A guide to shopping for cheese in Loja Ecuador

FLORALP Cheese Vault

When visiting Loja or taking up residence, one of the perpetual topics of discussion is where to get the kind of cheese we all like? Rather than leaving North American grocery shoppers lost in a quandary in the dairy aisle at the local supermarket in Loja, we present this brief guide to what we all crave for snacks, to include in our party cheese trays, or to complete our favorite Italian pasta dishes.

Salinerito’s cheese production center is located in Salinas de Guaranda in Bolívar Province, Ecuador. The small Andean town is nestled between the country’s two most famous volcanoes, Cotopaxi to the north and Chimporazo to the south. Salinerito is a coop of family businesses formed to build a solidarity-based economy patterned after the indigenous tradition of ‘Minkas’ or collective work parties. Andino is their most well known brand of cheese and can be found in Ecuador’s national grocery chains like Supermaxi.

The range of Andino brand dairy products includes local style offerings like the ever popular soft fresh ‘queso fresco.’ This white salty cheese found throughout the Andes is a main ingredient in many of Loja’s most popular dishes. These favorites include humita cheese and cornmeal tamales steamed in natural corn husks, big fluffy cheese-filled deep fried ‘air’ empanadas, or simply sliced and sandwiched inside the pan semi-dulce slightly sweet bread rolls on sale at every corner bakery. We especially like the elegant Renaissance-era dessert Higos con Queso - figs preserved in local panela brown sugar syrup accompanied with the soft cheese. All of the forgoing snacks and treats absolutely cry out for a cup of Loja’s famous dark or medium roast drip-filtered Arabica coffee.

Andino also has a selection of semi-ripe (quesos semi-maduros), some with herb flavorings such as pesto and tangy hot peppers, as well as mature cheeses (quesos maduros) that will make an excellent cheese tray. North American cooks will be happy to find familiar varieties like parmesan, mozzarella, and gruyere in this company’s cooler display at the local supermarket.

Another well known and widely available brand of cheese in Ecuadorian large chain supermarkets is Floralp. Their impressive range of European style cheeses was the passion project of Swiss emigre Oskar Purtschert Scheidegger. Having romanticized the idea of going off to South America since he was a young school boy, Purtschert as a young man answered an enquiry in the late 1940s from Argentine dairy producers to assist with cheese making.

With his new wife in tow, they worked on the Argentinian project while encountering much difficulty, because mature cheeses were not popular at the time in South America. Just prior to packing it all in during the 1950s and returning to Switzerland with his growing family, Purtschert exhibited at a trade fair in Cuenca. He received strong encouragement from the Ecuadorian president who was also there, Galo Plaza Lasso, along with his promise of support. After making cheese in several northern Sierra towns in Ecuador, Purtschert formed his first company Lactea in the 1960s which is now Floralp corporation in Ibarra.

Billing themselves as the ‘cheese experts,’ one might not disagree when looking over the huge selection of Dutch, French, Swiss, and meditarranian cheeses the company offers. Floralp will be your ‘go-to’ for brie, bleu, feta, provolone, and all the other cheese main-stays on your grocery list.

Hacienda Zuleta is another label you will see in the supermarket dairy case. Zuleta has an artisan cheese-making operation on a working ranch/eco-lodge in Imbabura Province northeast of Quito. Located on one of the premier resort haciendas in Ecuador, their boutique cheese production comes from the milk of the farm’s Holstein-Friesian cows.

The cheese and the resort on an historic property are the work of former president of the republic, Galo Plaza Lasso, mentioned earlier. At first glance, “The Don’s” family produces what seems to be an eclectic array of European cheeses. However, the uniting factor is that these are the traditional varieties that the earliest European immigrants to South America most often made for themselves on their own farms. For example, Zuleta’s Angochagua is a type of Port Salut mild cheese with an orange rind originally made in the Loire region of France. Their Danbo is a medium aged variety originally from Denmark that is reminiscent of Swiss cheese. The hacienda’s Pategras is Dutch in origin and will develop small “eyes” like Swiss cheese. Even Don Galo has a cheese named for him that is a semi-hard pungent multiple award-winner, much like the “The Don” was himself.

Last but not least on this tour around an Ecuadorian supermarket cheese case, for those who like to buy local, there is an important producer in Loja province to try. This is Quesos Saraguros cheese store and factory near Runa Wasi tourist center in Saraguro, north of the city of Loja on the highway route to Cuenca. Their line of traditional Ecuadorian soft queso frescos, plain and flavored, are light and flavorful with the right balance of saltiness. Their Maduro or ‘mature’ cheese is also an excellent addition to any cheese board. The factory also has a tasting room and shop if you stop in for a visit. Life in Loja can schedule a stop there with an interpreter on your Saraguro excursion if you need language assistance. The factory and shop includes a pizza parlour (no surprise) as another way to sample their line. The ‘Saraguros’ cheese label is also available at the local supermarket in Loja.

Many North Americans might be wondering about cheddar cheese. The larger cheese manufacturers in Ecuador make ‘queso cheddar laminado’ or individual slices in a little plastic sleeve. These likely fulfill a mass-market need presented by school lunch boxes and fast-food burger chains in the larger cities. Genuine aged cheddar is as elusive as the Holy Grail, and its whereabouts among expats is discussed like sightings of Sasquatch. Cheeses varieties made from continental European recipes are very abundant in Ecuador, but authentic cheddar seems just out of reach. We have heard of a cheese operation in Cayambe that supposedly makes an aged cheddar but have not seen or sampled their product. Please share your latest cheese intel in the comments. Life in Loja looks forward to what you know about local cheese with interest!

This blog post is an example of how the team at Life in Loja helps tourists and visitors, expats and immigrants, to better appreciate the many aspects of living in Loja, Ecuador. If you would like to know more about our custom tours and relocation services then contact us by email or phone/WhatsApp at 593-098-674-5994 to begin a conversation.

Image credits:  Logos and product images from producers' websites.

Comments

  1. This has left my mouth watering for these glorious cheeses!

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    1. Let us know your opinion once you trt them 😋

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  2. I have yet to find really good cheese made in Ecuador, I may try a couple of these but my hopes are not high. Nothing is aged and of course that includes their poor attempts at cheddar. I have 4 packs of 2 year old Cabot in my fridge to tide me over to my next visit to the states.

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    1. You should give the brands mentioned here a try. We also recommend to visit Saraguro in the Loja Area. This town is very well known for its cheese 🧀

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    2. What you will find is that cheese varieties made here in the continental European style are of excellent quality. The brie and the bleus are very good, for example If the larger cheese company and distributor decides to make an aged cheddar they will do very well with it. I live in hope of that.

      The Ecuadorian varieties of cheese and the dishes that are made with them are worth discovering. In the Sierras, almost every farmer is also a cheese maker.

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  3. Thanks, will try some of these. and yep, still looking for the cheddar. I have seen Kiosko brand parmesian, very nice. HAPPY CHEESING IN LOJA

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    1. Happy cheesing!
      Let us know your opinion on these brands. We hope you like them

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