Excursions through Romania can take many unique forms, you just have to look beneath the surface. Care2Travel provides a wide variety of ethical tourism opportunities, meaning that the tours they offer benefit the community and the local people within it. Us volunteers living in Csikszereda still have a decent amount of time to explore our surroundings when we are not working, so we thought to take advantage of what Care2Travel has to offer. This process was simple: Boti, a Care2Travel employee, came to our accommodation with an information pack containing various tour opportunities within the community and surrounding areas. He proceeded to explain to us all of the details of the tours that Care2Travel presents, but what caught our attention were the ethical tours. Boti talked us through what each tour entailed as well as the cost of each. With that being said, us volunteers decided on a morning of cheese making at Homoródalmási Kézműves Sajtok! The day went as follows:
Part 1. Our Arrival
Boti arrived at the volunteer accommodation promptly at 8:00 AM. The volunteers piled into the car and he drove us through the beautiful countryside. After about an hour, we arrived at our destination: a quaint family home amidst the outlying village of Homoródalmás. We were immediately welcomed in and offered tea and coffee by Flóra, one of the family members working at the business. The history of how the small family milk business evolved into the successful cheese-making business that it is today was explained to us by Sàndor while the cow milk was being collected. This was Homoródalmási Kézműves Sajtok.
Part 2. Making Cheese
After finishing our drinks, hairnets and white smocks were handed to us; we were ready to begin making cheese! We were led into the small workshop, which happened to be connected to the house itself and was not really much of a typical workshop at all. As we began, it felt more like making cheese at a relative’s house, with a very personal feel. Our “jobs” ranged from cutting cheese, weighing cheese, melting cheese, stirring cheese, packing cheese, and much more. All of this was done while Sàndor and Flóra explained what different types of cheeses were being made and the ingredients and techniques used to create them. We were allowed to be incredibly hands-on, making us feel like we were really part of the process. We were even allowed to try bits of cheese along the way!
Part 3. Exploring the Farms
Once we were done making the cheese, Boti and Sàndor brought the volunteers via car up into the mountains to their farm where a big barn housed the cows. We lucked out by having lovely weather, but regardless, the views were wonderful and seeing the cows gave us perspective into the first stages of the cheese-making process. We then went to see their pigs, which are fed the whey (the watery bits of milk) that remain after the cheese curds. The farms also contained a number of friendly dogs that were excited to see so many visitors – just another added bonus!
Part 4. Cheese Tasting
We were expecting a small cheese-tasting when we returned from the farms, but what we got exceeded our expectations! A table was set for us containing various cheeses, sausages, bread, butter, wine, and the traditional Hungarian brandy Pàlinka (all of which were home-made). We ended our five-hour trip at this wonderful family business and home eating plenty of food and talking with Sàndor and Flóra about their jobs and our time as volunteers in Romania. After happily stuffing ourselves full, we were able to purchase the cheese that we liked best to bring back to our accommodation. We were even pleasantly surprised to find that Sàndor and Flóra gave us the cheese that we had made ourselves earlier in the day!
Part 5. Reflection
As we left toting our cheese goodies, us volunteers agreed that our experience went beyond classic tourism in that it was incredibly authentic and genuine. Care2Travel made it possible for us to spend a day learning about the entire process of cheese making in a sustainable, ethical, and involved way! A lot goes into making cheese, more than I think most of us realized, and it was heartwarming to see this process exposed to us with the passion of a family who really cares about their product and its recipients. A cheese-lover or not, our time at Homoródalmási Kézműves Sajtok was definitely a day well spent!