An example of how local startups in the agricultural sector can be successful at national level.
Three brothers from Rotbav village, Brasov County, have managed to start a sheep farming business. Coming from a family with a long-standing tradition in this respect, they spent most of their holidays around the sheepfold. All three of them went to university, but after graduation they returned to their native village to carry on the sheep farming tradition. Silviu, the youngest brother, is a veterinarian so he takes care of the animals’ health. George is an economist and his task is to advertise and sell their products while Ionut is a horse trainer. Everybody knows them in that area, as they employed dozens of people and became an example of successful business in agriculture. George Catean, the family’s economist told us more about their venture:
“Our current business is a continuation of what our family started a long time ago. When we completed the university studies we began to make more room for family activities and that was the moment when our business shaped up. We grew up in this environment and wanted to put into practice what we learned. In 1998, when our maternal grandfather died, we inherited 30 sheep, one cow and one horse. Our parents advised us to sell the animals, as we had no time to take care of them. We were against the idea and here we are, 20 years on, having increased the number of farm animals to over 100 milk cows, and over 2,500 sheep.”
The three brothers preserved the traditional methods of making dairy produce, which they learned from their grandparents. They only have local breeds, such as Turcana, Tigaie and Baltata Romaneasca and make nine types of cheese. They also use lamb to make smoked pastrami and sausages. If it is a good year, the yield totals as many as 12 kilos of sheep cheese and around 25 liters of milk per cow per day.
“It is an integrated type of farm. This means that we feed the animals on our land, and the meat and milk we get from them are turned into high-quality food. We make certified traditional cheese varieties. We also have a butcher’s shop and, for 20 years, all the meat that we have has been sold through this shop”.
Their products are appreciated locally, they are already selling in large supermarket chains and they collaborate with restaurants and shops selling traditional food. Currently they are making efforts to gain recognition at European level for the sheepskin cheese made in Barsa Land, which is a culinary specialty documented as early as 1421, a variety of cheese obtained from sheep raised on mountain pastures. Yet no less important are the distinctions granted in international fairs and contests. With details on that, here is George Căţean once again.
“Regarding promotion and branding, we try really hard to promote our own identity. Each year we stage all sorts of events and competitions we take part in. As for the brand-building, in 2012 we participated in a slow-food event in Bulgaria and walked home with an honorary mention in “the tastiest cheese in the Balkans” section. In 2013 we worked several times with partners from Poland where we had projects and events where we were invited to participate. In 2015 we received a star for our sheepskin cheese, granted to us by the International Taste and Quality Institute in Brussels, which is a sort of Michelin star for farm products. In 2017, we have two big competitions for the food area, especially as regards cheese, they are the Great Taste Award, which is Great Britain’s biggest food competition and International Cheese Awards – an international cheese competition. 90% of what we produce, we sell on the domestic market. Unfortunately, in our country we don’t have such competitions for us to take part in, and that’s exactly why we go to international contests. Since 2013 we have been working with a network of supermarkets, well-known countrywide. Initially, we started selling in Brasov, but gradually we expanded to other six supermarkets, country-wide. We have a special-designed place on shelves for our traditional products, local products, that is, where products are sold by our own and customers really appreciate them.”
They may not have inherited vast plots of land, yet the Catean brothers are always in search of farming areas, for purchase as well as for lease. As for investments, they never stop, the entire profit is reinvested. Speaking about that, here is George Catean once again.
“Our top priority is the purchase of farmland, we will have several international projects yet again, most of them with our Polish partners, we will launch a new product and we will also set up a farming center, so that everyone can come and learn more about animal husbandry. Those who are interested have the chance to see how cheese is made, they can see what wool actually means and how it can be put to good use. We will stage all sorts of workshops to promote sheep rearing.”
The three brothers also reenacted transhumance routes their ancestors used to take centuries ago, through a project launched in 2013. With 300 sheep, they took the traditional shepherds’ trail through the Carpathian Arch all the way up to Poland, thus demonstrating shepherds living along the Carpathian Mountains have a common origin. Right now they are working on another project, aimed at promoting animal husbandry in the Carpathian Mountains. (Translated by E. Enache and E. Nasta)