Cheesemaking in Nepal: Dairy farmers at the top of the world

François Driard says he found Nepal perfect but for one thing: cheesemaking. So he founded the first and only French cheese farm at the top of the world.

Tom Howard
French cheese farmer François Driard in Nepal.

• A local, slice-of-life story from a Monitor correspondent.

It is 5 a.m. and François Driard is awake to handmilk his herd of Fresians. This, however, is no regular dairy farmer. Perched on the brink of the Shivapuri National Park, where the Katmandu Valley becomes Himalayan foothills, is Nepal’s first and only French cheese farm.

Mr. Driard settled in Nepal after working in 30 countries in three years as a wandering journalist. “Nepal was perfect for me: beautiful mountains, beautiful women, beautiful climate – but no cheese.... I knew I had to do something about this.”

Cheese production was introduced to Nepal in 1952, as part of a Swiss-backed initiative, but only processed kinds were readily available.

Having realized his calling, Driard traveled to his native Alps to learn the traditional art of making Tomme de Savoie, a semi-soft cow cheese, and on his return in 2007 he and three Nepali partners founded the Himalayan French Cheese Company.

Farming in Nepal, which is a Hindu state, has presented some unique problems. It is illegal to put down ill and injured cows, and he has lost several sheep and goats to a mountain leopard.

Driard admits some difficulty persuading the locals, who first described his Tomme as “rotten foreigner’s cheese,” to try his product but he swiftly proved a big hit with the luxury hotels and ex-pats in Katmandu. In Nepal the average wage is $200 per year, and at $20 per kilogram (about 35 ounces), Driard’s cheese is aimed exclusively at the luxury market.

But for the newly minted cheese farmer this is only the beginning of his gastronomic revolution. From the success of his current farm, Driard is preparing a move to a larger one where he can work on more French delicacies. He plans to introduce several new cheeses, pork sausages, Breton cider, and pâté de foie gras – if the leopards don’t get him, that is.

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