Unveiling the cheesy secrets of Santa Cruz, Turrialba.

By Silvanna Pacheco, May 6th, 2024

Nestled amidst the verdant pastures of Cartago Province lies the charming town of Santa Cruz,  just 54 kilometers away from San Jose. Santa Cruz is not your usual tourist destination which makes it a more interesting and unique place to visit. It is a rural town with beautiful views and a rich history, but most importantly, an award-winning cheese production scene.

Santa Cruz, Turrialba.

Santa Cruz, Turrialba love affair with cheese began in the 1870’s when a Spanish family headed by Lucas Vargas came from La Mancha, Spain and settled in the region to start producing cheese with the recipes they brought from their homeland. 

Volcan Turrialba.

Fast forward to 1930, Florentino Castro, an important Costa Rican coffee producer, acquired the Hacienda El Volcán. This was the first time in the country when cheese, butter and sour cream were produced and packaged with labels for further distribution throughout the country. In the 1950’s, the cheese was exported for the first time to Chile and England, along with coffee.

Source: Le Chaudron.

Santa Cruz’s cheese makers are passionate about their craft. Take Rolando Pacheco, also known as “El Quesero Loco”. This innovator has never been afraid to experiment, incorporating unique ingredients like rosemary, volcanic ash, cumin and peppers into his cheeses. A pioneer in local cheese making, he was the creator of the famous “ Feria del Queso” which supported fellow cheese makers in the region and which takes place every July in Santa Cruz. The grandson of Don Flor (Florentino Castro), Rolando continues with the family legacy.

Feria del Queso Santa Cruz

Le Chaudron, another small cheese maker, offers a great array of beautifully packaged cheeses. The mastermind behind Le Chaudron, Maritza Solano, brings international flair to Costa Rican cheese. After studying in Switzerland and France she developed a variety of options, including goat cheeses, lactose-free options, herb and fruit-infused cheeses, bries, and camemberts. 

Source: Le Chaudron website.

Santa Cruz’s cheese makers are constantly pushing boundaries. After six years of dedicated effort, cheese producers in Santa Cruz have finally secured a coveted Designation of Origin (DO) for their time-honored product – “Queso Turrialba.” This prestigious recognition signifies the unique character and deep ties between the cheese’s flavor profile and the specific geographical conditions of the Turrialba region.

Photo: La Nacion 2011. Rolando Pacheco pioneer in cheese making.

Turrialba cheese is known for its soft, white texture and subtle flavor. And unlike many cheeses today, Turrialba cheese stays true to its roots. The cheese makers have modernized their facilities and equipment, but the core process remains firmly rooted in tradition. This dedication to time-honored methods ensures that each bite captures the unique essence of the region.

Photo: Noe Alfaro

Embark on a delicious adventure to Santa Cruz. Besides tasting delicious cheese and enjoying the beautiful scenery and local culture, you can also visit the Turrialba Volcano National Park reaching 3340 meters and providing a breathtaking backdrop to lush pastures and vibrant forests. You also visit the Guayabo National Monument, one of the largest and most important archeological finds in Costa Rica.