Why pule donkey cheese is the most expensive cheese in the world

Following is a transcript of the video.

Narrator: Pule donkey cheese is the most expensive cheese in the world. Produced by only one farm in the world, pule will cost you about $600 for a single pound. Making it requires more time and effort than most other cheeses. You need over 6 1/2 gallons of donkey’s milk just to make 1 kilogram of cheese. That’s 2 1/2 times more than what you need to make mozzarella. So, how does pule compare to other types of cheese? And why is it so expensive?

Even in the diverse world of cheese, pule is unique. There’s only one place in the world that makes it, and that’s on this farm in the Zasavica Special Nature Reserve. Slobodan Simić founded the reserve 24 years ago in Serbia. It’s one of just three areas in all of former Yugoslavia that protects a special endangered breed of Balkan donkey. Pule is made with 60% donkey milk and 40% goat milk, and it requires months and many donkeys to produce it.

Slobodan Simić: Everything was by accident, and nothing was by accident. Our main idea about donkeys was to save this species, because the number of donkeys in Serbia was less than 1,000. That’s when I decided to build the first farm for dairy donkeys. The focus was on the dairy donkeys. And when we reached 200 donkeys, we had a surplus of milk, I thought that we should also make cheese.

Narrator: There are only about 20 donkeys that produce milk on the farm at a time. And even then, each one won’t produce much. Each donkey is milked carefully by hand three times a day. If the farmers don’t empty all of the milk, the donkeys won’t continue making it.

Slobodan Simić: We’ve tried to milk them by machine, but that has turned out to be impossible. Because a donkey is not made like a cow, to give milk, only her baby can suck it. So when we tried to put on the milking machine, it would block the milk.

Narrator: Today, farmers care for 250 donkeys, but they can’t always take milk from all of them. Similar to cows, a female donkey will only produce milk once it’s had a baby. And each one carries a baby for a year and two weeks. Then farmers must wait another three months, once the baby has taken milk for itself, before they can begin gathering their own to make cheese. They need 6.6 gallons of milk in total to make just 1 kilogram of cheese. And a donkey produces under 1 gallon of milk per day. That’s far less than what comes from a cow, which can produce as much as 15 gallons of milk a day.

Each donkey will only produce milk for six months. Then you must wait another year to collect milk from that same donkey again. Pule is only sold on this farm and a few others the reserve partners with, another factor that ups the final value. The farm can produce between 50 and 70 kilograms of cheese a year, but Slobodan only ever sells about a third of that. And it’s not just because of pule’s staggering price. You couldn’t legally buy pule cheese in some parts of the world, even if you wanted to.

Slobodan Simić: This milk is only consumed unboiled, fresh, which is an additional problem for the placement of this milk to the EU market, because unpasteurized milk can’t be sold in the EU. But if you pasteurize it, you’ll lose all of those precious ingredients, and then you have something that’s not valuable.

Narrator: Technically, pule cheese can be produced with milk from any type of donkey, and therefore any farm that raises donkeys. But there’s one major roadblock. Just having donkey’s milk doesn’t mean you have all you need to make this cheese. Pule is made in a very specific way, using a recipe only Slobodan and one other person in the world knows. It’s because donkey milk contains less fat than the milk of other animals, which means it holds less of the protein casein that allows many other cheeses to coagulate on their own.

The recipe requires goat milk and a secret mix of additives and bacteria. This is what allows the milk to form curds, an essential stage of any cheesemaking process. Without this, it wouldn’t be possible to make pule at all.

Slobodan Simić: No one can make it. Not just at home, but well-known milk experts from many countries have tried to make it, and they have failed. That’s because of the additional bacteria and substances invented by our expert that succeeded in coagulating the milk, which is known to have little casein for coagulation. Many have tried, but no one managed to make it.

Narrator: The cheese is finally placed into 50-gram molds to age for a few days. Once removed from the molds, it’s set in another room to age for at least a month more. The final product is crumbly and soft with a rich flavor.

Slobodan Simić: Genuine, unique, and special.

Narrator: The cost of preserving the donkey species is another element to keep in mind when considering pule’s huge value. Slobodan must maintain the land, buy food for the donkeys, and hire workers to care for them. In a year, he spends about $100,000 just to keep the farm running. And unless producing pule becomes easier or someone else in the world discovers how to make it, nothing is likely to bring down the price of this incredibly rare Serbian cheese.

Slobodan Simić: In life, there are moments when you discover something and you feel that it is the time to dedicate yourself to that cause. That’s what I’ve done. I’ve never regretted this decision, and I’m very happy that I was able to build a reserve like this, along with my friends and companions.

