When everything seems to be going wrong, we often retreat to our favorite comfort foods as a refuge. Lasagne, mashed potatoes, or for any fan of culture, a good hunk of cheese – these are the things that lift our spirits and make us feel better. For many, cheese is the food equivalent of happiness and a fresh start. But for a few, this statement has never been more literal.
About four years ago, Marlon and Carlos Reyes lived at the epicenter of Central American crime and drug trade. In their home country of Honduras, the brothers couldn’t go even a few minutes without looking over their shoulders, fearing for what might come next. But what came next didn’t warrant any fear; the brothers formed a business plan and, taking with them their family’s cheesemaking recipes and hearts full of hope, left for the United States, hoping to launch their fortunes in the Land of Opportunity.
Fast forward to now, and the brothers are the proud co-owners of Central American Foods LLC, a factory in Columbus, Nebr., that produces four types of cheese: a Parmigiano-like dry cheese called queso seco; two varieties of queso fresco, a soft, fresh, mozzarella-like cheese often stuffed with flavorful ingredients; and a sour cream that tastes richer and more acidic than its American counterpart, made especially for the diverse flavors of Central American food.
Life is looking up for Marlon and Carlos, as they have established a partnership with several local and national distributors who hope to make their products more accessible. In an article with the Journal Star in Lincoln, Nebr., the brothers stated that one of the benefits in moving their business idea was avoiding the quarantine that Central American products often undergo. “Reyes said it was difficult to export cheese from Honduras to the U.S. because of strict rules enforced by U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents on the lookout for drugs. The product can spoil while sitting in quarantine, making it harder to maintain a customer base without a guaranteed supply.” Now that they’re here and have staying power, the brothers intend to dig in, setting their sights upward and outward. “‘Columbus, we consider this our home,’ said Reyes. ‘We’re not leaving.’”
Of course, the Reyes brothers are not alone in their pursuit of cheesy opportunity; our favorite food has provided comfort and salvation for so many more. On the opposite end of the spectrum, cheesemaking became the key to fulfillment and happiness for former Silicon Valley exec Craig Ramini. In an article with the New York Times, he revealed that his pursuit of buffalo mozzarella, a cheese nearly impossible to perfect in the United States, was driven by a need for change: “In the summer of 2009, however, at age 51, Ramini had an epiphany. He decided he wanted to change his life, and he proceeded to do so in a very Silicon Valley way: he stuck Post-it notes all over one wall of his house to form (as he put it) ‘a Mind Map of happiness and fulfillment.’ Three clusters of Post-its emerged: large animals, entrepreneurship and Italian food.” From here, he established his eponymous enterprise, Ramini Mozzarella, a bold adventure into the relative unknown. While his experimentation still has a ways to go, his dedication and sense of fulfillment is undoubtable – he strives for what truly makes him happy.
You don’t have to be an expert aficionado to take refuge in the comforting, healing powers of cheese. All you need is an open heart, dedication, and a passion for what you want – be it cheesemaking or cheese loving all the same.
Feature Photo Credit: Tyler Ellyson via the Columbus Telegram