Community Life / Work

A Cheesy Story: Benny and Arumugam from La Ferme

Auroville would be hard-pressed to do without La Ferme Cheese. The unit is very popular and has grown to produce about 100 kilos of handmade cheese daily. Combining Indian traditional methods with Western cheese-making recipes, Benny and Arumugam make a strong team. We met up with them to talk about their daily work

Bringing Two Cheese Making Traditions Together

Benny and Arumugam both have a long history with cheese and are passionate about their work. Arumugam was very young when he first got together with cheese: “My father worked in the milk business. Whatever milk was left over he would use for making curd and for experimenting with cheese making. I would help him sometimes and it really interested me. An Aurovilian bought some of my dad’s cheese. He was looking for someone with cheese-crafting experience. One thing led to another and at some point, I was working with a group of people that would eventually form La Ferme Cheese. I was attracted by the idea of producing high value nutritional food in Auroville and where we can, supplying it to Auroville without the intention to make a profit. We started in 1988.” 

Although Benny joined later, his experience in making goat cheese was a boon to the unit. “When I was a student in Holland I was very interested in organic farming and read a lot about it, but I wanted hands on experience! So I moved from the Netherlands to a very isolated place in France where we didn’t have electricity, made our own bread, had milk and cheese from our own goats and so forth. If we had any excess produce, we would sell it in a nearby market. The cheese sold more than anything else we made, so we got more goats and that’s how I learned to make cheese.”

A Cheesy Day

A day at La Ferme Cheese is not just about cheese – there are also the animals and the administration to take care of. Arumugam usually takes care of the dairy section. “Our yard contains 24 goats and 5 cows. I follow their day-by-day feeding and I administer medical treatments and do health checkups, making sure they are maintained properly. I also deal with the financial and human resource management of La Ferme Cheese, but I try to get myself involved in all kinds of work. Recently, I helped set up some water catchments areas in the grazing field outside and I also looked at some of the upkeep work for the building. It’s really interesting.”

Benny sticks close to the cheese and takes care of the admin. “In the mornings I am busy with the cheese production which includes quite some physical work. Then for the rest of the day I’m busy with customer care, production planning and other office work. I love the work I do and how much of it is hands on – I wouldn’t have it any other way.” The work did not use to be like this, and to understand how much the unit has grown and daily work has changed, it’s helpful to look at the numbers: “Today we process 700 litres of milk everyday with our own equipment, which I think is really impressive because originally we didn’t even have a gas stove of our own and we only went through 30 litres a day!” The milk that doesn’t come from the cows at La Ferme is delivered in the morning from Auroville and village farms nearby. 

Sweet Dreams are Made of Cheese

The cheese at La Ferme is produced with the utmost care for animals and the environment. Pasteurization, for instance, is done with biogas, water is pumped by a windmill, and waste water is recycled. The animals graze outside and are well-taken care of. And the work is really done for the Auroville community. “Being in Auroville means that we don’t own La Ferme Cheese. Auroville does. This means that you work with a different motivation, for example: if you double your revenue, it will feel nice, even though it’s not done out of personal interest. For what we are doing here the word business is maybe not appropriate and maybe we should call it something else. We are in between, it is some mixture of business and service.”

At the end of the day, La Ferme runs on the simple love for a job well done, a wish to contribute to the community, and an aspiration to progress towards the dream of Auroville. “La Ferme Cheese was created to provide Auroville with something yummy and nutritious and that’s what we do! We donate a lot of cheese to Auroville schools, to Auroville’s communal kitchen and to youth communities. For some events people approach us asking for cheese and we say, ‘Here you go!’ and we love it. It’s nice to give.”

When asked what their favourite cheeses are, the answers seem to fall along the classic lines of Indian and Western tastes in cheese. Arumugam favours the milder cheeses like Mozzarella or Farm cheese, while Benny enjoys the strong Gruyere or Gorgonzola cheeses. “But to make? That is difficult to say. Maybe goat cheese is the most enjoyable, because it’s a more creative process.”

Benny is happy to share with us some cheesy last words: “The reason you say, ‘Cheese!’ when your photo is being taken is because the thought of cheese makes you smile!”


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