Just five years ago, Dutchman Marc de Ruiter watched dairy farmers in rural Shanxi province dump their milk on the streets. Back in 2003, the commodity suffered from market saturation, underdeveloped transportation and weak demand nationwide. In Yangqu, one of Shanxi's poorest counties, milk had become so worthless dairy farmers were literally pouring their primary source of income down the drain.
"That's when I started making cheese," says de Ruiter, who has trained local farmers on methods of sustainable agricultural development since 2000.
The fair trade advocate went on to found Yellow Valley Farmhouse Cheese, the country's only producer of Made-in-China Gouda and certified artisanal, all-natural cheese.
"I want to prove that one can, from the start run a company that aims to be natural and artisanal - and have a major social impact in the community where it is located," he says.
"It is my view that if we share some of what we gain with those less fortunate, we will have less poverty, fewer social problems and fewer conflicts."
He admits he had his own reasons, too.
"I also just really wanted some good cheese."
Currently, the venture, which was registered last November, retails most of its products in China's major metropolises. Throngs of expats in the cities are hungry for Gouda. And while most Chinese aren't exactly crackers for cheese, de Ruiter believes their appetite for the foreign foodstuff is growing.
Yellow Valley currently sells about 800 kg of cheese a month, but de Ruiter says its monthly capacity, which is expected to double in August, is five tons.