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How Ben & Jerry’s makes nearly 1 million pints of ice cream a day

  • Ben & Jerry’s is the best-selling single ice cream brand in the world.
  • It’s gained a cult following thanks to classic flavors like Half Baked and Cherry Garcia and a mission to use ice cream to fight for equality.
  • We visited the plant in St. Albans, Vermont, to see how Ben & Jerry’s pumps out nearly 1 million pints a day.
  • It takes hundreds of workers, special machinery, and a 24/7 operation to package up these pints.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Following is a transcription of the video.

Narrator: Scooped up across 38 countries and up to 75 flavors, Ben & Jerry’s is no pint-sized operation. Its two Vermont factories run 24/7, operated by hundreds of flavor makers. Together, they pump out nearly a million pints a day, from classic flavors like Cherry Garcia and Half Baked to flavors on a mission for criminal-justice reform and refugee rights. And all those flavors have to be delicious.

Sarah Fidler: Our minimum run size, once we get a flavor to the factory, is 80,000 pints. So not only do we have to love it, but 80,000 fans have to love it too.

Narrator: We visited the St. Albans plant in northern Vermont to see how these famous pints flip their way to our freezers. Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield started Ben & Jerry’s Homemade Ice Cream in 1978. From a renovated gas station in Burlington, Vermont, they launched a brand based on sustainable ice cream making and advocating for causes they believed in, and it worked. Today, Ben & Jerry’s is the best-selling single brand ice cream label in the US. To pump out its iconic flavors, first it starts with ingredients.

Ben & Jerry’s partners with 250 farms globally to source everything from vanilla bean to milk. Milk comes from the St. Albans Cooperative Creamery, just a mile and a half from the factory. Once the milk’s at the plant, it heads to one of these massive, 6,000-gallon silos.

But before it can be made into ice cream, everyone involved has to suit up, including us. Gowns, hairnets, caps, and boots.

To make the ice cream base, the milk heads to the blend tank. Cream, milk, and lots of sugar are churned together. The factory goes through 6,700 gallons of cream every single day. Every ice cream flavor starts with either a sweet cream base or a chocolate base.

Next, the Mix Master will pour in eggs, stabilizers, and cocoa powder if it’s a chocolate base. Then it’s piped into the pasteurizer. You can’t see it happening, but hot steel plates are heating up the mix to kill any harmful bacteria. The newly pasteurized milk is stored in a tank for four to eight hours, so the ingredients can really get to know each other.

After making the two bases, they’ll head to one of the 20 flavor vats to get a flavor boost.

Fidler: We’re always coming up with new flavors, hundreds of flavors a year, and we usually narrow it down to about three or four. We really love to bring our social mission values into our naming process. For example, Empower Mint to talk about voting rights.

Narrator: Before Ben & Jerry’s famous chunks can be added, the mix has to get to below-freezing temperatures. It’s pumped through this giant freezing barrel, and when it gets to the front, it’s finally ice cream. Along the way, it’s quality tested, meaning lucky factory floor workers get to taste the ice creams.

Then it goes into the first of two freezer visits. When it comes out, it’s 22 degrees and somewhere between the consistency of a milkshake and soft serve.

Now for the best part, the chunks. Founder Ben actually didn’t have a great sense of smell, which meant he couldn’t taste much either. So his big thing was texture. That’s why Ben & Jerry’s has some of the biggest chunks in the ice cream industry. These chunks end up in flavors like Half Baked, Chubby Hubby, or the one we’re making, Chocolate Therapy.

Workers dump in add-ins through the Chunk Feeder, from brownie bites and cookie dough globs to chocolate chunks, fruits, and nuts. They let us give it a try, but it’s not as easy as it looks. Then it’s finally time to pack those pints. Workers stack the empty containers into the automatic filler. The machine drops the pints into position and perfectly pumps in ice cream. It can fill up 270 pints a minute. The pints are pushed towards the lidder and sealed tight.

At this point, six pints every hour are pulled off the line for quality testing. Quality assurance personnel first cut pints open. They’re making sure the ingredients are symmetrical and there aren’t any big air bubbles.

Worker: There is a small gap, but that’s what we call a functional void. If we saw large voids, it would be concerning. It’s actually quite the workout, as you can tell.

Narrator: They also measure the weight and volume of pints to ensure that the right amount of ice cream makes it into each container.

Worker: So, we know the weight of the ice cream, and anything below 460 is not passable.

Narrator: Now back to the factory line. It’s now time for the pints to take a second spin in the freezer. The ice cream has to get even colder, down to minus 10 degrees. The pints travel along the Spiral Hardener, a corkscrew-shaped conveyor belt inside a freezer. With the wind chill, it can get up to minus 60 degrees in there.

