Understand Russia is opening a new chapter today – People of Russia. The first interview is with an entrepreneur Alexander Krupetskov, a former programmer, who opened a cheese sommelier store a month before European cheese was banned in Russia under the food embargo. Understand Russia decided to follow-up on Alexander’s story.
Understand Russia: Alexander, thank you so much for finding the time to speak with me.
Cheese Sommelier Alexander: My pleasure.
UR: I read about your story a year ago on one of the sites. You used all your savings of working as a programmer on opening a cheese sommelier store. Deciding to follow your passion and making such a big change was a very bold move. Unfortunately, the timing did not seem right – it was right before the food embargo. How did that impact your plans? Are you still in cheese business?
CSA: Food embargo was something completely unexpected indeed. I thought about possible risks in the new business, but could not imagine that cheese will become a banned product. However, I am very happy to report that I am still in cheese business and my business is doing well.
UR: I am very happy to hear that. Would you share with my readers the continuation of the story? How did you manage to keep your business afloat when your main product had officially become off-limits?
CSA: At first I thought – this is it. I will sell the cheese I had in stock to cover some of the expenses and then will close the shop. But then I researched the subject in more details and found out that Switzerland is not among the countries on the embargo list. That was great news and I focused on purchasing and selling Swiss cheese. However, I was sure that I cannot rely on that for two reasons. What if Switzerland would be added to the list? (that indeed had happen later) Also, Swiss cheese became very expensive – both because the suppliers raised prices and due to the exchange rate collapse. So, I started to look at the supply from other countries – Tunis, Morocco and of course, looked at what Russian farmers can offer.
UR: That is very interesting. Please tell me what you found. Is there Russian cheese that can compete with Swiss cheese?
CSA: We have found several Russian manufacturers, such as Levkadia, Koza Nostra, who produce very good cheese (Buche de chevre, goat cheese and Camembert). Of course the farmers industry is rather new and it will take time until they develop the process that will allow them to compete on all levels. And the main factor is not even the manufacturing process, but the quality of milk. Different breeds of cows, goats and sheep, different grass on the pastries – all that affects the taste of milk.
UR: What is the situation now – what percentage of cheese sold in your store is from Switzerland, Russia and other countries?
CSA: That changes all the time, but most products are imported. As we know, Switzerland was included in the embargo list. But the new opportunity opened – non-lactose cheese was allowed since Russia does not produce such cheese and people who have lactose intolerance cannot consume milk products which contain lactose. That is how Cheddar, Manchego and other varieties of imported cheese legally returned to the Russian market.
UR: Are the non-lactose cheeses as tasty as the ones, which contain lactose?
CSA: Most people do not know that the leading European cheese brands do not contain lactose. These are such brands as Grana Padano, Parmigiano Reggiano, even french Camembert and Roquefort and many others.
UR: How big is your shop?
CSA: The fist store we opened is very small. It was located at Miusskaya ploschad 9/11. Now we have moved to a Oktyabrskaya 9/1 (and we have a wine store there, wine and cheese go really well together). We also have a store at Kransnopresnenskaya naberezhnaya, 16/1? I managed to find an investor to open the second store and it is bigger and is located in a more high traffic area. We also have an online store.
UR: Good for you! Finding an investor to expand the business in such a difficult time is a great achievement! Who is your typical customer?
CSA: The most typical customer is a woman 30-40 years old, who travels a lot and has a taste for gourmet cheese. But we have so many other cheese aficionados visiting our stores. We even have regular customers, who work at the Swiss Embassy and we are very proud of that!
UR: What are your plans for the future? How do you plan to develop the business?
CSA: I have many ideas and we have already implemented some of them. We offer cheese tastings, conduct master classes, provide deliveries of cheese baskets and plates, sell fondue and raclette equipment, cheese knifes and plates for serving cheese. Cheese tastings and master classes are especially popular – our customers are interested in learning more about cheese. We will continue to develop new ideas and perfect the existing ones. And we look forward to the time, when food embargo will be lifted.
UR: Understand Russia wishes you a great success in business!!! And now it is time to look at the store and buy some cheese!
I greatly enjoyed my visit to the Cheese Sommelier shop. It is a very small store, but I probably spent 2 hours in it, listening to the stories about cheese, trying the cheese and selecting cheese for myself. I have chosen some Gruyere (my favorite Swiss Cheese, but I also was adventurous enough to try new varieties of cheese. Blue one is Saint Agure, it has port wine in it. The orange one is Mimolette, cheese that is coming from Lille, France. Strange looking crust and the color is the result of work of cheese mites! I loved that cheese and will come back for it! Especially since I did not have a chance to finish it – my cleaning lady was cleaning my fridge and both Saint Agure and Mimolette did not survive that intervention! Well, it does look strange, so I cannot blame her. But it DOES taste so good! Oh, and btw, next door to the Cheese Sommelier store is a tiny Vietnamese kitchen, run by two Russian guys! Best Vietnamese noodles I tried in Moscow so far! Maybe I should interview them next? Tell me please if learning more about different People of Moscow is something you would be interested to read in my blog?
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