A cheese with a particular taste, similar to ricotta, but slightly more tart, is conquering Brazilian consumers. It is the labneh, known in Brazil as chancliche.
The recipe came from the Middle East and landed in the country at the end of the nineteenth century with the Arab immigrants. It travelled and travelled and ended up in the city of Guaxupé, in the interior of the state of Minas Gerais in the Southeast region of Brazil, where Arab surnames are common in the streets and squares.
There, since 1989, the cheese is produced in industrial scale by the businessman Antônio Carlos Lima Ribeiro, owner of the dairy Laticínios President.
The business started on chance. Ribeiro married Carmen, who had Lebanese ascendance and kept the secret of the cheese in the family.
“Her grandmother (Angelina Sabbag) was the one who taught her the recipe, made from curd base,” tells the businessman who, before the dairy, farmed dairy cattle with his brothers and produced about 2,000 liters of milk per day.
After some talks, the two families joined their talents and, at the end of the 1980s, Carmen and Ribeiro decided to invest in the new business: to produce labneh.
The first step was to register the name chancliche, “which soon became the synonym to Arab cheese in Brazil,” says Ribeiro. The beginning was modest, with home production: about 15,000 units of chese per month.
Time passed and the company grew, the packaging was perfected and they invested in the distribution sector. The recipe, of course, always stayed the same, emphasising the quality of the product. “One of the reasons the business was successful,” states the entrepreneur.
Currently, the dairy employs 18 workers, the monthly production is of 60,000 units of the cheese. Everything is coordinated, from up close, by Ribeiro, Carmen and the couple’s four sons.
To supply the factory, about 100,000 liters of milk are industrialized per month. The suppliers are from Guaxupé and the neighboring regions. Ribeiro does not raise cattle anymore.
The production is directed mainly to the São Paulo market, “but the product is in almost all Brazilian states,” affirms Ribeiro. There are about 800 points of sale spread across the country, amongst them, stores from the main retailers in Brazil, such as the Pão de Açúcar and the Carrefour. Some restaurants specialized in Mediterranean food also buy the product from the dairy.
The President Chancliche is found in individual packagings (flattened out little spheres) – of 135 grams – and in 400-gram glass jars. There are three varieties of the cheese: natural, wrapped in Calabrian pepper and also in zatar.
As well as the particular taste, one of the chancliche’s characteristics is its cuisine versatility. “The cheese may be beaten with onions and olive oil, mixed with fine herbs, olives and eggs,” says Ribeiro. In this way it may be served with bread, like a spread. It may also be eaten with salads.
According to Ribeiro, this year, the company is preparing for one more challenge. “We plan to export.” The first contacts with the Brazilian Export Promotion Agency (Apex) were made recently, through the Bank of Brazil. “We are waiting to take the next steps,” he stated.
One thing is for certain, they will have to trade a great volume of cheese for the operation to be financially compensating.
“The transportation costs, with refrigerated containers, for example, are high. It is not as simple as shipping products through the mail, but I am stubborn, I like challenges,” added Ribeiro.
Translated by Silvia Lindsey
ANBA – Brazil-Arab News Agency