After three hours, the pints are finally frozen and ready to be packaged. They’re flipped over and shrink wrapped into groups of eight. Together, they make a gallon. But you’ll never actually see a gallon tub of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, because the company never wants its ice cream going bad sitting in the back of your fridge. Once the pints are packaged, they’re ready to be shipped across the globe.

Abby Narishkin: Hey, guys, my name’s Abby, and I’m one of the producers on this video. My favorite flavor is definitely Ben & Jerry’s Milk & Cookies, but let me know your favorites in the comments below and if you have any ideas for the next episode of “Big Business.” Don’t forget to hit the subscribe button so you don’t miss out.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This video was originally published in August 2020.

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The rollout of the coronavirus vaccine could hurt the dairy and cheese industries due to an increase in dry ice demand

Coronavirus vaccine being put in freezer with dry ice
Vail Health Hospital pharmacy pharmacist Jessica Peterson, left, places two boxes of mock Covid-19 vaccines into the hospital’s ultra-cold freezer at the hospital on December 8, 2020 in Vail, Colorado. The mock vaccines are packaged in the thermal shipping containers that uses dry ice to maintain a temperature of between -60 to -86 degrees Celsius to keep the vaccines cold.

  • The Pfizer and Moderna coronavirus vaccines must both be kept in extremely cold conditions, necessitating the use of dry ice to deliver and store the vaccines.
  • Dry ice is also heavily used in the cheese-making industry where dairy cultures must be kept cold to avoid spoilage.
  • Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers announced on Wednesday that he would be appropriating up to $3.25 million in funding from the CARES Act to support the state’s nine ethanol plants. Carbon dioxide is a byproduct of the ethanol creation process and can be turned into dry ice.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

In a press conference on Tuesday, Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz announced that competition for dry ice may occur between companies shipping novel coronavirus vaccines and cheese and dairy manufacturers.

It could be “The great cheese/vaccine wars of 2021,” one person tweeted in response.

 

Dry ice, the colloquial term for frozen carbon dioxide, is commonly used in the food industry to keep ingredients at a low temperature for cross-country travel. A block of dry ice has a temperature of about -109.3 degrees Fahrenheit, or -78 degrees Celsius – much colder than the average freezer or a standard ice cube made of water.

Supplies of dry ice are now in high demand as the distribution of COVID-19 vaccines is set to begin around the United States. Pfizer, a pharmaceutical corporation, is expected to have the first coronavirus vaccine cleared by US regulators. Unlike most vaccines however, Pfizer’s is required to be shipped and stored at -70 degrees Celcius. 

Moderna, a biotech company, also produced a coronavirus vaccine and recently applied for emergency approval from the US Food and Drug Administration to begin vaccine distribution. Moderna’s vaccine is not required to be kept in as cold of an environment as Pfizer’s, but will still require copious amounts of dry ice to store and ship across the country.

On Wednesday morning, Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers announced his plan to use up to $3.25 million in funding from the CARES Act to support the state’s nine ethanol producers. Carbon dioxide is a byproduct of ethanol production and can later be processed into dry ice.

ASCO Carbon Dioxide Ltd, a Swiss dry ice manufacturing company providing pelletized dry ice to customers worldwide, told Insider in an email the company is “getting a lot of inquiries for dry ice production solutions by pharmaceutical firms.”

The company said it is also receiving inquiries from logistics companies that are expecting to deliver the COVID-19 vaccines.

“The challenge is that they need huge amounts of dry ice in a very short timeframe,” the company said.

As Minnesota’s governor alluded to on Tuesday, the increase in demand for dry ice could interrupt the cheese and dairy industries which also rely on dry ice.

According to a report from The Wall Street Journal, the Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association recently appealed to state and federal officials to reserve the necessary 350,000 pounds of dry ice every week to keep up with the demand. 

Rebekah Sweeney, the communications education and policy director for the Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association, explained to Insider that dry ice is essential to the cheese-making industry.

“Dairy cultures have to be kept in a super frozen state to be viable and culture manufacturers and their distributors use 350,000 pounds of dry ice per week to supply worldwide,” Sweeney said. She also mentioned the dairy industry uses dry ice to package and distribute its products around the world and is responsible for $620 billion of economic impact in the US alone.

But with proper action, which Sweeney says the governors of Minnesota and Wisconsin are currently taking, she’s not concerned about the industry.

“It’s amazing to hear that things seem to be taken seriously and it seems like people are rising up to meet that challenge,” Sweeney said.

Dan Geiger contributed reporting.

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