Learn how to make cheese and tortillas at Hacienda el Eden

Hacienda El Eden is a 33-hectare estate located in Las Cabras de Pese. We coordinated with Milton Noel to visit him and left early from my farm in Pedasi. It is better to stay in a hotel in Chitre since you can arrive in about forty minutes from the capital of the province of Herrera.

This farm has been passed down from generation to generation. Currently its run by the fourth generation and there is already a sixth generation. “We have it since my great grandparents, we are talking at the beginning of the last century. My grandmother’s parents bought it, “says Milton Noel.

At first the farm was known as Noah’s Ark, but the company was called Hacienda el Eden. Having two names confused visitors and they opted for hacienda since it is larger than a farm. In the past they rescued animals from all over the country. You can still see the cages where they kept parakeets and a tigrillo. An anaconda is one of the few remaining creatures of those times. In addition, they have horses that can be used by visitors.

Aimed at sustainability

When they took Hacienda El Eden it was the typical Azuero cattle farm, full of stubble, without trees. Twenty-three years ago they started with the reforestation that can be seen today. They planted ficus around, planted teak and neem, which is a natural pesticide.

An area of fruit trees includes various types of mangoes, noni, plums, jackfruit, peach, and other tropical fruit species that easily adapted. Those who visit will walk through the fruit plantations. They can pick fruits and then eat them. The path by which you walk was made by grazing sheep.

They allowed a mountain to regenerate naturally. This created a micro climate where the animals found a refuge. Birds arrived, howler monkeys that were no longer seen in the area and butterflies. Its production is friendly to the environment since they do not use agrochemicals.

Hacienda El Eden produces milk

The hacienda is a farm that does not produce meat, only milk. When we arrived we went to the galley where they taught us how to milk and breastfeed the calves. They pull the bottle hard so you must grab it with force.

All milk production is natural at Hacienda El Edén. Therefore it takes more time, usually cows produce in a year and a few months but here it takes them at least two years. The cattle originally was a mixture between Holstein and Zebu, typical of Azuero. They began to introduce the Jersey and Brown Swiss species that adapt better to the climate and are high producers of milk.

Organic production

Cows are free of diseases. If an animal gets sick it leaves the farm so that it does not contaminate the others. They sell them to traditional productions.

They are not grade A yet because they made a reconversion inside Hacienda El Eden. At the moment they sell their milk to Quesos Nilo. Although they have an almost grade A production (95% organic) it is bought it at the price of grade C milk for cheese making. They are in the process of obtaining the organic seal of the Ministry of Agricultural Development of Panama (MIDA). To achieve this they need to make some final adjustments in order to sell the milk directly.

Jersey are the cows that produce the most, with an average between 6 and 12 liters per cow. The farm will produce, milk and process the milk. They are focusing on cheese and fluid milk, which you see in the supermarket. In Panama the focus is on farms with massive industrialization but they are going to grow little by little. The milk will be sold in the district of Chitre from the producer directly to the consumer at a good price without a commercial chain. Today they sell only for orders between 40-80 liters per trip at $1 a liter.

Fertilizers and grazing systems

The waste from the galley is processed in ponds that are used to fertilize the grass. To make the galley they met the requirements demanded by INRENARE, the institution that existed before the Ministry of the Environment. They were forced to separate waste by its size. You will notice that it has no smell. When it is full they make compost or they introduce it directly to the grass to fertilize the soil. Nothing is wasted.

They use the Voisin rational grazing system that allows them to have an efficient handling of food. Before mid-December there was no grass and they were the typical cattle farm that needed to make silo to store food. Now they have pasture until March. Last year they had grass almost all year.

The 12 hectares for the cows are divided into sleeves. They move from sleeve to sleeve depending on how the grass is. If it is at its optimum resting point, it has the nutrients the cow needs. They have not used agro chemicals in more than 15 years. Therefore they have animals like beetles that are beneficial.

Hacienda El Eden has solar panels to be friendly with the environment. All the fences and the well pump have solar panels, so they do not spend anything on electricity. The cows take water from wells that are located in the center of each 4 sleeves where the water arrives in PBC tubes.

Learn how to make cheese and corn tortillas

I love cheese but I really had no idea of the process required to do it. In Hacienda El Eden they taught me how to do it. They pasteurize the milk, put a pill to make it set and wait 40 minutes for it to become solid. It is cut with a knife and then drained. The liquid is used to make ricotta cheese or cream, in addition to feed the animals including dogs.

Two types of cheeses are usually produced in Panama: ground and pressed. When the pressed is set, the serum is removed and put in a mold. Ground cheese is passed through a hand-grinding machine. They continue making the cheese in an artisanal way. At the end they are put in a mold and it is cooled to acheive consistency.

You will also make changa corn tortillas as they are called in the countryside of Panama. The process is similar, it is ground and then the tortilla is made to be roasted over firewood.

It was a delicious breakfast.

Lunch was a banquet that included sancocho and rice with chicken, fried plantains and salad. The ladies started cooking everything on the wood stove since we arrived.

Traditional ‘quincha’ house from Azuero

When the tourists arrive they talk to them about the history of the farm. For the construction of the ‘quincha’ house, the traditional ‘junta de embarre’ was made. You can see the photos of the whole process. The first thing that is done is the structure of the house, the skeleton, together with the roof. Then the community is invited to participate. The community of Las Cabras made the house from mud. People will enjoy and support neighbors to make their homes. The owners provide the food and liquor or chicha that is made from corn or sugarcane.

The house of Hacienda El Eden took 6 months to build. Quincha houses take between one and three weeks to dry, depending on size and climate. Covering the walls with mud, took a day. Its construction was in the year 1997 or 1998. These houses last a lifetime but you have to give them a lot of maintenance.

The tiles were from an uncle’s house and are over 80 years old. The house was going to be dismantled and they decided to use the parts. They rescued things so that visitors can see what country life was like. The furniture is from Candida, the grandmother’s sister and it is over 100 years old. The traditional bed support was made of leather and the furniture is made of mahogany.

The house is used today. It has a bathroom and laundry area.

Visitors can hang out under a huge terrace with hammocks and tables. The kitchen is also there, while the family rooms are by the dairy.

If you visit Hacienda El Eden you can learn about country life in Panama in a journey that takes approximately four hours.

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