In the French Basque region a dairy co-op is helping to preserve the local sheep milk cheese – and has launched a crowdfunding campaign to expand its cellar space.
Based in the Sauguis-Saint-Étienne commune, the Etxe Gazna Co-operative includes 80 farms with 120 producers. They aim to raise €48,000 (£43,000) through the crowdfunding platform, which will enable them to maintain employment and improve working conditions. The members need a total of €154,000 (£138,000) for the refurbishment of their cellar, 56% of which will be covered by public subsidies.
Etxe Gazna co-op started life in 1985, when seven farmer members took over a ripening cellar in Gotein. Later on, in 1992 they built the current cellar in Sauguis-Saint-Etienne.
Since then, the cheese cellar has not benefited from any investments. If it secures the funds, Etxe Gazna will build an 80 sq m shelter, creating additional space so it can reallocate rooms for treatment, packing, shipping and additional storage. It will also invest in technology and materials such as computers and printers to improve working conditions and efficiency.
Etxe Gazna also plans to install a new cooling system, which will lead to a longer ripening process, enabling the development of new flavours.
At the moment, the main service provided by the co-op is cheese ripening, an important process which determines flavour. The co-op also purchases large quantities of supplies for its members, helping them save money through bulk-buying.
Once the cellar is revamped, producers – who make the cheese on their farms before bringing it to the co-op for ripening – will benefit from joint packaging, shipping and marketing.
The farmers produce cheese from three local breeds, Manex Tête Noire, Manex Tête Rousse and Basco-Béarnaise. Some still follow the traditional practice of transhumance, moving livestock to higher pastures in summer and lower valleys in winter. This allows sheep to eat mountain specific flora, which, in turn, gives the cheese a distinct flavour.
The co-op has supported families with a longstanding tradition in farming, helping to keep young people in the area. One of them is Thomas Arhancet.
Growing up in the village, he now works with his mother and aims to preserve the legacy of his grandfather’s farm, as well as the local culture and Basque language – which he feels is not used as much as it could be. “We have all we need to stay here,” he added.
Those interested in supporting Etxe Gazna’s cause can invest between €10 and €400.
The co-op is offering small rewards for those contributing the crowdfunding campaign. A €25 (£22.50) contribution will be rewarded with a letter from a sheep while a €50 contribution will give people the chance attend a cheese-tasting session. For €100 (£90), those contributing will be able to take part in transhumance, while a €500 (£450) contribution gives the contributor the opportunity to spend a summer day exploring the co-op.
So far, the Etxe Gazna Co-operative has raised €1,855 (£1,660) from 34 contributors. The crowdfunding campaign is open until 29 September.