The Hecl farm: Where the cottage cheese that always wins the gold medal is made

Orehova vas, the Hecl farm. How are yogurts, cheeses and cottage cheeses that come from this farm distributed throughout the entire territory of Slovenia?

The farm is really not hard to find. It almost seems as if the road from the highway and onwards to Orehova vas would lead you straight to their front door. Which is good for those who come to shop directly at the Hecl homestead. The small shop, which opens onto the courtyard, is a handy source of dairy delicacies for the locals; full cabinets of yoghurts, and more and more cheeses as well as other dairy products are waiting for them here.

However, this location is certainly of no advantage to a customer who wants their yoghurt with stevia, for example, but comes from the other side of Slovenia, as we are located in the middle of the Drava plain (Dravsko polje), a stone’s throw from Maribor. Orehova vas – no matter how much the name rings in your ears, as it was once a famous motocross track – is really far away for most Slovenians.

And of course, Peter Hecl noticed this too and realized that appearing on social networks, the cheapest source of advertising for small entrepreneurs, is of little use if they cannot get their products to the more distant corners of Slovenia. This was his motive for thinking about applying for Lidl’s project “Lojtr’ca domačih” two years ago: it meant a guaranteed cold chain and an open door to reach places where his products could not otherwise enter.


Hecl cheese


Increasing brand visibility through the project “Lojtr’ca domačih”

“This proved to be one of the best decisions I have ever made. The first year I hesitated to apply, but last year I did, even though everyone said: ‘You know, Peter, this isn’t for you. „They know how much energy I put into each product. It’s a discount, they said. But I looked and looked – and what I saw was a huge price range and therefore also a place for boutique products. The first year the local food consultants talked me out of it, but not the year after,” he says, leaning against the counter of his small shop.

At the fourth “Lojtr’ca domačih”, Hecl presented his young foiled cheese, yogurt with almond and honey, as well as his multi-award-winning product, cottage cheese, which won its fifth gold medal at this year’s Agra fair, not to mention numerous medals that his other dairy products also won at the just-finished festival “Dobrote slovenskih kmetij”. Let us give you a little hint: for the last two years the main focus was put on cheese. We found Hecl washed rind cheese and red washed rind cheese really excellent.

“I can see from the reactions on social media that now people come from all over Slovenia, and if someone is driving to Maribor, he stops by to buy some cottage cheese,” says our first interviewee. What does cottage cheese have to be like to win so many gold medals? Like most of their products, it’s self-assuredly full-fat, drained through a bag, and the cottage cheese is given time to ripen, somewhere between 14 and 15 hours at a low temperature.  It’s not mass production, says Peter Hecl, adding that they don’t even want to become an industrial-type plant, although it may seem that way, thanks to Lojtr’ea.


Attention paid to each and every product

However, it is true that it is quite challenging when larger quantities are needed, and this type of producer has the advantage of being able to get a forecast from the retailer months in advance of how many orders will be placed, so that it is possible to prepare and combine according to other orders. This farm can process 800 litres of milk a day, the output of 35 black and white cows, and Hecl says he was a little worried at first because he knew that in theory they could prepare additional orders for Lidl, but he didn’t know how it will work out in practice. Nevertheless, everything went well: and although the retailer initially said they would take 500 units of each product, the quantities kept increasing and the farm was able to cope with it.

He refuses to deviate from the way – which is both a privilege and a burden – of approaching each product individually with deliberate and filigree precision, because that is the way he is. (At this point, a wide-ranging debate on individual modern diet patterns developed, studies were quoted and Mr. Hecl once again proved to be a well-mannered, slightly ascetic type of person, one of those who never take any shortcuts or gambles in life).

This is confirmed by the story of how land was bought so that the cows could graze virtually on the doorstep, but now they don’t use it because a village road runs through it, and Peter Hecl began to imagine the worst-case scenario: someone letting the cows out and they would wander off, first onto the railway line that runs alongside it, and maybe across onto the motorway. This is, in short, a farmer who could hardly be accused of being reckless.)


Peter Hecl in his shop, a convenient source of dairy delicacies for local residents; full cabinets of yoghurt, and more and more cheeses and other dairy products are waiting for them.


The Hecl farm then and now

Here’s how the journey went on this homestead: the first important year is 1850, which is somehow considered the founding year of the homestead. In the 1970s, the parents of Peter’s wife Martina (who works as a lawyer) built a truly modern barn and increased milk production to such an extent that, in 1984, the farm was the first of its kind in former Yugoslavia. Peter got married, and although he is an agricultural technician, he had to switch to another branch, from agriculture to livestock farming. The dairy farming started in 2011, after a period when the farm-gate price of milk was so low that a decision had to be made: close it all down or start adding value.

Peter Hecl, I have the feeling, is often asked by the visitors what his educational background is, for his appearance expresses the meticulousness of a pharmacist and the intellectual sophistication of a scientist. In reality, he is one of the few farmers in this country who firstly works in the barn, then in the dairy production, and later, if necessary, in the shop. The final scene of our visit says as much about him as his words: “Are you sure you don’t want some more? “he asked and ate a peace of his Camembert cheese with the fullest pleasure.


Auhtor: Karina Cunder Rečič
Photos: Uroš Hočevar