Carlos Yescas ’00 has a job most people only dream about.
He’s a scholar of cheese, an expert in all things cheese, and a cheese advocate who fights to preserve traditional recipes and methods of cheesemaking that are being pushed out by big cheese operations.
Just this fall, Yescas, who lives in Newcastle upon Tyne, England, led a delegation of cheesemakers from the Global South on a tour across the U.K.’s cheese country, learning how British cheeses are manufactured, marketed, and sold in independent cheese shops and large-scale grocery chains.
The tour appropriately wrapped up in Newport, Wales, at the 2022 World Cheese Awards, where the judges—Yescas among them—trusted their discerning noses and refined palates to blind taste more than 4,400 entries. The first prize winner, Le Gruyère AOP Surchoix, is handcrafted in Switzerland by Dairy Vorderfultigen and affineur (refiner) Gourmino.
Yescas thankfully shares his tasting journeys on Instagram where he’s been known to relish slicing into a 30-pound Gouda wheel with an equally giant Dutch cheese knife. But beyond life as a professional foodie, Yescas is at his heart a food activist.
As a kid growing up in urban Mexico, Yescas remembers the first NAFTA agreement coming into effect in 1994, the same time the Zapatista movement rose up in defense of indigenous rights in the country’s south.
“I came of age in a moment where the macroeconomics were neoliberal, and the microeconomics were a rejection of neoliberalism,” said Yescas, who also authored a book on Mexican cheese. “Mexican supermarkets started being filled with products from abroad. The one thing I remember tasting and seeing for the first time was Emmentaler—a very iconic cheese.”
Because it was an imported product, Yescas’ cheese obsession was an expensive and unusual luxury. While other kids begged their parents for candy or video games, he talked his mother into splurging on Emmentaler as a reward for good grades.
But his mind was later opened to also appreciate talented local producers when his father, a government official, would visit rural farms in the state of Chihuahua and return with artisanal cow’s milk cheese wheels crafted in small dairies.
“I became aware of the push and pull of big cheese, small cheese, big agriculture, small agriculture,” he said. “That dichotomy colored my entire life and affected what it was that I was going to set out to do.”
He attended Endicott—first at the College’s former Mexico City campus for two years—before finishing his business degree in Beverly, Mass. “It was so progressive of Endicott to create that program,” Yescas said. “Now there are many other colleges with similar programs but at the time Endicott was the only one.”
Following graduation, he served as Political Affairs Director for the Consulate General of Mexico in Boston. On the job, he visited broccoli and blueberry farms throughout New England, all of which were staffed by Mexicans and Central American migrant workers.
“It became very clear to me that migrants—mostly rural Mexicans—were doing the work of food, and doing the work of sustainability,” Yescas said.
Working for the United Nations Development Program in New York, he dug deeper into migration and development issues while launching a startup back home.
Disturbed that agricultural workers had to leave their country and Latin American farming traditions behind, Yescas, along with his sister and her wife, founded Lactography, which safeguards cheesemaking recipes and methods to make sure they aren’t erased while serving as a major distributor of small-batch local cheeses.
The work isn’t easy. “There’s a pressure to produce very inexpensive cheese and the only way to create those products is by altering the raw materials and ingredients,” he said. “That means a lot of traditional cheeses from Latin America will start disappearing if they haven’t already disappeared.”
And that problem, said Yescas, goes hand in hand with deforestation and the inhumane treatment of animals. That’s why he pushes for an increased awareness of where and how cheese is produced and how it reaches the dairy case. He recently discussed his passion for all things cheese on Getting Curious, the podcast from Queer Eye's Jonathan Van Ness.
“If you buy cheese, you need to know where it’s coming from and the conditions those animals live in,” he said.
That’s a radical act that starts with each shopping cart and makes its way to one holiday cheese board at a time.