The Puentespina’s cheese and chocolate are putting the country on the world map
“Davao loves all food that smells,” humors Olive Puentespina, most likely as a reference to the king of all fruits, the durian, and now the rich, tangy smell of her famous Malagos Cheese—a delicacy that has put Davao in the culinary map.
Far from the local allure of the pungent smelling fruit, however, Malagos Cheese brings to front Davao’s quest into becoming a major food destination. Connoisseurs consider her cheeses a gourmet treat. In fact, a Davao hotel offers them as centerpieces of their breakfast buffet—bits of it delicately put in pretty duck spoons and enjoyed as it is.
Malagos Cheese is a project of Olive, an agriculture degree graduate of UP Los Banos, and husband Roberto Puentespina, Jr., a veterinarian. The family raises their own cows and goats in Malagos Farm, and when their herd’s number multiplied, Olive thought of a way to make use of the excess goat milk. Cheese, with its longer shelf life, seemed like the practical choice.
“Initially, we went into bottling the milk and making goat’s milk soap. After learning there was not much demand for these products, the idea of making artisanal cheeses came to me and my background in dairy training and research was put into use,” she says.
A friend taught her how to make cheese for a day. After that, she created her own versions through trial and error. Olive also started traveling to the US to learn more about the art of making cheese. She would visit dairy farms and vineyards in Northern California, pairing different cheeses with wines. When she came back, Olive was ready to apply what she learned.
The results are high-quality cheeses that are now at par with some of the world’s best. Her goat’s milk cheeses are the most popular, particularly the flavored chevre (mango, pineapple, green pepper and pesto), as well as her goat’s milk fetas and the local kesong puti. Her blue goat cheese is also noteworthy, while the blue peppato and queso rustico from the cow’s milk line are among the highlights of her deli.
At present, a typical day for her involves making cheese and conducting cheese tasting for groups inside her country-style cheese room. The cheese-and-wine tasting comes with a whole spread complete with different breads and salad greens. Guests will be taught what wine is best to pair with the cheeses.
And just how much cheese can Malagos produce?
It’s the equivalent of almost two tons of milk! And the best part?
“Malagos Cheese is proudly Filipino. All our milk is sourced from our own farm. We really prioritize Filipinos to be our main customers.”
Just a few feet away from Olive’s cheese deli is a nook that offers another gastronomic delight—chocolates. Made from homegrown cacao from the Malagos Farm, their award-winning chocolates have the dark, rich taste that characterize world-class gourmet chocolates.
Malagos Chocolate is the brainchild of another family member, Rex Puentespina, who is head of sales and marketing of Malagos Agri-Ventures Corp. The company for the chocolate business was only formed in October of 2012 but the Puentespina family has always been in the agri business for the past three decades producing some of the best ornamental plans and cut flowers in the region.
The Puentespina matriarch, Charita, first noticed that there were cacao trees in a new farm that they have purchased nearby. Instead of cutting it down, she decided to rehabilitate it and the rest is history.
What makes them special is that their beans are all single-origin. The cacaos are grown at the foothills of Mount Talomo, where the land is teeming with fruit crops, perhaps also one of the reasons why their cacao has a unique fruity taste.
“Mindanao is really blessed with fertile land and favorable climate to grow cacao,” says Rex. “We grow everything in our 24-hectare cacao plantation and also buy from local cacao farmers. Add to that, we make sure that the correct process is observed, from fermentation, drying, sorting, and roasting which are all done in our farm.”
Today, Malagos Chocolate is a favorite ingredient of patisseries, as the chocolates give cakes and pastries a really rich flavor. It is also a perfect base for chocolate fondue and create really flavorful ice cream and chocolate drinks.
When the Puentespinas started making chocolates, their market was limited to Davao. Their weekends were spent in Davao malls handing out samples. Slowly, they joined expos and bazaars, finding their way in the tough culinary market. After chefs and connoisseurs began praising their chocolates, they decided to join international events showcasing Malagos Cholocate–
“a higher form of tablea which is created using science and precise machines.”
One of their varieties, the 100% unsweetened chocolate was awarded in London a silver prize in the Academy of Chocolate 2016 awards under the Drinking Chocolate Category. Malagos Chocolate has also won various awards in competitions in Singapore and Germany.
“We give back all the honor to our cacao farmers,” says Rex. “All these awards validate our resolve that we can compete with the world’s best chocolates.”
Though recognitions are welcome, Rex says that they are pursuing more researches in order to produce the best “tree to bar” chocolates and to “raise the Philippine flag” showing to an international audience that Filipinos “can make world-class chocolates.” In fact, Malagos chocolates have already penetrated international markets, such as Keton, a diet specialty store based in Japan which orders a thousand kilos of chocolates each month.
Rex adds that they also ship to high-end restaurants in Singapore and Thailand as pastry chefs specifically request for their products.
“Our Thailand exposure had gained interest among diners as chefs explain our chocolates’ distinct taste, the fruity flavor and the source of the cocoa,” Rex says.
Malagos chocolates are available in 85%, 72% and 65% dark chocolate. Chocolate nibs, the raw product before cocoa is fully transformed into chocolate bars, are also available for bakers to be used as toppings for cakes, for added texture.
Malagos has also opened a Chocolate Museum inside the Malagos Garden Resort where visitors will be guided on a “tree-to-bar” journey on how these world-class chocolates are made.
Just when you think Davao can only be known for exotic fruits and flavors, these two wonderful products of a farm’s ingenuity are sure to capture not only Pinoys’ palates—but also of that of the world!