OZB People: 10 Questions for Jonas Mertens, maker of fine goats cheese

1. Please tell us about who you are and what you do. 

I am a Belgian, been around in Romania since 2005, but permanently living here and farming since 2015. I have a small goat farm in the Ghimes Valley in Harghita. I currently work with 20 goats and make cheese. 

2. Share your backstory with us. How did your business or organisation come about and what was it that switched you on to this area in the first place? 

I worked 12 years as an expat engineer for a big Belgian multinational in marine/off shore work. I have seen many countries, but I realized time and again that there is no place as lovely and healthy as the mountains in Romania. So when our daughter was on the way, I resigned and we moved to Ghimes. Finding work in rural Romania is not easy, so I started with a bit of hobby farming with 3 goats. Making cheese had already been a hobby for 10 years. And so gently the farm has grown to what it is now. Twenty goats and 50 litres of milk to work with daily. And we are growing. Every year I have much more cheese requests than I can produce. In the last years I have been looking for help in order to grow a bit bigger and be more profitable, but it is very difficult to find reliable workforce that want to do farm work.  

3. What do you think or hope the future has in store for you and your business? Where do you see yourself or your organisation five years from now? 

The current work load has been taking its toll in my private live. I need to reorganize the farm, it is currently too much work alone. Either I find help to work on the farm, or the farm will close down. Another option I am looking into is moving to a different area in Romania and start a new farm or produce dairy in a cooperative structure. I see myself in 5 years still having a big passion for farming in rural Romania, but right now this next year I need to make time for my private live and time for myself. 

4. How has lockdown been for you and for your business and what have you done that has helped you personally and professionally? 

My best clients were restaurants that closed down, and also the tourists and farm visitors but they didn’t come like they have in other years. So I started home delivery in and around Miercurea Ciuc, it became a great success in a short time. That, together with tourism and restaurants picking up again, means that I simply cannot produce enough cheese at the moment. 

5. What’s your take on Bucharest and Romania. What are the highs and the lows in your opinion? 

A beautiful country with so much potential, and in particular for small scale food production and tourism. But it’s still a huge bureaucratic battle to do business here. 

6. What is your must do/must visit/favorite thing to do or show off to visitors here in Bucharest and Romania at large? 

The mountains and nature, the biodiversity, the wild life, the rivers you can drink from, the berries, mushrooms, herbs and so much more nature has to offer here. 

7. What is your number 1 recommendation now for a book/film/series/app/ or gadget? 

A Brielmaier hay cutting machine (very expensive gadget, but they are so lovely on the steep slopes).

8. If you could eat in any restaurant in all of Romania and have dinner with anyone in the world (not a husband/wife/relative) which restaurant would that be and with which person? 

15A in Bucharest (for the cozy atmosphere and good memories), with Arabella McIntyre-Brown (to tell her about a great illustrator for her books who teaches in the art school across from 15A)

9. Sum up your business in one sentence, what it is and why should people engage with it. 

Small scale agroecologic goat dairy farm in the Carpathian Mountains, open for visits, holidays and yummy cheese. 

10. Describe your Romania in one word. 


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