Vayots Dzor's "Golden" Goats
Khachik Martirosyan (pictured) is the founder and director of the Golden Goat goat cheese factory. He says the company is Armenia's first and perhaps only goat cheese manufacturer. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, they consider him the first exporter. From 1989 to 2004, no goat cheese was exported from Armenia, he assures Hetq. In the Soviet years, raising goats was not developed, and villagers did not accept goats. "I remember the Yeghegnadzor sovkhoz [state farm] which was well-known, had large numbers of sheep, and every sovkhoz kept 10–20 goats to circulate the flock. The goat played the role of the leader," he says.
Until 2000, Martirosyan raised cattle in the village of Goghtanik in Armenia's Vayots Dzor Province. The idea of raising goats came from his friend, who worked at the US Department of Agriculture (USDA). In 2000, he received an offer to begin raising goats: 20 billy goats and 10 does (female goats) were brought from the US to Vayots Dzor (Alpine, Nubian, Saanen, and Toggenburg breeds) and crossbred with Armenian breeds. From this they received kids with 2.5–3 times higher milk production than Armenian goats.
In the first year of production, 700 kg of cheese was produced, which they sold with great difficulty. "We couldn't enter the foreign market with 700 kg, and goat cheese was completely unusual for the local market, but gradually people became accustomed to it. Now we produce up to 45 tonnes a year and sell it all," says Martirosyan.
The white building of the Golden Goat factory is found left of the entrance to the Vayots Dzor capital, Yeghegnadzor. Speaking about the company name, the director says that goats are naturally "golden" (Martirosyan previously carried out activity at Koraghbyur Ltd.).
Between the two one-story buildings (the factory and the farm) is a garden of fruit trees. The factory has 24 employees. The terrain is particularly favorable for raising goats. As Martirosyan says, goats love mountains, flowers, shrubs. That's why the quality of the milk is higher.
About Goat Milk
Goat milk replaces breast milk. This is how Khachik Martirosyan describes it. Goats, unlike cows, are fed on flowers; the milk is rich with protein and lower in cholesterol. Getting bad cheese from such milk is not possible.
Martirosyan says there's no such thing as bad cheese: there's good cheese and better cheese. Accepted in Armenia are Lori and Chanakh cheese. His company produces 8 types of cheese, including "French," "Alpine," "Yeghegnadzor," "Lori," and "Chanakh." One of the factors to getting good cheese is considered Vayots Dzor's favorable climate conditions and being environmentally friendly. Standing apart from the other types of cheese is "Yeghegnadzor," which was produced in the city of the same name back in the Soviet years. The packaging of this cheese increases its price: the packaging alone costs 700 AMD (about $1.70 USD). It is sold in clay pots. The farmer-entrepreneur says he procures goat milk also from the villagers: he pays 230 AMD ($0.55) for 1 liter.
How Do They Choose Names for the Cheese?
The names of the cheese are conditioned by the technology of production. Otherwise, in the director's opinion, they would invent so many names! He lists the types of cheese, each of which has its "principles" of production. Apart from goat cheese, they also produce a cheese made with a mix of goat and cow milk. He is pleased with the sale.
There is only one name in the list of export countries: Russia. Exported here is 90% of the company's product: $7.50 per kilo.
Until 2009, for about 4 years, they sold goat cheese also in the US market (in California) at $5 per kilo. At that time, the rate was 580–584 AMD to the US dollar and the milk was cheap — 130 AMD. That's why it was profitable, says the director, adding that because of inflation, they lost that market. The reason was that the company was constantly raising the price of cheese, which importers didn't really appreciate, eventually refusing to import it.
Goats in Exchange for an Airplane Ticket
The company director several times during our conversation emphasizes that the demand for goat cheese is gradually increasing, but they cannot increase their production volumes. The reason is they find goat milk with great difficulty: raising goats was developed in the province 4–5 years ago, but difficult socioeconomic conditions forced many to sell their goats and emigrate. Sometimes they were sold to buy an airplane ticket. Khachik Martirosyan assures me that raising goats is profitable: not only is it easy to raise them, but also their milk is expensive.
Martirosyan's 9-year-old son, Artur (pictured), will continue the goat cheese production. He accompanies us to the animal farm. On the way he says apart from the cheese production, he's going to establish a production of trucks, then adds that he loves his city.