Philippe Nyssen, a Belgian Cheesemaker now living in working in Russia joins the program.
Philippe says he was surprised to see how dramatic the results of the sanctions when they were imposed, were: "Stores were totally empty of cheese; at the time there was absolutely no local production of what we understand to be cheese. When we asked around, people said that it is normal because the milk in Russia is bad. We started to find out about the quality of the milk and discovered that there is really a potential, that it is perfectly possible to create good milk here if you improve the quality of the feed… "If you give the cows fresh feed with good additives, they will produce less milk but the milk will be better, rather than use what is called silo feed which is grass that has been kept under a plastic cover and which has already lost a lot of its nutrients…"
There are all sorts of horror stories floating around about how hard it is to open up a business in Russia, but Philippe doesn't think that is the case: "You can open a business and be up and running in two weeks. If you look back 25 years, this country did not have an open economy and of course, there was a hell of a lot of difficulties. Anyone can come over to Russia, start a business and open up shop. I think the main issue is the same as in every other business. If you go to another country you have to respect the local laws, the local culture, and the habits of the people."
Philippe provides a couple of examples of cultural differences. "It is extremely important to observe birthdays. If you forget someone's birthday, that is really bad and shows a real lack of basic respect. So, you have to be careful with these little things. In Europe, this is not so important, but here it is extremely important. Another thing is, depending on the age of the employees, people of my age — I'm 52 — who have grown up during communism, and older, they have a certain mentality. The younger people, who are let's say in their twenties, they have another mindset. You can see that in their work and in one thing in particular — professional responsibility. It is difficult to find people who will take the initiative, upon whom you can really rely on, and these are the people who are now being promoted…"
Philippe sees the Russian economy continues to pick up. "…It's amazing how this economy keeps on coming back up. It's like a spring. You can try and put it down as much as you like, but they will come back again and again and again. It is rather incredible and rather impressive. So the situation today looks much better than it was last year and far better than three years ago. Of course, we see that also on the international and political level… the image that the west has of Russia is not the one that I have. The economy here is definitely on the way up. As far as our personal prospects go, my French partner and I look at it quite positively. But we have to accept the reality that cheese has never been part of the Russian food culture, it took them about 20 years to learn what wine is, so we still have a very long way to go…"
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