Saturday, February 2, 2013

Cheese Making Adventure in Belize- Part 1 of 4

I'm home now, but still wearing my apron!

If you think making cheese is fun at home, try making it at a jungle lodge in Belize!

I just got back from an exciting trip to Ian Anderson's Cave's Branch Adventure Company and Jungle Lodge, located twelve miles south of Belmopan, Belize. 

I was there for six days, attending a three day cheese making workshop taught by Linda and Larry Faillace of Three Shepherd's Cheese in Warren, Vermont.  This was the second of two they were teaching, a week apart.

The experience was exciting for many reasons, but mainly:

1.  It was in the tropics during the height of our New England winter (yay!)

2. The lodge is a spectacular place with treehouses, gourmet food and a menu of challenging (really!) adventures,

3. This was the first year that Ian Anderson, the owner of Cave's Branch had ever hosted cheese making workshops at his lodge and his enthusiasm was "over the top!"  (Ian and his three cheese makers ("the cheese girls") have only been making cheese for a little over a year now, but their results are already fabulous!)

It all began last September when Ian wrote to us (New England Cheesemaking Supply Company) about two upcoming workshops he was planning for January.  They were to be taught by the Faillaces (well known teachers, consultants and cheese makers).
Mike Adle (participant from Belmopan), Larry Faillace and Linda Faillace (explaining something to Nadege Thomas,  participant from Cayo, Belize)

I thought it would make a good blog article, so I e-mailed him for more information.  He graciously sent me pictures and everything else I needed for the article - Learn to Make Cheese at a Resort in Belize.

Ian Anderson, our host

During our correspondence, Ian recommended that I read a book Linda Faillace had written, Mad Sheep - The True Story Behind the USDA's War on a Family Farm.  After reading it, I knew I had to meet the Faillaces, so I drove to their place in Vermont and did an article about them - Three Shepherds Farm in Warren, Vermont.

They were uncommonly nice and the workshop they were teaching that day seemed like so much fun that I knew I wanted to attend the one in Belize.  So, I did! 

An easy trip ...

I flew from Hartford to Miami and from there to Belize City.  I had my first experience with the friendly staff from Cave's Branch when I saw the smiling face of Victor Cardona, who carried a sign with my name and two others.

Victor Cardona

The two others were a young couple from Florida, staying at the lodge for four nights (in one of the deluxe treehouses).  They had a few adventures planned (zip lining, Mayan ruins) and when I talked to them later in the trip, they said they were loving their stay.  

Amanda Gilleland from Tallahassee and Cody Appling from Daytona Beach

As we rode to the lodge, I wondered if it really was in the jungle.  The terrain wasn't quite an overgrown as I had pictured.

But, by the time we got there, an hour and a half later, we were deep in the jungle and the foliage was spectacular!  I learned that Ian has over 50,000 acres of land surrounding his place.  When he first came to Belize from Canada, he had a campground with outdoor toilets and now he has 72 employees!


The river right next to the lodge.

I quickly realized how much fun my stay at Caves Branch was going to be when Cody, Amanda and I sat in the dining area, unwinding and drinking our complimentary rum punches.

There was no check-in, per se.  We sat, and chatted while we were given keys and our luggage was taken to our "rooms."  Then, Larry Vanegas gave us a quick orientation (more like a comedy routine) and we were guided to our accommodations.

Amanda with Larry Vanegas during the orientation

Kareem Flowers took me on a winding path through the jungle to my bungalow.  I should mention that Kareem was literally always around the lodge, making himself helpful to us when we misplaced something or needed an umbrella, etc.  I noticed later that his picture is on the wall of outstanding employees, where it certainly belongs.

Kareem Flowers

I didn't take any pictures of my bungalow, because the pictures on the website are so much better than anything I could achieve with my little digital camera.  So, to see my fabulous bungalow, click here.

I will tell you that it was beautiful, completely hidden from any other bungalows and at night I could hear the howler monkeys in the trees.  In other words, it was heaven on earth.

I got unpacked and headed back to the dining area where I met Ian and his wife, Ella.

Ian and Ella Anderson.  (I apologize for this blurry picture.)

Ella keeps the environment around the lodge safe for the many species of animals, insects and birds who were there long before we were.  She maintains a huge botanical garden filled with orchids and every native plant you can imagine.

Of course, humans need to be safe also, so Argus, their mastiff patrols the paths to keep the snakes away.


When she isn't tending the gardens, Ella runs the Belize National Youth Chess Foundation which the couple founded in 2007, to help the children of Belize.  As a result of their efforts, chess has become the country's fastest growing sport and thousands of young people are now participating in over 50 active chess clubs.

To help finance this not-for-profit organization, Cave's Branch makes and sells soap:

A display table in the lodge of various soaps for sale.  100% of the proceeds support the Youth Chess Foundation.

That first evening, Larry and Linda, Ian and Ella, Nadege Thomas, (a participant in the workshop) and I ate the first of our many gourmet meals in the open dining room. (All the meals are served buffet style and the tables are called in order.)  I can't tell you how delightful it felt to be eating fabulous food with the sounds of the jungle and the warm breeze around me.

We met the amazing Chef J, (Jemerio Requena).  He takes pride in his creations and after every meal, he asked us for feedback.  Throughout our stay, he created many special dishes from the cheeses we had made at the workshop.

Ella, Chef J, and Ian

Larry and Linda had been at the lodge for a week already, because they had already taught the first of two classes.  So, they were completely relaxed and content. Larry told us about the family of howler monkeys who had set up camp right outside their door.

Larry Faillace

Linda Faillace (who smiled pretty much all the time!)

I met Nadege Thomas, a fellow participant in the workshop and we became fast friends.  She was born in France, lived in England and then Toronto, Canada and now owns a resort in Cayo, Belize - Mystic River.  Her goal is to make all the cheeses for her place when she completes the three day course.  (Since she is a person who succeeds at everything she does, I have no doubt that her guests will be thrilled.)

Nadege Thomas with Larry

It had been a long day, so after my first incredible meal at Cave's Branch, I went back to my bungalow and slept like a rock.  Tomorrow, after breakfast, we begin ...

Continued in Part 2

1 comment:

imran said...

seems like paradise