Gorski Sir – a niche business producing goat cheese on the slopes of Fruska Gora
At the base of national park, Fruska Gora, in the scenic village of Jazak, Gorski Sir is producing goat cheese for the Serbian market. Goat cheese is a product which is, unfortunately, found on retail shelves with lesser frequency each year.
Ljiljana Pausic-Mojic, owner of Gorski Sir, www.gorskisir.rs, welcomed the Serbian Rural Finance Program (SRFP) on a sunny September morning to discuss the goat cheese making business and give a tour of the production facilities. Gorski Sir employs five persons, engaged with cheese production, sales and marketing, and deliveries.
The idea for Gorski Sir started in 2013 when Ljiljana, a lawyer by trade, looking for an idea to start a business, settled on getting into the goat cheese making business. The idea didn’t come quickly or easily, she searched globally before arriving on the profession.
In Serbia today, food production holds great potential. She notes, she wasn’t quite sure how she arrived at the idea of goats, it just dawned on her one day, which led to the researching the market for goat milk products and a niche market they could enter. In general, there are only a few large producers of goat milk and cheese, but are numerous agricultural households producing farm-level goat milk and cheese throughout Serbia. In the end, Ljiljana decided that their main industry would be a small firm, not household size, producing a high-quality cheese as a high-end, retail product.
The production building is 120 m2, meeting current needs, with plans to move to another location and double the space.
Cheese in the process of being weighed and packaged before delivered to restaurants, hotels and retail sector.
Packaged cheese ready for shipment
At the start, they began with one goat. They visited goat farms in the Fruska Gora region to learn from, not only from a book. In this manner, she learned about goat raising by herself. They built the first cheese facility of only six square meters from prefabricated panels soon after, equipping the building with the latest, stainless steel, cheese making equipment. In 2013, Gorski Sir offered their product to a restaurant in Novi Sad, which was thrilled with their effort, receiving their first order on the spot. Returning two days later, Ljiljana discovered the cheese was gone. The orders continued thereafter.
Profits earned went to buying more goats. By later 2013, they were up to 30 goats, by 2018, 120 goats. In 2017, Ljiljana grasped that feeding, taking care of and milking 120 goats a day while making cheese at the same time was inefficient and time consuming. In 2018 they sold the goats and now buy goat milk from four goat farms in the Jazak area.
After five years of raising and milking goats, Ljiljana realized she wouldn’t be able to widen the business with this business model. Released from the milking side of the business, she is now concentrated on production and sales.
Fruska Gora Region at a Glance
- Oldest national park in Serbia, bordering the Danube river
- A mountain 80 kms from east to west, 15 kms from north to south
- Fruska Gora slopes are perfectly suited for growing grapes, having done so for 1,700 years
- Emeror Marcus Aurelius Probus, 276-282, planted the first grape vines there
- On the wine list of the Titanic was wine from Fruska Gora
For ten months of the year goats produce milk, gradually drying down the last five months before being dry two months. On pasture, a goat will give 1.5 liters/day, in a barn setting, 2-3 liters/day. Goat milk and cheese is more healthy to drink and eat than cow’s milk, as goat milk fat cells are smaller and more easily digestible. Persons which are lactose intolerant can sometimes better digest goat products.
Two times Ljiljana has applied for Vojvodina province agricultural funds to widen the cheese making facilities, the first time accessing funds to build the first 6 square meters. Currently, the cheese making facility encompasses 120 square meters – and they’ve run out of space. Medium-term plans are to dismantle the prefabricated building and move to a level location where she would expand the facility by another 100 square meters. The facility currently is located on a hill in a residential neighborhood, making it difficult for milk deliveries. The expansion would allow for expanded production of hard cheese, which needs longer time curing on the shelf. For this, they need greater storage space to protect the cheese under controlled conditions.
Gorski Sir produces only 5-10 tons of cheese a year, positioning itself as a luxury product, although this amount is increasing each year. Gorski Sir could produce 20 tons a year, by Ljiljana’s logic, it’s better to produce a lesser amount of cheese and a high-end product. In 2017, Gorski Sir earned their first awards at the Novi Sad Agricultural Fair and abroad. In a world cheese competition in London, Ljiljana sent a cheese sample, competing against 3,500 contestants, only 800 received a medal, Gorski Sir earned a bronze. Gorski Sir regularly participates in the annual food fairs, Balkan Cheese Festival (Dom Omladine in Belgrade) and Taste of Vojvodina.
Long-term goat cheese curing on the rack.
Ljiljana serves a platter of various goat cheese flavors in soft, semi-hard, and hard versions.
Gorski Sir maintains a degustation room at the production premises for various events, visitors and tourists.
The Gorski Sir brand is legally protected. For Ljiljana, it’s important that the cheese is visibly seen through the package - what you see is what you get. All branding has been done in-house. Around 20 retail points (Mercator, Roda, major shopping centers, Kopaonik, Zlatibor, etc.) stock their goods.
Gorski Sir cheese comes in many textures and varieties, produced semi-hard and hard. Among cheese flavors, an interesting type is sremus, a nationally protected wild onion, requiring a license to pick and to use. Fruska Gora is one of the few locations in Serbia where it grows wild. Other cheese flavors: mint, pepper, paprika, chili, mixed spices, oak flavored (special type aged in oak), fruits, regular aged goat cheese, among others.
Goat Cheese Facts
- Fat molecules in goat milk is smaller than cow’s milk, allowing for easier digestion, especially for lactose intolerant persons.
- Higher proportion of medium-fatty acids in goat’s milk contributes to the characteristic tart flavor in goat cheese.
- Goat cheese has been made for thousands of years and was probably one of the earliest made dairy products.
COVID-19 has been an impacting factor on doing business this year, reducing sales by 50% compared to 2019. Gorski Sir regularly sells its products one-third to retail establishment, two-thirds restaurants/hotels. The pandemic has not allow for planning anything with certainty, being not able to travel to Germany or the EU to expand business activities.
In the medium-term, expanding the business will demand a significant amount of time and money, which only Ljiljana can do. This will take 2-3 years, entailing picking up the business and physically moving to a more fitting location. The worse variant of this plan would be to slow down the business, not expanding sales. For now, she’s satisfied with sales through restaurants, hotels and selected retail chains in Serbia considering the entire HoReCa environment has collapsed this year.
Unfortunately, the livestock fund is slowly declining in Serbia over the past 30 years, most notably in the goat sector. For five years, it’s foreseen almost no goat production in Serbia, except for the 2-3 larger producers. Ljiljana laments, in the Jazak area there were quite a few beef farms, none exist today, for them, it’s just not economical anymore.
In the longer term, what Ljiljana lacks is physical production and storage space, and investing knowledge. As a lawyer, she knows how to make a business plan and the legal/financial aspects to doing business. To get the business to the next level, Ljiljana is open to an investor bringing knowledge and capital, whether through an investment fund or similar.
Ljiljana has offers for cooperation, but for now she’s biding her time. She needs a consultant or expert to work with her expand. In recent times, she’s been offered to sell cheese in Russia, but discovered the rules and regulations are much stricter than exporting to the EU. Ljiljana does not see approaching the EU or tapping into the EU markets as much of a problem. Gorski Sir is ISO 22000 certified, mainly to access these foreign markets.