This cheese, whose origin is Denmark, has been adapted to the conditions of Uruguay. It is made with cow’s milk and belongs to the “washed-rind” cheeses because during its manufacturing process after cutting the curd, it is “washed” so part of the whey is removed and hot water (70 °C) is added. A semi-cooked mass is obtained and after partial removal of whey, pre-pressed under whey, molded, pressed, salted and ripened. This cheese is soft and semi firm. It has small eyes, well dispersed or no eyes. It has a yellowish white color and soft flavor, typical of the variety (Borbonet et al. 2010).
Colonia cheese is a typical Uruguayan cheese, made according to the quality criteria and to the Swiss cheese tradition of immigrants residing in the Department of Colonia. It is a cheese made from raw, thermistor pasteurized cow’s milk, with 2.6 to 2.8% fat, generally cylindrical in shape, with slightly convex sides, weighing 7 to 10 kg, clean, flexible smooth rind, and a straw yellow smell. The cheese is soft, semi firm with low acidity. Its texture is opened with spherical and bright eyes of 6-8 mm in diameter, presents 36% to 46% of humidity, 45-55% fat in dry matter, and ripening time is 20 to 30 days. It has natural external characteristics or plasticized red rind (Borbonet et al. 2010). Its process has not yet presented any origin denomination and in general the starter bacteria are Lactococcus lactis, Lactococcus lactis subsp. diacetylactis, Leuconostoc subsp. mesenteroides and Propionibacterium (responsible for the formation of eyes) (Crosa et al. 2009).
At present, in the Group of 30 includes the fourth generation of artisan cheese makers, descendants of European immigrants who founded the Swiss Colony. Many of them have inherited the art from their great-grandparents and grandparents who had arrived in the nineteenth century in Colonia and the surrounding area, becoming the quintessential cheese zone. In this area the typical cheese “Colonia” was generated, which remains as the best-known product of the region. Although Parmesan, Danbo, Cuartirolo and Parrillero cheeses are also produced, Colonia cheese is a product of the particular conditions which artisan Swiss cheese makers found in the country. The existing pastures and animals resulted in milk with different characteristics, so they had to adapt their procedure of cheese making; therefore, the flavour and texture properties were different, and the Colonia cheese became a typical product of Uruguay (Bielli 2009).
In general, the technology involved in the production of milk has long been characterized as being inferior for delivering producers to industrial plants, although there are those who are group leaders. Settlement of the family on the farm and the tradition and experience of the players involved in the system stands out. Because of their small size, most of the producers present weaknesses in infrastructure and technology, which affects production and health aspects, and impacts negatively in the access to credit and training (PACPYMES 2007).
Informal aspects of production and marketing and lack of traceability are some examples in which some producers must work to achieve quality cheeses in order to conquer foreign markets. However, there are producers called leaders who have a production capacity in line with international requirements for quality and safety, and can have a significant volume for exportation, in fact, they are exporting the artisanal cheese directly. These are the producers who have led the generations of various associations of producers of artisan cheese, and often a producer belongs to more than one organization. Their obstacle was the difficulty in marketing their products and the low margin obtained individually. These producers created an organization called “Union de Queseros Artesanales” that included: Producers, buyers and input suppliers (PACPYMES 2007).
At the same time, there is a major boost in the industry by the Government; the Interior Development Fund participated in projects with departmental governments (Colonia, San Jose, Flores, Soriano) and also with non-state public entities (Technological Laboratory of Uruguay (LATU), Agricultural Plan Institute, the Program for the Support to the Competitiveness and Export Promotion (PACPYMES) and International Institutions. In this network public policy institutions also have an influence that regulates and defines the framework for the sector. LATU began its support in 1990 advising producers of AC to improve their facilities in line with the international standards of quality and safety.
The MGAP (Ministry of Livestock, Agriculture and Fisheries) took over some of the functions from LATU regarding the certification of health and quality of exportation type cheeses. This is more consistent with the demands of governments in the international markets that require Ministries to assume the roles of Official Health Authority.
The Colonia Suiza Dairy School is unique in the country, it depends on the public education and it’s located in the cheese cluster region, and trains dairy technicians to work in the dairy sector. COLAVECO (Cooperative Veterinary Laboratory of Colonia) organization provides clinical services in animals, milk, cheese, water and others. It is a major player in the extension activities of animal production, linked to the quality assurance processes and products (PACPYMES 2007).