property. Thanks to Steve, he also added gouda, mozzarella, and feta cheese to his product line; Gocha now produces eight different types of cheese and dreams of introducing Americans to delicious Georgian cheese.
Gocha not only improved his production quality and processing capacity, but also began offering cheese tastings. Tourists exploring the region can now tour his facility and sample his products, paired with local Georgian wines, in newly built tasting rooms — all while enjoying the mountain views.
This article was originally published on ACDI-VOCA.org