Thursday, June 7, 2007


COTIJA/LOURDES, Michoacan-- We've been fortunate to see a lot of Mexico throughout the year, but one of the best parts of traveling so much is discovering all the regional fruits. The country is so diverse with mountainous, tropical, and desert regions that its fruit reflects that.

In the state of Michoacan, I was introduced to guamuchiles. This fruit tastes similar to the fig, but comes in a little pod of three or four. People buy it on the streets of Cotija by the pound and chow down the addictive little guys while hanging out in the town's central plaza.

They help whiten your teeth, said the wife of a Cotija public official. We found the couple sitting on a bench in front of the town's church, chomping on a bag full of them. Be careful, though, she warned, they will also make you fart. I got to see the guamuchile trees when we visited ranches in the mountainous town of Lourdes. I snapped a shot of Javier, a local rancher and cheesemaker, shaking the guamuchile tree in hopes of giving us a taste.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

No Place Like Home

LOURDES, Michoacan---The crazy road up the mountains led to several humble homes and ranches. One of the houses belonged to Javier. Javier and his family have dedicated their life to making the famed Cotija cheese, which last year won an international award in Italy.

While we were fascinated to see how and where the world's best cheese came from, but Javier found it amusing that we were so interested in their lives. People have been living humbly and on that mountain for more than 400 years. To Javier, this was just a way of life.

Javier is 47-years-old, but looks much younger. In fact, he has a slight resemblance to one of my cousins. I think this made me more drawn to him and his family. Javier's home does not have running water or electricity, but that's where he feels at home. He spends most of his day outside, tending to his many chores.

Whenever I go to the city, he said, I feel like my heart is suffocating.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

The road that leads to cheese

LOURDES, Michoacan-- Last year during an international food festival in Italy, a Mexican cheese rose far above the rest. It's called queso Cotija. This cheese beat out all the Italian gourmet cheeses and took first place. For the small town of Cotija and the humble cheese producers surrounding the small town of Cotija, this marked the beginning of what could be a better life for their families. We wanted to find out more about the people who dedicate their life to making the cheese, where they live and what the product means to them. What we found was a story of sacrifice, struggle and hope.

The cheesemakers live in the outskirts of the town of Cotija--way up in the mountains. The roads were in bad condition, and our compact rental car, we were told, would not make the drive. So two adventureous policemen drove us to the mountains in their pickup truck. We've had to travel on some crazy roads in our travels from Nicaragua to Africa. But this was definitely the craziest.

We trekked up the dirt road for more than an hour winding up the mountain, going higher and higher. From my window, I could see how a few inches to the left could be a scary drop several stories high. Our ears popped and my weak stomach even felt a little nauseous from all the twists, turns, and bumps. But our reward came as we drove further to the top. A breathtaking view of the mountains and foliage amazed me. It seemed appropriate that mother nature helped produce the best cheese in the world at this location.