food / travel

A Russian Farmer’s Sharp Response To French Cheese Embargo

A Russian embargo bans imports of French cheese and other Western products. But one farmer has the answer: bring in French cheesemakers to teach him to make his own.

French chevre cheese
French chevre cheese
Natalya Radulova

MASLOVKA â€" "Hi, uh, do the Frenchmen live here?" asked the small delegation of women gathered in front of Maslovka's largest house. Inna Myachina, a resident from the neighboring village, had brought her mother, her sister and her niece. "People are talking, saying that Frenchmen have come to Maslovka and are making good cheese â€" the forbidden kind. So we are trying to be neighborly and came to see if it is true," she explained.

Maslovka, a village located some 400 kilometers south of Moscow, is too small to appear on maps. Though the village had 750 homes at the height of the Soviet era, today there is barely more than grass-covered ruins, a stop light and a couple of street signs. Maslovka is now little more than two cabins that occasionally host vacationers from the city and one large stone manor house with outbuildings. Vladimir Borev, a former Muscovite, journalist and translator lives here. He is now a farmer, the owner of a herd of cows. He's also the person who brought the Frenchmen everyone is talking about. "So, can we try the cheese?" Myachina asks. "Can we see the Frenchmen?" adds her mother.

The "Frenchmen," who are actually a couple, emerge. Nicole and Gilles de Vouge, farmers from Corsica, are members of an association of traditional cheesemakers and have been making cheese for nearly half a century. Borev met them a while ago, when he participated in a training program on their farm.

"Nicole and Gilles are teaching me to make genuine French cheese," Borev explains. "There is nothing in it other than milk, salt and mold! The most important difference, though, is that the French don't boil their milk â€" all of the beneficial bacteria are preserved. A real cheese should be raw."

Myachina nods her head in understanding. Nicole and Gilles just smile because they don't speak Russian. "Do you have any children?" Myachina's mother suddenly asks, and Nicole starts to explain that they have three grown children, none of whom want to work on the farm. The women nod knowingly again. "Kids are like that," Myachina's mother says. "You teach them how to milk a cow and plant potatoes, then they say they're going to the city. That's why our village is dying. We have so much land and so few people. Have you seen?"

Gorgeous but barren

Nicole had seen. When she arrived with Gilles in Maslovka, she couldn't understand why the area was so deserted. "What a huge, rich country! You have a road, a river, pasture â€" and it's beautiful. Why doesn't anyone live here?" she said when she first arrived. Borev took the couple to a local festival soon thereafter, and one of the residents took the stage to ask the government to provide more jobs. The Corsicans couldn't understand it. "How can a farmer ask for more jobs? What is preventing him from buying five goats and three cows and making cheese? Let him come to us for training. We'll show him how you should earn money."

The French couple have taught Borev how to make high-quality cheese, but so far he hasn't made much money doing it. "I have 18 goats and four cows," Borev says. "That comes out to around 12 kilos of cheese per day. Most of it I send to my family in Moscow, my children and grandchildren. I send gifts to friends. Sometimes people come here to buy cheese. But I don't sell to stores, out of principle. They don't know how to store cheese properly, and the prices they expect are crazy. So if someone wants my cheese, let him or her come here to get it."

Each piece of cheese has its own story, Borev says, explaining his vague price policy. "It's an art, so how can you sell the cheese by weight? It's not like you would say, "Cut me two meters of Picasso" in an art gallery."

Borev turns the cheese stored in his cellar several times per day, a trick he learned from the French cheesemakers. He has also learned never to rush. He initially wanted to add warm milk to the cold milk, to speed up the cheesemaking process. But the French couple forbade him from doing so, explaining that the cheese would experience a thermal shock, harming the lactobacilli that are essential to a successful, live cheese.

