April 14, 2009
On 2 acres in Maipu,Monica Da Fre created Qualtaye–a small artesanal cheese and preserves workshop just a short distance from the bustle of downtown Mendoza, where Da Fre lives with her family.
But her heart is in Maipu, on the 2 acre farm used by her family as a weekend getaway spot. Though it fell into disrepair after her father's death, Da Fre couldn't bear the thought of selling, so decided instead to create a workshop there. It took her a year to clear out the waist-high weeds choking the garden and replant.
Now, the garden flourishes under the heat of the Mendoza sun, an oasis of tomatoes and herbs, plus an orchard of plum, almond, pear, cherry, olive, quince and fig trees, all of which are used in her preserves. Her herb garden is full of oregano, rosemary, and other herbs used in preserves and cheeses.
The name Qualtaye means 'mountain range' in Quechua, the indigenous language historically spoken in the Mendoza area. And as the indigenous people of this region had a great respect for the land that provided so much, so does Monica Da Fre–any by-products of the production process are either composted or fed to local pigs. She gardens, and cooks, organically, using no preservatives or colorants in her products. Even her cows and sheep's milk cheeses are painted with olive oil for preservation before packaging, rather than coated in wax–Da Fre prefers that everything be natural and edible if possible.
Products made and canned by hand by Monica Da Fre in her cottage in Maipu include Fig Jam, Strawberry Jelly, Quince Paste, Apricot Jelly, Preserved White Figs, Peaches, Figs with Walnuts or Almonds, Apple Compote, Raisins, Whole Olives, Olive Tapenade, Olive Oil, Sun Dried Tomatoes, and several types of cheeses which she makes by hand in a small tiled cheese room.
Da Fre had always dreamed of starting a small business making artesenal products, since she already knew how to make them at home. Now, she does this, and also offers tours of her small workshop, plus classes in cheese making or preserves-making to interested parties. Amazing to think that all of this flourishes just a short scenic drive from a city. Walking around her farm in the Mendoza summer, there is a feeling of peace in one's heart, and a rumbling in the belly–to be filled with cheese, preserves, and home cured olives.
Address: Videla Aranda at the corner of Saramiento, Crus de Pidra, Maipu (Mendoza)
Phone: (0261) 420 4904
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