The farm looks like I imagined it - like a perfect modern farm in some of the Western Europe countries, with green lawns, clean poultry enclosures and livestock shelters, well-kept orchards and mirrorlike ponds, and low neat fences. Several paved paths lead to each building. Walking along them, you can see an old cart or a mechanical haymower (previously, they were horse-drawn, and later on, they became tractor-drawn ones). These are original exhibits of an improvised open-air museum. In the ponds, there are pairs of black swans on the water. The weather helps in drawing a full picture as the day is cloudy, the sky is gray, and it is now drizzling, now snowing. It looks like an idyllic picture of early spring or late autumn somewhere in the Netherlands or Denmark. But you can see all this after driving only a dozen kilometres north-west of Vladikavkaz along the Arkhonskoye highway.
Our talk with Ella Beroeva-Kachmazova, the owner of the “Farmer” restaurant, is in a warm and cozy room (or rather, in one of them). What is our talk about? First of all, of course, about the Ossetian cuisine.
And let’s start, certainly, with the main brand of local gastronomy - the Ossetian pie. Every guest of North Ossetia should taste it to feel the ‘flavour’ of Ossetia.
“The traditional Ossetian pie needs a strictly limited range of fillings,” the hostess begins her story. “I would say that cheese is of the greatest importance because we use only a cheese pie when praying. Three cheese pies put on top of each other are served in every Ossetian family when people gather around the festive table. They symbolize the tree of life with its roots in the ground, the trunk is the earth and air, and the crown is the heaven. Round-shaped pies are used for praying at home, and triangular-shaped pies are used for our prayer in a holy place. And there are usually two pies during the funeral repasts.”
As for the most popular Ossetian pies, Ella’s choice would be a pie with beet leaves and cheese - after a cheese pie. And a potato and cheese pie ‘ranks’ third. The Ossetians also bake cabbage pies (cabbage with fried onions or cabbage with walnuts). Of course, they make a minced meat pie, which is an Ossetian delicacy, and any feast is considered incomplete, not abundant enough, without this “food of the Gods”. The pies with pumpkin and wild garlic are also popular. And an Ossetian pie with mushrooms, with fish ... In general, these are not Ossetian pies at all.
- Ossetian cheese, as far as I know, must be a key ingredient in the Ossetian pie. Say a few words about it.
- This cheese is used only in three of the Ossetian pie fillings: in cheese pies, beet leaves pies, and potato ones. I had an opportunity to get my own idea of this cheese as Ella put a plate with several cheese slices on the table. The restaurant has its own cheese dairy, raw materials, and Ella is great at making cheese.
“The quality of the Ossetian pie depends on the cheese quality, it must be fresh. The cheese ripens quickly and is good for baking pies on the second or third day. If the cheese is to be served for tea, it is washed, salted for two or three days, and turned upside down to make it harder. In the old days, cheese was placed in a container with a very salty pickle to store it for a long time. This allowed the family to keep cheese until the next season. But these cheeses were not used as pie fillings. As for using cheese on a large scale in baking the Ossetian pies, frozen cheese can be used. So, Ossetian pies can be baked even far from North Ossetia. The main thing is to follow the traditional recipe.”
“There is another traditional dish in the Ossetian cuisine, which is called ‘dzygka’,” we continue our talk about the national Ossetian cuisine. “It is made from cheese and looks like a thick porridge with a lot of butter, it is delicious. One day, the French people who came to visit us tasted dzygka and said that it was so delicious that should be included in the Guinness Book of Records.”
- And what about its calories? We all, well, at least in words, are fighting the overweight problem.
- “Yes, both the Ossetian pie and dzygka are very high-calorie dishes,” Ella agrees. “But the Ossetians did not eat it every day, and they lived in the mountains, so they moved a lot, worked physically and they just needed high-calorie food.”
There is another Ossetia’s gastronomic brand, the Ossetian beer, and earlier, every Ossetian housewife used to know how to brew it. This product is quite popular among the restaurant visitors, so, it is brewed at their restaurant for a holiday season.
Ella is a highly educated teacher and she is a dedicated teacher working with passion. She graduated from the North Ossetian State University as a teacher of the English language and literature. Ella worked as a teacher all her working life and now she keeps on teaching. She was a teacher of English at school, and later on, she had lectured at her alma mater, the North Ossetian State University, for more than 20 years. She still keeps on teaching at her small private school and is very happy to give the English lessons to the children in the village who always have less chances to succeed in English due to the continued lack of teachers in rural schools.
- How did an English teacher become a restaurateur?
- It turned out that at first, her husband became a farmer. He spent his childhood in the village of Arkhonskaya that was the central estate of the very successful collective farm obtaining seven-figure revenues. The field camp of one of the village’s teams was at the place where Ella’s farm is now located.
“In the Soviet times, the schoolchildren often worked here in the fields, and they spent their leisure time on the banks of the Black River flowing here. They swam, sunbathed, baked potatoes in a fire. Her husband then often ran away from the village, putting away the usual child’s games, to a local villager Makushov and spent all day at his apiary (he even was nicknamed Makush). So, these places were familiar to him from his childhood. And in 1999, when it became possible to lease a parcel of agricultural land, he knew exactly which piece of land he would like to lease for a long period.”
