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Gourmet Keso: "A Cheesy Story”

by Xilca Alvarez

It all started as a joke.

I was grappling with a premature midlife crisis, and attended an inspiring Gawad Kalinga (GK) Center for
Social Innovation forum in Ateneo de Manila University sometime in October 2010, in the desperate
hopes of finding some business students/professors to create a sustainable livelihood program for ex-
cons (probationers, to be more specific—a pet advocacy of mine[1]). Instead, I was instantly enthralled
by the idea of this mystical GK Enchanted Farm, which they were developing as a “village university and
silicon valley for social enterprises,” and a “social tourism site” where bed and breakfasts would rise,
and tourists would flock to be served the best produce and experience an inclusive and thriving GK
community; one that would also encourage reverse migration with the promise of sustainable livelihood
and would serve as a catalyst for countryside development. So curious was I that I found myself going to
this "enchanted” farm in Angat, Bulacan the very next day with some GK officers.

When I first got there, the infrastructure was no more than the 2 hectares of GK homes, an unfinished
multi-purpose hall, plans for making an industrial kitchen, some plants and crops, a piggery, acres of idle
land with wild grass or lots and lots of talahib, so you needed a lot of imagination to see what could rise
here and there.

I cheerfully recounted a visit to a winery with a goat dairy (much, I would imagine, like Napa Valley)
while on vacation in South Africa earlier that year. Recalling the quality of the goat cheeses, I "kid-
dingly" suggested that Gawad Kalinga emulate this as an agri-business for their beneficiaries. "We can
even call it GK," I teased, "short for Gawad Kambingan!" “And all the products can be called GK, too”,
I added, “like Goat Keso, Gatas ng Kambing, GourmetKaldereta!”

But what was meant as nothing more than a joke eventually returned to me as a serious proposition.

A month later, when I informally met the GK founder, Tony Meloto, he actually said, "that's a great idea.
And YOU should be the one to do this!" He then gave me a copy of his book, which I voraciously read,
and, being the impressionable person that I am, this time I was not only inspired, but also became rather
determined. That, and I'm almost certain I was hypnotized, which is how I came to be brainwashed into
buying the whole vision-mission.

Stunned to find myself suddenly faced with a daunting new task, I began the real work sometime in
February 2011, which included, among others, buying and literally transporting a few dairy goats to the
Enchanted Farm, all clad in diapers and who just wouldn't stop "mehhh-ing" (and, worse, pooping) from
Batangas to Bulacan (to do this, I borrowed a van whose owner had absolutely no clue I was
chauffeuring for goats; thankfully, to this day, my dad doesn't know how to browse through the Net).
These goats included 2 kids, an exceptionally adorable one we called Gwaping Kambing (nicknamed
“Ping”), and his less attractive and more ordinary (but still cute) brother, Generic Kambing (nicknamed

Having no previous experience in cheesemaking, I researched and taught myself relentlessly even as
critics in the dairy industry told me that it takes years to learn to do the craft right. Yet, much to my
own surprise (and after lots of trial and error, and I mean lots[2]), it wasn't long before we began
producing cheeses to the satisfaction of local gourmands. Encouraged by these results, we even
organized a network of subsistence karabao farmers in the surrounding community in Bulacan (hence,
the demise of the fanciful name Gawad Kambingan, as it evolved into Goats and Karabaos) to expand
our product line[3] and to create more social impact, and, together with the GK community in the
Enchanted Farm (which has since been developed tremendously from when I first visited, complete with
the necessary facilities for processing), began making products that they could proudly call their very
own gourmet keso.[4]

Five months later, a batch of French students who had volunteered to do humanitarian work and
intern for social enterprises at the Farm were just too pleasantly surprised to find out the GK
community makes cheese. And not just any cheese, but pretty darn good cheese. These French interns
were so thrilled that they graciously volunteered to be the salespeople for local cheese (pretty ironic
indeed) in Mercato Centrale. And the technological imbecile that I am will be forever grateful to these
crazy guys for the website they excitedly put up for Gourmet Keso, what they affectionately call "the
French-approved cheese".

Through hard work and the perseverance of the GK community, we've proven the doubters wrong and,
hopefully, will steadily win over customers and prove that the community and the Pinoy can make
ridiculously good products, probably even better than imported ones.

Truth be told, I really get a kick out of it whenever some passerby at Mercato, after tasting the cheese,
asks where it’s imported from or where it’s made, and I get to floor them when I say it's proudly
produced by Gawad Kalinga residents in Enchanted Farm, Angat, Bulacan.

The look of disbelief never fails. “Wow, really?!”


No kidding.

It may have started as a joke, but now we’re serious about making seriously good cheese.


What makes a bayani? For Bayani Brew’s Xilca Alvarez-Protacio, it took a

delicious idea, a little craziness, and a lot of heart.
Xilca Alvarez-Protacio was a public defender. As a lawyer, she fought for the rights of
her clients - probationers and parolees - to be given the opportunity to find work despite
their criminal records. After two years of service, it dawned on her that what they really
needed was a job, not a lawyer.

