In the mountainous regions of Kabylia in Algeria, Rachid Ibersiene lives at the frenetic pace of his artisan cheese dairy. His passion for cheese-making has not only resurrected an age-old tradition, but also infused it with the flavors of Swiss Gruyère and Dutch Gouda, with an Algerian touch.
Ibersiene comes from a working-class family in Algiers. Initially, he had a penchant for engineering and, after completing his studies in hydrocarbons, decided on a career as a petroleum engineer. But faced with the difficulty of finding a job in his field, he had to expatriate himself to Europe, first to Italy, where he tried in vain to launch a career in cinema, then to Switzerland, where he worked as an IT consultant for 16 years.
It was during his leisurely weekends spent in the Swiss mountains that Ibersiene’s passion for cheesemaking began to blossom. “To relax on weekends, I would go up to the mountain chalets in Gruyere where many cheesemakers are located,” he fondly recalls. It was there, in the heart of Swiss cheesemaking country, that the seeds of his idea to create a cheese factory were sown.
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In 2003, Ibersiene decided to return to his native country Algeria. In Tamassit, situated at the foot of Mount Tamgou -from which his cheese draws its name-, his dream came true. But his journey wasn’t all dreamy as he faced significant financial obstacles along the way. Nevertheless, that did not deter Ibersiene from persisting, and he eventually decided to invest his life savings into the project.
A success story despite the trials and tribulations
Ibersiene’s cheese has quickly gained recognition, becoming a source of national pride in the North African country. The cheesemaker draws inspiration from the semi-hard Swiss cheese, Vacherin Fribourgeois, adapting its craftsmanship to Algerian milk, which possesses its own distinctive characteristics. “Algerian milk is less uniform and somewhat more organic because the farms are smaller and more diversified. In Switzerland, you don’t find farmers with only two or three dairy cows,” explains Ibersiene to the AFP. “As a result, our cheese has a more nuanced taste, typically Algerian.”
“Our cheese is made from raw cow’s milk, without any food additives. It is untreated. We use natural lactic ferments.” he explained.
Ibersiene’s cheese bears the slogan “a Swiss idea, an Algerian cheese,” and it has helped the product find its place in gourmet shops, backed by the concept of a unique blend of European traditions with Algerian craftsmanship. His factory became lucrative and starting to turn a profit in 2018. It has also attracted Western expatriates from around the world, as far as New York, according to the cheesemaker. To him, “it is a source of pride.”