Say Cheese!

Say Cheese!

EPF 

Magyardombegyház is a tiny village in the Mezőkovácsháza region of Békés County in southeastern Hungary, 260 km from Budapest, 40 km from Gyula.  According to the 2015 census, the total population numbered 237 people at the time.

By 2010, this small community was broke, caused by unemployment: Due to no fault of their own, the village had accumulated a huge debt, and they could not pay for their public utilities.  Their application for government help was turned down, and the delegation led by the lady mayor, Dinyés Ildikó, which traveled to beg in front of the Parliament building in Budapest was chased away by the police.  The debt problem was eventually resolved, but the problem of unemployment remained.

Public works projects were begun, but still not everyone was employed.  The village then applied for a government grant available for stock breeding.  They decided to breed goats and rabbits. A local council building was renovated to house the animals, and the first goats arrived. It was decided to produce goat cheese, but they first had to learn how!  With the help of the central Department of Labor, a cheese-making course was organized for a group of ten people.  They consulted experts as to the best milk-yielding strains of goats and, with very primitive equipment and learning as they went along, began to produce cheese.  

Goat cheese is an alternative for those allergic to cows' milk, and it is said that it has a number of other valuable characteristics: it helps protect the immune system and prevents osteoporosis, it is rich in minerals, is a great antioxidant, has a beneficial effect on the thyroid gland, and helps improve the functioning of muscles and nerves. (This information was derived from the Kisgazda Polgári Egyesület webpage of June 19, 2019 dealing with the Magyardombegyháza cheese undertaking). 

But to make the effort worthwhile, the villagers realized that they needed to build a proper factory.  This brought them face-to-face with rules and regulations which seemed insurmountable.  The building they had intended to use was totally rejected by the authorities, and the funds at their disposal were but a fraction of the amount of money necessary to build a plant that complied with all regulations.  Oftentimes the fact that the mayor and her committee consisted only of women was a factor, and where a man’s suggestions might have been naturally accepted, a woman had a much more difficult time in convincing the ”powers that be” that she meant business.  But that did not deter this lady mayor or her team. 

In addition, not everyone on the representative council was in agreement with the cheese-making scheme, and it took time to convince them all of its merits. In time, they applied for another federal grant, which was finally approved, but with the stipulation that the plant be built – in less than 5 months! – not by contractors, but by using local labor.  This unified the people, and everyone made the project his own.  The pilot plant was up and running  by the end of April 2017.  The person sent to inspect the plant could not believe that a building had been renovated by communal labor in the time.   

There was also difficulty with the electric supply, since the plant uses a lot of it, and the grid had not been updated in 40 years.  By trial and error, the villagers discovered which machines could be used simultaneously, and which ones blew the fuse.  Despite their efforts, there was no public lighting during the plant’s operation.  It took a year for the utility company to update the entire network.   

In 2018, they received another grant, which allowed them to expand their offerings.  In addition to selling bottled goats' milk, they produce some fourteen kinds of goat cheese from an Alpine breed of goat, in conformity with European Union regulations.  They vary from natural to cheese with different flavors (making sure they do not contain added sugar so that diabetics can consume them too), and have won a number of prizes. In addition, they use cows' milk from a nearby dairy to produce cottage cheese, yoghurt and cottage cheese balls with chocolate.                                                                                                                              

Future plans are for ”cheese tourism”, which will allow tourists to have cheese tastings, see the cheese-making process, try their hand at milking a goat, and by special order, have a meal of goat stew. 

With strong will power, hard work and persistence, Magyardombegyház has gone from a poor, ”wide-place-in-the-road” to ”Sajtfalu”, or ”Cheese Village”.