In July, I interviewed Jenny Chu, a summer intern at social enterprise organization Ventures in Development, about a new yak cheese called Geza Gold that’s just been introduced in Shanghai. Chu is a knowledgeable, cheerful and enthusiastic proponent of the cheese. And she’s also got some opinions about the thrilling benefits of pole dancing. But I’ll save that for another post…

What is Ventures in Development?

Carol Chyau and Marie So created Ventures in Development, a sustainable social development organization originally through a class project at Harvard Kennedy School. Its aim is to incubate programs to help impoverished people. The hope is that these business models can be replicated on a larger scale by people who are disenfranchised or even by venture capitalists who want to take on these projects.

How did Geza Gold yak cheese come to be?

Ventures in Development’s first projects are in Yunnan, where there are a lot of poor yak herders. Of 13 million yaks in the world, 80% are in that region. Tibetans have traditionally used yak wool and yak cheese but their wool was not refined and their cheese was very hard. So Carol and Marie decided to develop some new yak products to provide new revenue for the families.

For the yak cheese production, they worked in conjuction with CERS (China Exploration & Research Society)--[A research and conservation group focused on nature and culture preservation]. They invited cheese expert Professor Ranee May from the University of Wisconsin to help the locals learn western cheesemaking techniques. The development process took about 2 years. The cheese was launched in Shanghai in November 2007.

Tell me about the Geza Gold yak cheese.

We have two versions of Geza Gold yak cheese now. Geza is the name of the township in Langdu Village, not far from Shangrila, where the Meixiang Cheese Factory is located. The older version is a harder cheese and saltier. The older one tastes more like an Italian Asiago. The newer one is less salty, newer and a bit squeakier, like a Halloumi. It takes 2-3 months to age the cheese, and then it lasts about 18 months if stored properly. The factory can produce about 6-9 tons of cheese each year, with milk sourced from 40 different families with yaks.

Geza Gold is really different from the traditional yak cheese. That traditional cheese is really hard and kind of like candy. What the Tibetans do is keep it on the side of their mouth and suck on it for a long period of time.

What have chefs said about Geza Gold?

Chefs taste it and they actually like it! I haven’t had to work really hard to sell the cheese as much as talk about the social story behind it.

The shop at Jujube Tree is now selling it and Just Grapes will be doing tastings with wine. Darren Greenwood at Slice is experimenting with the cheeses now. [Slice will hold tastings of Geza Gold in September.] Element Fresh is also interesting in featuring Geza Gold in some dishes.

We even brought some our cheese to Bing, the Dutch ice cream shop on Taikang Lu, and made yak cheese ice cream. My favorite was the mango red pepper ice cream and the mojito yak cheese ice cream.

You can now order apple yak cheese ice cream at Bing. I’m not kidding. I’ve tried it and I live to tell the tale.

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