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Russian Counter-Sanctions Created a Domestic Cheese Industry Overnight

Russian farmers adore Putin for the EU food ban

When US and EU passed sanctions against Russia in 2014 Putin struck back and banned the import of food from the west and any country going along with their sanctions. This hit EU right where it is most vulnerable — heavily subsidized and regulated, agriculture in the Union is a highly contentious issue constantly creating squabbles between producers and governments and between member states.

In the short term it also meant higher food prices for ordinary Russians, but the expectation was that Russia being well suited to agriculture this would last only a short time indeed before domestic production caught up and new food industries developed. This is now indeed taking place. America's NBC has an interesting report, Putin's Parmesan: Sanctions War Created a Russian Cheese Industry Overnight, on Russia's rising industrial cheesemaking:

Spotting a sudden gap in the market and convinced that naturally aged Russian cheese would be a hit, Sirota stopped working as a programmer and invested $300,000 in his project.

“I sold my apartment, car and business, and borrowed money," said Sirota, who is in his 30s.

The gamble paid off. Sirota now owns a barn full of dairy cows just a few steps along a snow-covered road away from the production hall, but purchases additional milk because demand for his cheese is so high.

His dairy operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and employs 11 workers. He currently produces 800 pounds of cheese a day, and plans are in place to increase that to 4,000 pounds by the end of the year.

Sirota says his business is now making several thousand dollars per month in profits. His product is in such high demand that some customers are prepared to prepay more than $100 to reserve a wheel of cheese in advance.

“Is it now clear why I love Putin so much?” he says with a big smile.

Production manager Sergey Nedorezov learned cheesemaking in Germany and returned to Russia four years ago to join Sirota’s project.

"This is our gold," Nedorezov says as he watches another tub of curd being pressed into rings to form cheese.

According to Nedorezov, Russians knew how to make cheese good enough for export to Europe a century ago, but the art was lost during the turmoil of two world wars and the Soviet era. For decades, Russian factories churned out mass-produced, mostly soft cheeses, while artisanal cheeses were imported.

Now, Sirota is only months away from tasting his factory's first Russian-made Parmesan, which has been aging for over a year on storage racks.

Parmesan is a favorite of Russian consumers, but nearly impossible to buy with sanctions in place and difficult to produce due the large amount of high-quality milk needed. Sirota hopes to taste it in about six months.

All Sirota needs is the Russian government to keep the counter-sanctions in place.

“I am so grateful to him, I love him so much now, I will cast my vote for him,” Sirota said, referring to Putin.

“There is a shield of sanctions and counter-sanctions above our country and we are developing and growing under this shield,” he added.

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Sirota, the cheesemaker, hopes to one day export his products as well.

“I am proud to be a Russian farmer,” he said. “This is not about money. I did it because I had a dream of Russian cheese, of Russian Parmesan, that we will be making this cheese — and we are actually making it now.

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