Whilst staying in Armenia, we visited the Mikayelyan Family Farm where a flight of steps led down into a cheese cellar. Through a glass door we could see two ladies in a temperature-controlled room cutting cheese surrounded by racks of cheese rounds and hanging sausages. It made me think of Susan and Clarrie in Ambridge.
We were joined by five young Russian men for an introduction where we learned that until 2012, the family were living in the capital Yerevan, until they moved to the countryside to try cheesemaking. Their original herd of six cows quickly grew to 40 to allow them to control the quality of the milk. As they wanted to create unique original cheeses not already on the market they experimented, and the first cheese was successfully steeped in wine which created a red rind. However, the alcohol content of cognac was too high for steeping, and they now brush the outside of the cheese every day for six months, and then once a week for a further six months. Other cheeses were wrapped in vine, whilst cheese balls were coated in basil and red chillies.
Chat over, we walked through the beautiful gardens into a tasting area where tables were set up with a board containing five numbered cheeses, pretzels, nuts, mulberries and strawberries, along with dishes of two jams: ginger and pomegranate and strawberry with cardamom. It was all beautifully arranged, and I would have been happy to simply get stuck in, but we were encouraged to taste each in turn and make notes.
1. The red wine cheese was the mildest and relatively creamy and light and we were encouraged to try with the strawberry and cardamom jam.
2. An 8-month-old cheese covered on the outside with mint, tasted a little like parmesan and to reflect its country of origin, is known as ‘Armesan’ which amused us.
3. A 2-year-old Maria with calcium crystals was our favourite for the strong flavour.
4. Cognac Traditions was our least favourite but perhaps because we’re not great cognac lovers.
5. The basil and chilli balls which the guide said went well with black coffee and dark chocolate.
We would have loved to have bought cheese to bring home, but unfortunately Customs regulations prohibit its importation.