By Shailendree Wickrama Adittiya
Over the years, Maia Cheese has gained popularity in Sri Lanka as a handmade artisanal cheese brand that offers a wide range of products, and much to the delight of cheese aficionados, the brand recently opened a flagship store at Cinnamon Lakeside.
Maia Cheese currently offers around 20 types of cheeses, including cheddar, fresh, smoked or grated mozzarella, queen blue, halloumi, caciocavallo, brie, and goat cream and feta. In addition to cheese, Maia also makes salted, unsalted, and garlic-infused butter.
While Maia Cheese has something for everyone and every dining or cooking need, the brand plans on experimenting and expanding its catalogue in order to become the one-shop-stop for homemade European cheese locally as well as regionally – and Co-founder, Chief Executive Officer (CEO), and master cheesemaker Maia Donadze has the drive and passion to make this a reality.
How Maia Cheese came to be
Donadze hails from Georgia, and originally started Maia Cheese in Goa, India in 2005. At the opening of the flagship store at Cinnamon Lakeside on 28 October, she explained that while in India, the cheese-lover in her was missing out on cheese, due to which she decided to make her own cheese. Goa, she said, was beautiful, and there she learnt about the various components that go into making cheese, working with milk, humidity, temperature, etc.
Speaking about Sheriozha Anthony Wijekoon, her life partner who is also a co-founder and managing director of Maia Cheese, Donadze said: “He offered to take me to Sri Lanka and show me this beautiful country,” and explained that they eventually relocated Maia Cheese to Madipola, Matale. It hasn’t always been smooth sailing, however, and Donadze says they have been working very hard, finding solutions to various issues involving milk, farmers, and suppliers. In addition to this, at the beginning, nobody believed in them.
However, today, Maia Cheese has come a long way, which Donadze and her team are very proud of. They make 3,000 kg of cheese a month, and plan on expanding further. While Maia Cheese has around 20 types of cheese, Donadze notes she can make more varieties.
Cheese-making is not easy work
“I have mastered 40 different types of cheese. Cheese-making is not something you can do in one, two, or three days; it is generational work,” Donadze said, adding that it has taken her 20 years to master this craft, which one must learn through the mistakes one makes. She added that cheese cannot be made overnight, with some cheeses taking six months to make, but said that despite being constant work, it is never boring.
“Cheese is alive. What you buy in supermarkets – processed cheese – is dead cheese. That cheese doesn’t breathe anymore. But with natural cheese or artisanal cheese – it’s a living organism. When it’s in the fridge, day by day, it matures.”
Donadze also shared her goal for 2024: Taking part in the World Championship Cheese Contest in Wisconsin, USA, which has been held every two years since 1957. She wants to bring this win, undoubtedly a huge honour, to Sri Lanka. This goal really makes it clear that Donadze’s hopes for the future are not just about expanding and strengthening Maia Cheese, but also about helping the country.
She is optimistic about the future, and highlighted the need to create change around us. This is why Maia Cheese is more than just a dairy product that is soon becoming even more of an indulgence or luxury in Sri Lanka. In Medipola, Maia Cheese creates employment opportunities, especially for women.
Donadze explained that there are no jobs in Medipola, with women, young and old, struggling in the face of unemployment. Many go abroad to support their families, leaving behind their children.
“My point is to give jobs to the local community, which I’m very passionate about,” she said, adding: “We can change culture with something like cheese. We can bring this beautiful cultural thing like cheese-making for the benefit of children, which makes me proud.”
Co-founder and Managing Director Sheriozha Anthony Wijekoon also addressed the gathering, touching on the current situation in the country.
“Cheese is now being appreciated across Sri Lanka, and the economic problems we are facing in Sri Lanka mean that it is now down to local manufacturers to get the country back up and reinstate and restore Sri Lanka to how it was before.”
He also took a moment to shine the spotlight on Donadze’s work, saying: “Maia Cheese is not Maia Cheese without Maia. She has a unique ability, which is to make things and make them well.”
While Maia Cheese is looking at better times, both for itself and the country, cheese-lovers can peruse products and enjoy different types of cheese at the brand’s flagship store at Cinnamon Lakeside.
Photos Lalith Perera