Armenia produced the majority of the former Soviet Union’s blue and yellow cheeses, but after the 1988 earthquake and the collapse of the Soviet Union, cheese production dropped to 3-5% and all major producers shut down.
The United States Department of Agriculture’s Marketing Assistance Project (USDA MAP) and CARD have been at the forefront of the campaign to revive the industry, improving the lives of farmers and producers throughout the country. From vast improvements in milk yield due to advanced genetics and breeding to the development of new cheeses for Armenia, the dairy sector is recovering. Today, cheeses are exported to Russia and the United States.
Dairy Sector Major Achievements:
- Creation of first milk cooperatives in Armenia
- Research and development of new product lines
- Installation of first milk analyzers and pasteurizers in Armenia
- Establishment of a Master Cheese Maker’s School
- Creation of goat cheese industry
- First post-Soviet Union export of cheese to Russia and the United States
CARD staff works with every link in the dairy marketing chain to assist with the production of cow, goat, and sheep cheeses.
USDA-MAP and CARD Cheese Development in Armenia
CowMilkCheeses-Emmental;BlueCheese (Mastarablue); Edam; Camembert; Havarti; Colby; Mozzarella; Mascarpone; TashirGouda-type;Tom-type Vardenis; Lori; Chanakh; Suluguni; Armtermani; Smoked Suluguni; Ricotta; Cheddar
Goat Milk Cheeses -Dzor Feta-type; Alpine Feta in oil; Yeghegnadzor Buried Cheese; Shevre Lactic Cheese; Tommy Tom-type; Gladzor cheese (goat and cow milk mixture)
Sheep Cheeses- Pemaggio Feta-type; Azat Blue Cheese; Kateh Spreadable Blue Cheese
USDA MAP and CARD have developed the goat cheese industry from the pasture to the market place. Native goat breeds had low milk yield and poorer milk quality than other breeds, but the sector was recognized as a possible area for development. Cross breeding Armenian goats with international breeds has combined the genetic strengths of local disease resistance and increased milk yields to create successful hybrids at the CARD-funded ARID Goat Center. Via an innovative breeding program, village goats, formerly used only for wool, are producing milk that is processed into a wide variety of flavorful cheeses for domestic consumption and export to Russia and the United States.
Ice cream has also become a highly developed industry, completely substituting foreign imports. Experts working with CARD currently monitor, train, and assist domestic companies to improve dairy plant sanitation and quality, while the Agribusiness & Marketing Department develops new markets.
In 2001, USDA MAP assisted the Dustr Melanya Dairy Plant to open the Master Cheese Makers’ Training School in Tashir, Armenia’s main cheese making region. Today, students from the Armenian State Agrarian University regularly join cheese-makers from companies throughout the country for a 3-week long course of intensive training. CARD provides both expertise and financial support to the school, which offers 74 hours of theoretical training and 40 hours of practical cheese making each semester. The curriculum was designed by the Dustr Melanya Dairy Plant and ASAU’s Dairy Science Department, covering all areas of the cheese industry— such as Armenia’s long cheese-making history, proper milking techniques, milk collection, cold storage and transportation, laboratory analysis, cheese packaging, and marketing. The sixth group of students began training in 2006 and the school has increased its cost-sharing from 10% to 45%.
CARD works on every link of the dairy supply chain from animal husbandry and development to milking, milk collection, cooling and transportation, to processing yoghurts, sour cream, kafir, ice cream, and cow, goat, and sheep cheeses and promotion and sales. Milestones in the MAP and CARD’s development of the dairy sector include: the development of Armenia’s first milk cooperatives, procuring cooling tanks, milk analyzers and input ingredients, founding the ARID Goat Center to enhance livestock genetics and increase milk yield, introducing open air barns, and establishing laboratories, sanitation, and production equipment for the quality control.
Matching CARD’s comprehensive approach to the goat industry, CARD’s Sheep Cheese Initiative seeks to improve the quality of life for remote rural populations and help develop quality sheep cheese. Without any commercial producers, sheep cheese is currently made, distributed, and sold with little attention to sanitary conditions and high quality.