Borev smells the goods. Photo: Eugene Gurko/Kommersant

So Borev gets up at 6 a.m. to pour his milk and turn the cheese wheels under the watchful eyes of Nicole and Gilles, trying not to make any sudden movements. He's already thought of several names for his cheese varieties, including one called "Mistral" after the military helicopter carriers France was supposed to sell Russia before the relationship soured and embargoes were instituted on products such as French cheese.

"If the French didn't give us the helicopters, at least we'll take their cheesemaking technology," Borev says. "The amount of French cheese that Russians eat in 15 years is equal in value to the Mistral contract. Can you imagine how much money we're talking about? But now we're going to produce the cheese ourselves."

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"The Truest Hypocrisy" - The Russia-NATO Clash Seen From Moscow

Russia has decided to cut off relations with the Western military alliance. But Moscow says it was NATO who really wanted the break based on its own internal rationale.

NATO chief Stoltenberg and Russian Foregin Minister Lavrov

Russian Foreign Ministry/TASS via ZUMA
Pavel Tarasenko and Sergei Strokan

MOSCOW — The Russian Foreign Ministry's announcement that the country's permanent representation to NATO would be shut down for an indefinite period is a major development. But from Moscow's viewpoint, there was little alternative.

These measures were taken in response to the decision of NATO on Oct. 6 to cut the number of personnel allowed in the Russian mission to the Western alliance by half. NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said the removal of accreditations was from eight employees of the Russian mission to NATO who were identified as undeclared employees of Russian intelligence." We have seen an increase in Russian malicious activity for some time now," Stoltenberg said.

The Russian Foreign Ministry called NATO's expulsion of Russian personnel a "ridiculous stunt," and Stoltenberg's words "the truest hypocrisy."

In announcing the complete shutdown in diplomacy between Moscow and NATO, the Russian Foreign Ministry added: "The 'Russian threat' is being hyped in strengthen the alliance's internal unity and create the appearance of its 'relevance' in modern geopolitical conditions."

The number of Russian diplomatic missions in Brussels has been reduced twice unilaterally by NATO in 2015 and 2018 - after the alliance's decision of April 1, 2014 to suspend all practical civilian and military cooperation between Russia and NATO in the wake of Russia's annexation of Crimea. Diplomats' access to the alliance headquarters and communications with its international secretariat was restricted, military contacts have frozen.

Yet the new closure of all diplomatic contacts is a perilous new low. Kommersant sources said that the changes will affect the military liaison mission of the North Atlantic alliance in Moscow, aimed at promoting the expansion of the dialogue between Russia and NATO. However, in recent years there has been no de facto cooperation. And now, as Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has announced, the activities of the military liaison mission will be suspended. The accreditation of its personnel will be canceled on November 1.

NATO told RIA Novosti news service on Monday that it regretted Moscow's move. Meanwhile, among Western countries, Germany was the first to respond. "It would complicate the already difficult situation in which we are now and prolong the "ice age," German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas told reporters.

"Lavrov said on Monday, commenting on the present and future of relations between Moscow and the North Atlantic Alliance, "If this is the case, then we see no great need to continue pretending that any changes will be possible in the foreseeable future because NATO has already announced that such changes are impossible.

The suspension of activities of the Russian Permanent Mission to NATO, as well as the military liaison and information mission in Russia, means that Moscow and Brussels have decided to "draw a final line under the partnership relations of previous decades," explained Andrei Kortunov, director-general of the Russian Council on Foreign Affairs, "These relations began to form in the 1990s, opening channels for cooperation between the sides … but they have continued to steadily deteriorate over recent years."

Kortunov believes the current rupture was promoted by Brussels. "A new strategy for NATO is being prepared, which will be adopted at the next summit of the alliance, and the previous partnership with Russia does not fit into its concept anymore."

The existence and expansion of NATO after the end of the Cold War was the main reason for the destruction of the whole complex of relations between Russia and the West. Today, Russia is paying particular attention to marking red lines related to the further steps of Ukraine's integration into NATO. Vladimir Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov previously stated this, warning that in response to the alliance's activity in the Ukrainian direction, Moscow would take "active steps" to ensure its security.

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