The lush hills of the Democratic Republic of Congo’s North Kivu province are best known for armed groups clashing, but they are also home to a number of small dairy farms producing fine cheese.
The consequences of the violence continue to have devastating consequences for local populations in parts of Masisi territory, where as recently as the summer of 2014 some residents lost their homes and were forced to relocate to IDP camps.
Yet, these dairy farmers and artisanal cheesemakers, have not only survived the recurrent fighting, but astonishingly – prospered. (*The farmers still live in/on the edge of poverty.)
Known simply as Goma Cheese, the Congolese version of Dutch Gouda is popular throughout the country. Though not part of the traditional diet, the cheese fills in for a variety of Western dishes – pizza, sandwiches, lasagna…
A fan of the cheese since my first trip to the DRC in 2014, I traveled the 48 miles of bumpy road west from the North Kivu capital Goma through the Mugunga area to one of the farms.
The farmers and their families live where they work, in huts and homes by the “factory” – a building with several rooms filled with nothing more than a bathtub, buckets, and some metal molds.
Belgian priests first started making cheese here in the 1970s. Then the country was known as Zaire and ruled by a dictator. Tutsis (an ethnic group often associated with dairy farming and as the victims of the Rwanda Genocide) resided in the area. It was almost two decades before the bloody attacks truly began.
Today, during periods of calm, NGO workers and the few Congolese who can afford it, spend a weekend at one of two farms that also operate B&Bs. The cheese (you buy a whole round) costs $4 on the farm, $5 or so in town, and between $10-20 as you begin to travel to towns west of Goma (Kisangani, Kinshasa). For $10-20 you can enjoy cheese and coffee (I highly recommend this!!).
As you can see in my pictures, the cows (a variety of African and European) graze on steep pastures with a UN base below.
That’s a UN base you see in the background! They are everywhere it seems.
A cheese mold
A farmer’s home
The farm we visited offers horseback riding to guests. My friend B and I both tried it, but found the horses a bit wild so I got off pretty quickly and she had one of the farmers lead her around a small field.
The view we had while eating cheese and sipping coffee!!!
Lodging for overnight guests (offered seasonally and during calm times).