Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Myanmar - The New Big Cheese?

We spent the last two weeks of our Southeast Asia adventure in Myanmar. One thing we learned very early in our travel through that country is that Myanmar has no dairy industry whatsoever - no refrigerated transport for bulk milk, no dairy farms, no milk pasteurization facilities, no bottling plants. And no cheese factories. So imagine my surprise at learning last week - from no less an authority than "The Myanmar Times" - that Yangon, Myanmar is now the home to a boutique cheese shop featuring locally-made cheeses.

According to the article, the shop, which is run by the son of a former diplomat, features artisan cheeses for which "...80 percent of the ingredients ... are local, such as cow, buffalo and goat milk...", as well as patés, yogurts, butter and sour cream, and eggs from "happy free-range chickens". Strange, but when we were in Yangon, the only dairy products except for some dodgey-looking yogurt that we found in the markets – even the high-end supermarkets – were milk from Australia, cheese from France and Switzerland, and (canned) butter from New Zealand.

Here, by the way, is one of those free-range chickens, happily pecking away at the edge of a manure pile.

Myanmar has an extremely poor track record on providing basic infrastructure to its citizens. Even in the major cities of Yangon and Mandalay, electricity outages – some lasting several hours – are a daily occurrence. It's hard to imagine any sort of industry prospering under these circumstances, much less one that depends on refrigeration to ensure the safety and quality of its products. Therefore, I'll take this cheese-y story in The Myanmar Times with a very large grain of salt.

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