(CNN) – Once the fog clears over the mountainous hills, all you can see is green in Dalat, a mountainous region in the central highlands of southern Vietnam.
The country’s main agricultural producer, it is a popular vacation destination for Vietnamese and international tourists.
But Dalat is also gaining fame for a rather unexpected reason: It is the source of some of the best cheeses produced in Asia, such as creamy mozzarella, burrata, and camembert.
Le Petit Paris
In the early 1900s, Dalat was a cool summer respite for the French during their occupation of Vietnam. So popular that he got the nickname “Le Petit Paris”.
The region’s French influence can still be felt in its art-deco colonial architecture, paved boulevards, and above all, its food.
From baguettes to pate, the French imported and introduced numerous culinary ingredients during this time, including cheese.
Here, a large part of Vietnam cheese is manufactured and sold to hotels, restaurants and dairy stores in the region.
The high altitude and cooler climate of the area make it a privileged environment for dairy cows to thrive and produce high quality milk.
Initially, the Don Duong cheese factory started using less than 50 liters of milk per day. Today, 30 workers use 5,000 liters per day to make 13 different types of cheese, from ricotta to bocconcini. All its cheese is 100% natural, without additives.
As for milk, its supply comes from various farmers and producers such as Dalat Milk Farm. But, in an effort to further improve the quality and consistency of milk, Pizza 4P is now looking to build its own dairy farm.
From farm to table in 24 hours.
Pizza 4P’s produces high-quality mozzarella on its Dalat cheese farm.
Courteey Pizza 4P’s
Within 24 hours of making the cheese, it is delivered to Pizza 4P restaurants in Saigon, Hanoi, Nha Trang and Danang.
One of its most notable menu items is its camembert.
“Our camembert cheese was developed in collaboration with a craftsman who was trained in France,” says Keinosuke Konuki, manager of the Pizza 4P cheese factory in Dalat.
But Pizza 4P’s most popular cheeses are its creamy burrata and mozzarella, generously sprinkled on all of their pizzas and generously opened to reveal a creamy center. Every day, the farm hand makes the staggering 1,500 to 2,000 pieces of burrata and 2,000 to 3,000 balls of mozzarella.
Although the area has strong French ties, Pizza 4P’s makes it clear that they are not imitating the techniques used in Italy and France.
“Despite the French influence, of course, we have developed cheese in our own way,” says Konuki.
“We make cheese in Vietnam and we cannot get information easily, like in Europe. All we can do is trial and error. It takes time and effort.”
Raising Vietnamese cuisine
Sake is more than just a drink. See what happens when one of the best chefs in Vietnam gets creative and uses this rice wine in his dishes.
“There is not much history of cheese making in Dalat until recently,” says Franklin. “It appears that the French were content to import cheese from their home country, and the Vietnamese did not have a strong affinity for cheese, with the exception of ‘The Laughing Cow’ cheese.”
Laughing Cow, a global brand of cheese, is commonly used in banh mi across the country, as well as street-style rice paper pizzas, said to have been created in Dalat.
Franklin, known for his high street food fusion, makes his own version with mozzarella and scamorza cheese from the Don Duong cheese factory and many fresh herbs from the region.
Franklin is currently creating the Dalat Room, a private dining room in his restaurant. The herringbone hardwood floors, green accents, and living plants in the room are meant to channel the lush green forests of the area.
Their “Dalat Tasting Menu” will include Dalat cheese, artichokes, and strawberries “grown during the French colonial era.”