Thus Xilca turned her back on her law career to be a social entrepreneur who would
eventually establish sustainable livelihood projects like Cafe de Sug Sulu
Coffee and Gourmet Keso. In October 2012, she took on a full-time Marketing role
alongside co-founders Ron Dizon and Shanon Khadka and created the proudly Filipino
beverage sensation, Bayani Brew.
With a mission to “brew a generation of Filipinos crazy in love with our country,” the
Bayani Brew Crew didn’t imagine the hit their drink would become as it grew to stock
shelves of upscale groceries and over 50 outlets nationwide. “I love it when people think
we’re so ‘big-time’ [when] we’re actually just a fledging start-up social enterprise,” Xilca
laughs. “I love this idea because it challenges the status quo and mindset that you
can only get into business and succeed if you have lots of capital or come from a
wealthy business clan, when truth be told, anyone can do it as long as you’re sincere
in wanting to help and determined to do whatever it takes.”
For Xilca and the gang, doing whatever it takes meant giving back to partner farming
communities and moving towards agriculture-based prosperity for all. “We made it a
point to contribute to the monthly Agricool program of the Gawad Kalinga Enchanted
Farm to send farmers’ kids to school,” Xilca explains. “We currently have three Bayani
College scholars and we hope to multiply that. We hope that we would not only be able
to help finance their studies but that eventually, they realize they can grow with Bayani
Brew and take on managerial positions or become partner agri-business entrepreneurs
with us.”
“Our goal is pretty simple and shared by Human Nature: We can help make subsistence
farmers a thing of the past,” Xilca shares. “Bayani Brew and the Enchanted Farm aim
to make every subsistence farmer wealthy, every idle land productive, every child
healthy – all over the country.”

She was a public defender immediately before she became a social entrepreneur, the reason that she
chose to become a public defender was she naively thought that the way she could help the poor is
helping the oppressed and defending the rights but then she found out by experience as a public
defender, the thing that they really need is not a bunch of lawyers but livelihood. She says that 95% was
crimes driven by poverty.
It does not only envisions the eradication of poverty but also to promote and empower Filipinos on
making unique products proudly made by them or by Pinoys

What makes it a social enterprise?

 Gourmet keso proudly employs and partners with residents from Gawad Kalinga communities
(areas that are traditionally underprivileged and low income) in order to develop and build
sustainable livelihoods (It aims to develop and build sustainable livelihoods in line with the GK
mission and vision)
 It supports subsistence carabao farmers to earn stable revenue by producing and selling
higher-end carabao products, leading to long-term profitability and growth rather than instant
 The organization emerged out of Gawad Kalinga’s Enchanted Farm, which serves as a village
university, social tourism destination, and incubator of social enterprises. By supporting
Gourmet Keso, you also support GK- an organization committed to achieving its 2024 goal of
ending poverty by providing housing, creating sustainable livelihoods, and developing uniquely
Filipino social enterprises that will transform rural villages into strong and lasting communities
(It aims to achieve the 2024 goal of the GK organization of ending poverty by providing housing,
creating sustainable livelihoods, and developing uniquely Filipino social enterprises that will
transform rural villages into strong and lasting communities)

Social cause-

Entrepreneurship and local business development, poverty eradication, rural development

Who does it impact?

Rural communities, women, farmers, low income individuals

EMPOWERMENT for Xilca Alvarez

I think I can best describe empowerment by portraying what my community partner Maricel answered
in her survey, instead of putting traditional “I hope to have more food on the table”, she puts there “I
hope we get a bigger kitchen so that our business would become more successful.” She really feels like
she owns the business, she really has a stake in it. So that’s empowerment for me.

Empowerment is something that encourages another individual to be more engaged in the business, to
be more dedicated and passionate about what she’s doing.

How Social Entrepreneurship Can Transform the Philippines

So it's becoming very fashionable nowadays to launch a social enterprise

What is a social enterprise?

If you're just a company providing minimum-wage jobs that's not the social enterprise.

A social enterprise is something that's gonna actually bring people out of poverty and if you want to
genuinely have a social enterprise you have to keep that in mind from day one.

How are you going to bring people out of poverty?

So day one of human nature we already decided we would not pay minimum wage because we knew
that it was not enough. Social enterprise is the key to transforming the Philippines. If we want to build
the middle class in the Philippines, we're gonna have to move all the people who are poor today up to
the middle class.

How are we going to do it?

It's only in the workplace, you cannot make someone unpause out there, just in their community you
need to get them into a job that's well-paying that gives them good benefits that maximizes their skills
that trains them. That's willing not to give up on those people just because they were born poor but that
the employers will love them enough to train them, improve what they do, make those people world-
class and then you can finally have a company which is world class too.