Before the idea to launch D’Artisan Cheese came about, property investors Dexter and Natalie spent their days on regular activities like running errands, keeping their family of four in good spirits, and Dexter’s hobby of making cheeses.
You see, Dexter was already keen on making his own yoghurt a few years prior to that. The transition to create cheese from scratch was somewhat born out of natural curiosity.
That was around November 2019. When the pandemic hit and left everyone stuck at home a few months after, Dexter and Natalie were left incapacitated.
The MCOs meant they could not actively continue their now-13-year-old venture in property investments. Not to mention the stress and general uneasiness of the global situation.
So Dexter and Natalie decided to launch D’Artisan Cheese as a way to relax in the midst of everything.
Sweet dreams are made of cheese
Speaking candidly, Dexter said, “Making cheese was, and is still quite therapeutic for me. You need to have a calm mind when doing each step of the process, especially the cutting of the curds and stirring it ever so gently.”
While property investment is considered a high-risk venture with high rewards, it’s not something he exactly looks forward to on a daily basis.
“Making and eating cheese is fun. It’s a passion business for me, and it’s exciting. Exploring new flavours, seeing how nature makes magic in giving each cheese different flavour nuances, even though it is from the same source of milk.”
The business started out with Natalie’s idea of barter-trading with other families in their neighbourhood. In return for their homemade cheese, they’d receive items like sourdough bread, fruits, and herbs.
And positive feedback that gave them the confidence to start selling seriously.
It ain’t easy being cheesy
As new faces in the entrepreneurial scene in Malaysia, Dexter and Natalie started out by doing market research. There weren’t many fromageries locally at the time, and the one notable brand (Milky Whey Cheese) had stopped operating in 2021.
So the couple was left with only online resources, where Natalie spent countless hours looking into the marketing, packaging, and other business aspects. This left Dexter the opportunity to focus on cheesemaking.
In his own words, “I was in charge of cheesemaking, and she was in charge of literally everything else.”
“We were making quite a few guesses in the dark,” Dexter confessed. “And without being business-savvy, we learnt a lot of things the hard way, like unintentionally underpricing our products.”
This turned out to be a costly and painful mistake when they moved the business out of home and into a physical store. The extra overheads on top of undercharging customers meant they were making losses at every sale.
Fortunately, they eventually realised the problem and slowly recovered after rectifying the blunder.
As for the market reception for artisan cheese in Malaysia, the pair were happy to share that there is good demand.
The couple initially figured that their clientele would be mostly expats, but were pleasantly surprised to find a 50-50 ratio of locals and foreigners. They’ve also since grown to serve beyond individual customers.
“Along the way, more businesses like 5-star hotels, restaurants, organic shops, and cafes started taking our cheeses.”
Wheels upon wheels of cheese
If you’re like me and aren’t sure about the difference between artisan cheese and processed cheese, here’s a simple breakdown of the two:
Artisan cheese is specialty cheese that is produced primarily by hand in small batches. It’s typically made with age-old cheesemaking traditions in mind and avoids the use of machines as much as possible.
On the other hand, processed cheese is made by combining natural cheeses (AKA artisan cheese) with other ingredients like emulsifiers and food colourings. An example of this is American cheese.
At D’Artisan Cheese, Dexter explained that they only use ingredients that their young kids (ages seven and eight) can pronounce. This also means avoiding artificial additives and preservatives.
“We produce high quality dairy cheeses using raw, unpasteurised, local fresh milk from boutique farms [where] the animals are grass-fed.”
In terms of preference, the brand’s insights show that there are adventurous and conservative customers amongst both locals and expats.
“For the conservatives, they like the classic, non-fused flavours,” Dexter said. These customers typically opt for more traditional cheeses like mozzarella and burrata.
“But for the adventurous ones, they love exploring our Truly Malaysia Series, which we infuse with local ingredients such as nasi lemak, kerabu, rendang, and sambal belacan to name a few.”
They might sound like an odd combination, but it’s quite interesting to see the brand mix elements of the west and the east to create a harmonious treat.
The starting price of RM24 seems like a small price to pay for what sounds to be a novel gastronomic experience.
It’s not always a grate time
Giving full disclosure, Natalie was worried about D’Artisan Cheese’s prospects at first. But Dexter was more hopeful and dived in with an open mind. “I told her that if it didn’t take off, it’ll just mean that I would have a lot more cheese to eat!”
Fortunately, the demands for their artisan cheeses were high enough that they outgrew home production after a year. This was when the business moved to accommodate its increased production and ageing space needs.
For context, ageing space is a storage area to keep and age homemade cheese. The products have to be stored in a large chiller room and the humidity has to be optimal.
Dexter shared that the ideal temperature for ageing the brand’s cheese products is between 12°c to 17°c. The hotter it is, the faster the cheese will age and not necessarily in a good way.
“So electricity is a big cost to us as well,” he said.
But all in gouda time
Dexter also explained that the cost of milk locally is quite high compared to neighbouring countries. And milk is an integral component in making cheese.
“To put it into context, for every 100g of cheese, we would need to use 1.5L to 2L of milk. And each time we process around 150L to 200L of milk,” he said.
So the couple plans on building a better base of B2B clients as they’re generally more profitable. This also goes hand-in-hand with educating the public on artisan cheeses.
One way the brand does this is by hosting cheese appreciation workshops and cheese pairing sessions with wine, tuak, and tea. They’re also looking into potentially opening a cafe that offers a cheese-omakase experience.
“My BHAG (Big, Hairy, Audacious Goal) for the next five to ten years is to have my own dairy farm, [a] larger full-fledged production facility, along with a real cave to age my cheeses to truly capture the local terroir of Malaysia,” Dexter shared.
“And to export our cheeses to other countries. So technically speaking, the brand hasn’t really grown big yet. [It’s] just a little toddler taking baby steps and slowly growing up.”
- Learn more about D’Artisan Cheese here.
- Read other articles we’ve written about Malaysian startups here.
Featured Image Credit: D’Artisan Cheese