Yangyel Lhaden

Located in the heart of Batbalathang, Bumthang, is the Bumthang Swiss Cheese, the dzongkhag’s cherished business establishment. For five decades, this humble cheese factory has been crafting artisanal delights, including the renowned Gouda, Emmental, and soft cheeses that have won the hearts of locals and visitors alike.

Enter their welcoming home-cum-outlet, and you’ll feel the familial bond woven through their shared love for cheese making. Across generations, they’ve worked hand in hand, infusing each batch with care and expertise. As you explore the outlet, you’ll encounter not just cheese but also a curated array of local gems, each reflecting the essence of Bumthang valley and the nation.

Yet, the spotlight shines brightest on their Swiss cheese, lovingly crafted just steps away in the factory that’s been the family’s soul. Whether you’re a cheese aficionado craving the ideal slice of Emmental or a wanderer intrigued by Bumthang’s flavours, a trip to Bumthang Swiss Cheese offers more than just a culinary adventure—it’s a voyage into the cherished traditions of a humble family.

Bumthang Swiss Cheese was started in the 1980s through a partnership between Helvetas and the government

How did it all begin?

Yoezer Lhamo, the proprietor of Bumthang Swiss Cheese, recounts the origins of the enterprise. In the 1980s, the Swiss Cheese venture emerged from a collaboration between the government and Helvetas, coinciding with the inception of the Brown Swiss Cattle farm.

The Swiss cheese factory was created to process milk from Brown Swiss cattle into premium cheese products. Under the guidance of Swiss experts, locals, including Yoezer Lhamo’s husband, Sonam Dorji, learned the art of Swiss cheese making.

Sonam Dorji had the opportunity to go to the Netherlands for training to learn how to make cheese. When Bumthang Swiss Cheese was privatised in 1991, Sonam Dorji and his family took ownership. Since then, it has been a family business.

“Anyone can make local cheese and butter, but crafting Swiss cheese requires expertise,” Yoezer Lhamo explained. “Currently, we face no competition in the market for our Swiss cheese.”

Yoezer expressed gratitude for the invaluable knowledge they acquired in the art of crafting cheese, a skill intimately tied to their livelihoods.

However, their smooth business was disrupted by the sudden passing of Yoezer’s husband in 2013. Reflecting on this challenging period, Yoezer said: “We were thrown into turmoil. With young children to care for and my husband gone, the future seemed uncertain.”

Despite the adversity, Yoezer refused to succumb to despair. Determined to preserve their legacy, she began searching for former staff and experts, pleading with them to return and impart their knowledge to her sons.

Her perseverance bore fruit as her sons, despite having only completed high school, resolved to carry on the family business. Recognising the nobility of their cause, Yoezer said, “This establishment was founded with a purpose, and I will not allow it to wither away for anything in the world.”

Currently, the roles of family members in the business are as follows: Yoezer’s youngest son, Sonam Tshewang, handles cheese production; her eldest son is in charge of procuring milk, while her daughter-in-law manages the outlet. Yoezer oversees the entire establishment, and her family members receive a monthly allowance from her.

Bumthang Swiss Cheese isn’t just a family of cheese makers; their establishment has also provided livestock farmers in the community with a reliable and convenient market. Every morning, the family personally visits the farmers to pick up milk, ensuring freshness and fostering strong bonds within the community.

 “I remind my family members that this job is not burdensome; they don’t have to endure the elements or toil in the fields,” Yoezer emphasises. “Our duty is to carry on the tradition of cheese making; we are cheese makers.”

In recognition of Yoezer’s remarkable contributions, she was honoured with the Women Entrepreneur of the Year award in 2016.