La Ratonera is an aesthetically impeccable, minuscule cheese stand peculiarly placed in the middle of a parking lot in Bogota, Colombia. We were lucky enough to visit while the owner was working the stand, and got to learn some of the cheese’s backstory. The owner told us a little about her work making cheeses with a cooperative of farmers in the Bogota area, in a sort of cultural exchange with cheesemakers from Vermont. She and her husband started the business to fill a void in Bogota, a city with a curious lack of artisanal cheese stores.
Unlike most cheese stores in the United States, though, which primarily buy cheeses made by cheesemakers and sometimes supplement with their own house made cheeses, La Ratonera’s business model revolves around a close relationship with cheesemakers in which the owners essentially commission the cheesemakers to create the cheeses that they want to sell. This is necessary because artisanal cheese production is only just in its infancy in Colombia. In other words, in order to sell a wide variety of cheeses, it was necessary for the owners of la Ratonera to create the cheeses themselves. Similar to the relationship that Jorge has with Antonio (see my post on Crimea), at La Ratonera they act as mentor and manager for the cheesemakers, bringing in cheesemakers from Vermont to help with training and then visiting the farms regularly to ensure that everything is running smoothly.
La Ratonera makes and sells a variety of primarily European style cheeses, including drunken goat, Gouda, Brie, and both goat and cow camembert, as well as some traditional Colombian cheeses. We tasted a lot of the cheeses, but I was most taken by two in particular. One was the goat camembert; dry but creamy, salty but with a mild goat-y flavor, the perfect balance was stuck with this cheese. I was happily surprised to find such a well made camembert in the middle of Bogota, proof of the success of La Ratonera’s methodology. The second was called Siete Cueros, a spiral of traditionally salty ‘queso blanco fresco’ (fresh white cheese). This cheese was the mother of all snacking cheeses, fun to pull out of its spiral, and delicious with crackers or on its own. Salty, fresh cheeses like these are commonly available all around Colombia, but this one was just a step above its counterparts.
If you are ever in Bogota, be sure to seek out La Ratonera, and taste your way through their cheese counter. The owners are true pioneers in the Colombian cheese world, and are opening the door to a future of artisanal cheese production across the country.