Marketplace Large Czech milk farms ideally suit our needs, says owner of Gran Moravia cheese factory
The small Moravian town of Litovel is home to the world’s largest hard cheese factory. Since 1996 when the Italian company Orrero set up its production there, its Gran Moravia cheese has been conquering markets in around the world. Today, the Litovel cheese plant produces around 6,000 tonnes of the parmesan-type cheese, a great majority of which is sold in Italy. In this edition of Marketplace, we talk to the owner of the Orrero company, Roberto Brazzale who says parmesan is not the right name for its flagship product.
“The word parmesan is not right. In the Czech Republic, it’s commonly used for hard cheese but it Italy, we don’t use it. Instead we say formaggio grana to indicate the special structure of the cheese. Gran Moravia belongs to the family of hard cheeses manufactured according to old Italian traditions. The others are parmigiano-reggiano and padano.”
Why would you say your cheese is so successful? I suppose one of the advantages is price, compared to some of the products with designated origin – but what other qualities does Gran Moravia have that make is so successful?
“The success of the product is primarily based on its quality and mild taste. Gran Moravia does not taste salty or dry. It also comes from an eco-sustainable chain that we have created in Moravia, a network of 75 farms which observe ecological rules. Gran Moravia is the first cheese in the world with calculated and declared water footprint.”
Is it difficult to get good quality milk?
“Czech agriculture and milk production is of high quality. We chose this region to develop our project because we believe it is possible to produce the best quality cheese here thanks to the structure of the agricultural sector. We need very good milk, and the farms here are suitable for that: they are big, they are very well managed and they have skilled workers. Compared with other countries like Germany, Poland, Slovakia and other important milk producers in Europe, the Czech Republic is a very big player with a big potential.”
“We chose this country after looking in other countries in central Europe like Poland and Hungary. We believe that here, it’s possible to have milk produced by cows which are fed by what is produced in the farms. They don’t need to buy feeding outside. It’s important to control the whole process from the production of the forage to the fork as we say. This condition is particularly good in the Czech Republic. Today, we work with 75 farms and we can develop programmes that would be impossible in other countries where there are a lot of little producers that are difficult to control. Here, we control the entire chain.”
Why did your company decide to start an operation outside Italy in the first place?
“Our generation is the seventh generation in the company, and this is the best moment in our history to develop our business. The world is free; after 1990, Europe began to integrate which has enabled us to develop our project outside Italy.
“We are very happy to have come here and start a new chapter in the collaboration between the Czech and Italian nations. 200 years ago, our region in Italy – Veneto – was under the same Emperor from the Habsburg dynasty as the Czechs, and we had the same passports. It’s not so difficult for us to come up with a common project. Italy is where the best cheese was born, where there is an extraordinary technology and know-how. There is a unique variety of cheeses. On the other hand, Italy has a limited territory so it’s impossible to develop innovative projects. We need big areas and our company found these in Moravia.”
“We are free to decide where we want to do something. That’s entirely new for our generation. Today, it’s better to process milk in Moravia but the best location to ripen, store and to cut and package the cheese, as well as to control the sales and export is Italy. It has an old tradition in this demanding activity.”
In the Czech Republic, you have opened a store chained called La Formaggeria, and you have announced plans to expand it and bring it to Prague. Do you think Czechs will spend more on luxury products?
“Our products are luxurious only in quality, not in price. We sell directly from producer to consumer which makes our prices very competitive, lower than in the supermarkets for example. Our products can also be used every day. We don’t agree with the strategy of other Italian firms which want to sell their cheeses at the highest possible price. In our stores, you can find all the ingredients for Italian cooking.
“We are very happy about the new project, creating a network of La Formaggeria shops. There will be ten of them by the end of this year, and around 20 or 25 in the year 2015. In Prague, we will open between three and five shops by the end of this year, one of them in Václavské náměstí which will have about 200 square metres, and another in Vinohradská. We are already present in Brno, Olomouc, Ostrava, Hradec Králové, Liberec, České Budějovice and Litovel. In Brno, for example, the shop of 50 square metres gets more than 500 customers every day.”
Speaking as a foreign investor, how do you find doing business in the Czech Republic, compared with Italy?
“I would prefer not to compare it to Italy. All I want to say is that we love the Czech Republic and its people. Your policies and the economy are stable enough, and we like the way the economy is managed. For us, the Czech Republic really is a second home.”
Do you also like the Czech tax authorities and other officials that you deal with?
“In the Czech Republic, the rules are clear and correct. We need clarity and correctness, and we need good relations with the authorities. Entrepreneurs need to know the environment in which they work.”
The Czech Republic is not particularly known for its cheeses but there is one cheese which enjoys some reputation. It’s the Olomoucké tvarůžky which comes not far from where you are based in Moravia. Have you tried it?
“Of course, I know tvarůžky very well, and I like it. It’s a very interesting typical cheese. In Italy, there are many small producers of very typical cheese. We have to save them because they are an important heritage. But you understand, we cannot base our business on this kind of production. We need big numbers and large quantities, and grana cheese can give us that. In Italy, over 40 percent of milk is processed to make grana cheese. And the Czech Republic is already becoming a good player on the market for cheeses, too.”