On November 16, a press conference was held in Kyiv on the topic “Behind the scenes of the World Cheese Awards: Ukraine is placed on the world cheese map for the first time”. The organizers are Ardis Group and the ProCheese community.
Speakers of the press conference:
- Dmytro Chernov, CEO of Ardis Group;
- Oksana Chernova, cheese expert of the ProCheese community, co-founder of the ProCheese Awards festival, Super Gold WCA judge;
- Natalia Kagadiy, the ProCheese community director at Ardis Group;
- Viktor Shutkevich, economic development project coordinator of the Embassy of Switzerland in Ukraine;
- Iryna Vysotska, coordinator of the “Dairy sector” component of the Swiss-Ukrainian Quality FOOD Trade Program;
- John Farrand, CEO of the Guild of Fine Food, founder and organizer of WCA;
- Natalia Palchak, the cheese factory owner, received the Super Gold award.
The World Cheese Awards is the largest cheese competition in the world. It has been held since 1988 in various countries worldwide: in 2022, the event was supposed to take place in Ukraine for the first time, but due to the full-scale invasion of Russia, the event in Kyiv was postponed until 2024.
John Farrand, CEO of the Guild of Fine Food, founder and organizer of the WCA, said he had visited Kyiv several times in preparation for the World Cheese Awards in Ukraine. He also emphasized that when this event does take place in Kyiv, the Guild of Fine Food will ensure that as many worthy cheese producers, experts, and cheese connoisseurs from around the world can attend the event.
So this year, 39 cheeses from Ukraine took part in the international competition in Great Britain for the first time. This became possible thanks to Ardis Group and the ProCheese community — the official representatives of Ukraine at the WCA, and with the support of Switzerland within the framework of the Swiss-Ukrainian Quality FOOD Trade Program.
One of the cheeses received the highest honor — the Super Gold award and was included in the hundred best cheeses in the world according to the World Cheese Awards. The producer of this cheese is a small cheese factory in the Ivano-Frankivsk region.
Dmytro Chernov, CEO of Ardis Group, explained why the company needed to implement this project and represent Ukraine abroad. At the World Cheese Awards, buyers of world trade networks, owners of cheese shops, and international cheese experts had the opportunity to get acquainted with our cheeses, so this event significantly impacted the export potential of Ukrainian cheese. Dmytro also added that such contests give Ukrainian cheesemakers and large industries an impetus to improve, stimulate healthy competition and develop the cheese market.
One of the Ardis Group company’s main tasks is the unification of industry representatives because now it is more important than ever to support the country’s economy together and represent Ukraine in a dignified way at world events. In addition, it’s imperative to involve even more companies, which are players in the market, and to develop the dairy industry together.
Oksana Chernova, WCA Super Gold judge and cheese expert of the ProCheese community, explained exactly how the competition is held and how the judges choose the best cheese.
A professional international jury judges the competition. Each sample is evaluated according to several parameters: the appearance of the cheese head, the texture and aroma of the crust and cheese dough, the absence of extra odors. Taste is the primary indicator of cheese quality and a critical factor.
The cheese is spread out on tables, and over two hundred experts who work in groups of three, grant the cheese with one of the three rewards — gold, silver, or bronze. The cheese that receives the most points from each table is then transferred to the Super Gold Jury, where 16 of the best professionals in this sphere choose the ultimate winner. Most of the participants in this contest are located in Europe. However, this contest accepts applications from all around the world.
It is also worth mentioning that all cheeses have identical barcodes marked on them without revealing any brand identification, which confirms an objective rating.
The contest judges are cheese experts from different continents with distinct taste perceptions. Thereby, the votes from these judges with different preferences, who come together to choose the best cheese, establish further that these are the cheeses with the potential for export because they have unique flavors.
The ProCheese community director at Ardis Group Natalia Kagadiy added that preparations for this contest lasted over four years. More specifically, one of the steps was hosting a Ukrainian national contest, ProCheese Awards 2021, for local cheesemakers to prepare them for a more large-scale event.
Victor Shutkevych, project coordinator for economic development at the Embassy of Switzerland in Ukraine, explained that over the past 20 years, they have been providing technical help for Ukraine in different directions and supporting small-scale and medium producers, those in the dairy sector included. It is essential for Switzerland to create new job opportunities and support the ability of Ukrainians to consume quality products. Victor remarked that with this aim, Switzerland has already allocated almost 100 million UAH for the provision of humanitarian aid to milk production farms in de-occupied regions in the form of means to ensure hygienic milk production.
The coordinator of the “Dairy sector” component in the Swiss-Ukrainian Quality FOOD Trade Program, Iryna Vysotska, added that the main participants of the competition became micro and small cheese producers. According to her, the development of trade and support of micro and small entrepreneurship in the decentralized regions of Ukraine is of significance for the Quality FOOD Trade Program.
The program focuses on projects necessary for developing the dairy sector, creating added value, and increasing export opportunities.
And that is exactly what this project with Ardis Group and ProCheese on the organization of free training for cheesemakers and the participation of Ukrainian cheeses in the WCA encompasses.
Natalia Palchak, owner of the cheese production, who received the Super Gold award, shares that after participating in the competition, she became more confident in her cheeses and has obtained a clear sense of direction for developing her business.
Natalia Kagadiy shared certain hurdles that Ardis Group and ProCheese had to overcome while bringing this project to life:
1. Gathering participants. This year 50 places were allocated for Ukraine for free participation, but it was possible to gather only 39 cheeses.
- Cheese producers are obtaining all the necessary documents. There were some of them who, unfortunately, could not take part in the competition for this reason.
- Lack of trust. Some cheese producers could not believe that unifying businesses for the common goal and implementation of joint projects carry a visionary plan and a desire to contribute to the future, not a commercial component.
2. Logistics and collecting documents necessary for customs.
- Since Great Britain is not part of the EU, it holds a separate set of rules for importing products into its territory. The company applied to the Embassy of Ukraine in the UK, the State Production and Consumer Service, to develop a simplified delivery procedure. Unfortunately, as it is a time of war, it turned out to be a rather tricky process.
- Because of the long route, it was essential to calculate the delivery time by the hour, as fresh cheeses with relatively short expiration dates also had to travel a long way.
3. Visas and travel.
- Since the British Embassy in Ukraine is currently closed as there is a war, all visa applications must be submitted through Poland, meaning you must travel there a month later to pick up the visa. The road to Newport took the team 1.5 weeks in total: 6 trains and one plane.
- Unfortunately, Oksana Chernova and Dmytro Chernov did not receive their visas on time and therefore had to join the event online.
4. Finances. Taking part in such contests is a relatively expensive project. However, the company managed to attract additional financing from the Swiss-Ukrainian Quality Food Trade Program. In most countries, the ministry of economics or government officials finance such projects, as they are responsible for promoting their country worldwide.
Ardis Group and ProCheese outlined that it is crucial for all those involved in the dairy industry to unite at this time, trust one another and make their impact on such global projects. After all, we bring our country closer to the big, primary Victory with small victories.