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Thursday, 17 April 2014

Imsil Cheese Village, Imsil, Northern Jeolla: Do we say KIMCHI instead of CHEESE?

The cheese produced in Korea is called Imsil Cheese, following the county name of Imsil, Northern Jeolla. Imsil cheese is the unusual mission legacy of a Catholic priest from Belgium who took the Korean name of Ji Junghwan. He arrived in the farming village of Imsil, in the mid-1950s, when the economy was still shattered from the Korean War. He started a farmers’ milk cooperative. This cooperative eventually became the Imsil Cheese Factory, which exists today and produces high quality cheese and yogurt for the Korean market.

A pizza franchise using Imsil cheese has become a widespread business in South Korea since 2004, under the name of Imsil Cheese Pizza. Nearby livestock farms produce the dairy products required for the manufacture of the cheese.

A group of enterprising cheese manufacturers decided to branch out into making cheese pizza. In time, Ji Junghwan’s Imsil Cheese Pizza became one of the most popular brands, and today it can be found throughout Korea. Pictured on every box is the Belgian missionary priest, probably the only missionary in the world to have left a pizza chain as part of his legacy. 

Korea’s very first Cheese Village, in Imsil County, Northern Jeolla Province, offers visitors the opportunity to take part in cheese-making programs, as well as experience life in a countryside-farming village. The area is very popular with families with children, and now foreigners have started journeying to the Cheese Village to taste original Korean cheese.

The Imsil Cheese Village, located in 4 Cheese-maeul 1-gil, Geumseong-ri 610-1 beonji, Imsil-eup, Imsil County, Northern Jeolla, was the very first village in Korea to start making cheese back in 1966.  The village’s citizens personally manage a cheese-making experience program for guests. Experience programs are available daily all year long, excluding Mondays, but reservations are required, and you must be sure to call at least three days before visiting.  The village offers one-day programs for individuals, and two-day programs are available for groups of twenty or more.  Lunch and other optional experience programs are available depending on the time you visit.  The programs start at 10:10 am, 11:30 am and 1:30 pm and last between three and three and a half hours. 

In order to provide a more complete farming village experience, visitors may choose one or two optional experience programs (maximum of two) to accompany the basic program. Optional programs include feeding milk to calves or harvesting various seasonal vegetables. Fees for the optional experience programs are not included in the basic package prices, but are only 3,000-4,000won per program. (Grassland Sledding / Calf Milk-Feeding / Mill Experience / Goat milk Soap Making, and more)

Since the Imsil Cheese Village Experience Program begins early in the morning, it’s a good idea to leave Seoul the afternoon before, and take a tour around the Jeonju Hanok Village first. After spending a night at one of the Hanoks (traditional Korean houses) in the Hanok Village, you can then make the thirty to forty minute journey to the Imsil Cheese Village the next morning, and this way your trip will be more relaxing and enjoyable.