Fritz Maurer came to Bhutan from Switzerland more than 40 years ago to make cheese.

"But there was one big problem," says Fritz, "There was no milk."

There's milk now. Fritz is standing in front of a floor-to-ceiling rack full of orange rounds of Emmental cheese. In the next door cold-store, shelves of gouda and gruyere are maturing.

Fritz, a newly qualified cheesemaker back then, had come to Bhutan after answering an advertisement in a Swiss newspaper for a cheese-maker for the Himalayan kingdom.


When he discovered there was no surplus milk he resolved to use his return ticket and fly home. He thinks the ticket is still somewhere in his house in the Bumthang district of Central Bhutan.

It was the brother of the third King of Bhutan who wanted to see cheesemaking established here and he managed to persuade Fritz to stay.

"Well if there's no milk, stay and help us until there is some."

The introduction of Swiss brown cows and the concept of winter fodder meant farmers did begin to produce a surplus of milk, much of which found its way to two cheese factories that had been set up by Fritz as part of a Swiss-Bhutanese joint project. Today, both factories are owned and run by qualified Bhutanese cheesemakers.

Fritz is still closely involved, however, especially in Bumthang.

Wearing his Bhutanese go (the men's traditional knee-length gown), his trademark rather moth-eaten beanie and gumboots he seems to be everywhere around the Swiss farm complex - in the apple juice factory he helped set up; in the brewery that produces the first local Bhutanese brew called Red Panda; or supervising honey processing (Fritz introduced beekeeping to Bhutan).

Married to a Bhutanese wife and with six children, Fritz has the rare honour of Bhutanese citizenship. But there's a Kiwi connection too - one of his daughters spent some time studying at a South Canterbury high school.

He loves a challenge - and there are plenty of them. When farmers first started to walk to his factory with their surplus milk sloshing in the bottom of a large milk churn it would have nearly turned to butter by the time they arrived.


Now the factory issues farmers with a range of different sized plastic containers that can be filled to the brim, thus keeping the milk in liquid form.

And what do to with rodents and insects that invaded the various food processing factories in this Buddhist country where all animal life is revered and killing even a fly is frowned upon.

"We arrange the occasional accident" he says with a twinkle in his eye.