At that time, there were the ruins only on the place where the collective farm with several million revenues used to be. The land was abandoned, the ponds turned into garbage dumps. “We cleaned it all, put everything in order,” says Ella. “We raised cattle and planted many trees. We relied on the help of our relatives and our children. For more than fifteen years, we had been working hard on these pieces of land just to be able to eat natural and organic products, and to sell the surplus. This was how we got a retail “Farmer” store in Vladikavkaz. When we started this business, we didn’t even think that there would be a restaurant here one day.”
“But it happened so that gradually, our farm turned into a popular vacation spot,” Ella smiles. “At first, our friends came to see us, then also our friends’ friends visited us. Our house became too small for so many guests. And seven years ago, my husband and I decided to start a small restaurant.” Today, it is a large complex of function- and banquet rooms, outdoor and covered terraces, individual pavilions on the shores of the ponds. We offer both European and Caucasian cuisine at our restaurant. Most of the products for the dishes we serve are grown and produced here on the farm such as meat, poultry, fish, milk and dairy products, vegetables, fruit and berries. There are even ostriches on the farm, and during the season, you can taste ‘sunny-side-up ostrich eggs’. The slogan of the Kachmazov family is their principle - “We offer our customers and guests only what we eat with pleasure. And we put our love and soul in what we cook.”
There is an opinion that the development of the hospitality industry in the North Caucasus is hampered by the lack of workers.
Ella does not feel this way, “We do not just hire our personnel, we also train our workers. I am a teacher and I love teaching the people. And I think that on the basis of our business, it would be possible to establish an educational institution and train the personnel for the industry. At least, a kind of a professional development centre should be set up”. Ella also agrees that a good employee needs to be well paid and she uses this approach in her business. The “Farmer” personnel are formed on the principle of a friendly team of professionals, they are like a large family.
- But an active person is driven by a dream. Do you, Ella Beroeva-Kachmazova, also have your dream?
- “I want to turn our area into a platform for eco-, ethno-, and agritourism. We already have a lot of things, for example, a farm with pets, a children’s zoo with ostriches, peacocks, pearl-hens, and a camel, as well as some hectares of orchards, berries and vegetables, the lakes with a lot of fish, and the tourists can enjoy horse and pony riding here. But my dream is to build a typical Ossetian house here. My husband’s roots are from South Ossetia. Their large family, the Kachmazovs, moved here in the 1930s. In South Ossetia, the house of my husband’s great-grandfather is kept up to now. So, I want an exact copy of this house to appear in our farm as a museum of the Ossetian life. I want my children, grandchildren and all the guests coming to our restaurant to see how our ancestors lived. I would like very much to collect traditional crafts here, for example, pottery and blacksmithing. I have close ties with the Ossetia’s creative people, especially with the young people. On September 15, 2019, an ethnic wedding was celebrated at our restaurant where 900 guests were present and the ancient Ossetian traditions were observed. The groom was Taimuraz Berezov who plays the old Ossetian instruments and sings in the Choir of Heroic Songs led by Olga Dzhanaeva. This wonderful group works at the Vladikavkaz Philharmonic Society, a Branch of the Mariinsky Theater, St. Petersburg, headed by Valery Abisalovich Gergiev. The bride was Alana Khugaeva, a master of weaving the Ossetian silk scarves, she also teaches those who want to master weaving this. So, we have everything needed to create an ethno-village.”
“And one more thing,” continues Ella, “When I worked with my students, I saw that those who came from rural schools often did not know English well but they had a very good command of the Ossetian language. The children who grew up in the city knew their native language much worse, as well as their national culture and traditions. I want to set up a centre of the Ossetian language and culture here for an in-depth study of the Nart epic. In addition, I want to start a summer school providing education in three languages: the Russian, Ossetian and English ones. I always tell my students that they should be hard-working and receive a really good education. This will give them the opportunity to become worthy and happy citizens of our wonderful country and the planet as a whole.”
Ella also wants to instill an interest in her students in the history of their surname and family. “Now seems, they do not care about this,” she says,” and at the age of forty, all of them will want to know about their roots.” It turns out that Ella Beroeva-Kachmazova is the niece of Vadim Beroev, the actor who played a key role in the “Major Whirlwind” film”, and, therefore, the aunt of Egor Beroev playing Erast Fandorin in the “Turkish Gambit” film. For her children, she writes the pedigree “The Eternal Call of My Family” to genealogize, on the basis of which Central TV’s Channel 1 produced a film about Egor Beroev’s family.
Ella needs three years to make her dream come true and she hopes for the republican authorities’ help in obtaining grants from the federal ministries. The project should be of interest to a number of federal departments - from the Ministry of Culture and the Ministry of Education to the Committee for Tourism and the Committee for National Affairs.
The restrictions due to the Covid-19 pandemic could not but affect her business. But Ella does not want to talk about this. She draws my attention to the fact that under such conditions, they launched their ethno-gastronomic show “Alan Evenings” in March and hold the Evenings weekly. And it is difficult to say either the national dances and songs help better feel the taste of the Ossetian cuisine, or the Ossetian pies and dzygka give a special national flavour to the folklore performances.
I tasted the Ossetian cheese, it is white, elastic, juicy, and delicious. Probably, after some time, if anybody serves me a cheese plate, I can hardly differentiate one cheese from another and tell the Ossetian cheese by its taste. But if someday and somewhere, I am treated to the Ossetian cheese once again, I will definitely think of this gloomy day, this lovely restaurant where I was talking to Ella, and of her wonderful farm.