Sirimon Cheese is working to entice the Kenyan palate with great tasting cheese to all of Kenya from their studio in Nanyuki. We learn about their cheese making process and how they got started.
A team of Nanyuki-based cheese makers have taken it upon themselves to create what they believe will become the reference point of quality, affordable Kenyan cheese. The Sirimon Cheese Studio is a state-of-the-art cheese processing plant located at the foot of Mt. Kenya. From the company’s inception three years ago the operations team has been led by Khilan Shah, a self-proclaimed foodie and the Sales and Marketing Director, Nirav Nathwani, the Finance Director who combines his engineering and accounting skills, and finally Shamas Velani, the CEO who’s passion for precision and detail is evident in their crafted products.
“Kenya is full of great dairy cows and there is so much potential to leverage the industry to make cheese worth talking about,” says Shah, the Sales and Marketing Director.
Sirimon Cheese, Shah tells us over a cup of coffee on the rooftop of Tune Hotel, is named after the river that flows down the slopes of Mt. Kenya and provides water to all the surrounding communities. Being an innovative small company, Shah explains they are eager to stand out from the crowd and are currently experimenting with some very interesting cheese lines in addition to the Cheddar, Mozzarella, Feta, Paneer, Gouda & Halloumi currently being sold in outlets such as Carrefour and Zucchini. “The market loves our product.” Shah smiles, “We have seen our sales double year on year and we expect similar growth for the foreseeable future”.
Every morning dozens of small-scale dairy farmers bring their milk to the plant’s doorstep. “We work directly with the farmers, we want a mutually benefiting arrangement,” Shah says. Milk collection, weighing and the rigorous quality control for every suppliers’ milk happens from 6:30AM till 10:00AM every day. Then the twenty-two strong work force, trained by various specialists from around the globe, turn the white liquid into golden heaven.
Shah, after three years in the business, knows the process like the back of his hand and enthusiastically takes us through it. The quality of milk is the starting point. “Most of our products are made using full fat milk. We try and keep the minimum butterfat content at 3.8%, which gives the cheese a creamier texture and better flavour.”
The company uses traditional methods to make cheese has also invested in modern cheese making technology from Holland. The milk is pasteurized to kill disease causing bacteria before it is poured into massive oblong tanks known as Vats which are steam jacketed at a constant temperature. Microbiological ingredient Rennet is added to form the milk into a jelly looking substance which later forms the curds when reacting with culture, another ingredient. The machines control the temperatures and the PH levels of the milk as well as the timing during the curd cutting processes. The curds are then filled into moulds which are lined with cheese clothes and pressed overnight under hydraulic presses to help form the cheese blocks and to remove excess ‘drain whey’ , a liquid mixture rich in protein.
Cheeses are then turned in the moulds to ensure uniformity in texture before they are brined or wax coated then transferred to the ripening rooms to mature under controlled humidity and temperature.
Once matured, the cheeses are then precision cut, vacuum sealed and placed in the cold room where they are stored at a constant 4 degrees Centigrade.
“We want to change the perception that cheese is only for a certain palate. Cheese should be enjoyed by everyone, in a variety of ways.” Shah tells us. “We are happy when we are able to provide good quality cheese to the market at an affordable price and can still maintain a good relationship with our milk suppliers.”
The Sirimon team freely gives their milk suppliers the ‘drain whey’ as feeds to pigs and cattle. “Our suppliers have also seen elevated levels of happiness from the cows with our high protein, high energy forages,” Shah adds.
The future for the Sirimon team of seems bright as they mark their name in Kenyan history. “I’m all for efficiency, but when the wheel needs to be reinvented, I’m happy to do it. Sometimes you have to shake things up to get a better result,” Shah concludes.
Next time you are in Nanyuki, after admiring the endless row of churches, funny signs and car washes, why not give the friendly Sirimon team a visit?