Jay, the cheese maker: Giving up everything to live on a Russian farm

The story of the American chef and traveler Jay Close who gave up everything, moved to Russia, and bought a farm, where he makes cheese that flies off the shelves in the farm products section.

The village of Moshnitsy is near Solnechnogorsk in the Moscow Region. This is where Jay Robert Close makes his own cheese.

Jay was born in New York, grew up in Mexico, and studied in England. He’s lived on a crocodile farm in Papua New Guinea, driven around all of Australia, traveled to Italy, Spain and Germany, and lived on a barge in France for seven years, next to actor Pierre Richard’s boathouse. He first came to Moscow in 1993.

 The idea of making cheese came to Jay randomly

Close came to Russia from Paris completely by chance, having received an invitation from friends. 17 years ago, after paying a small fee, he received a visa at the Russian embassy in one day and that’s when things got started. First he came for a month. Then two. After he decided to stay for good. “I didn’t want to stay here, I just wanted to learn more. I told my friends that I want to experience local life,” Jay explains in broken Russian.

In his words, the Russian village made him happy. He practically built a two-story house from logs at the very end of Moshnitsy. For now, his farmstead is small. He’s got a small garden plot plus a warm barn for animals. He plans to expand what he has. “Here they are, my beauties!” Jay says through a smile, as he takes us to the barn. The names of these ‘beauties’ are quite unusual: Chocolate, Paranoia, and Durotchka, which can translated affably as Little Fool or Dumb-Dumb.

This story is not just about downshifting and pastoral landscapes. It’s also about business. You can buy Jay’s cheese in 2 Saint Petersburg-based stores and 3 in Moscow, or right on his farm. He has yet to start supplying cheese to Australia and America, although many people have already asked.

“I really love all kinds of cheese,” says Close

The idea of making cheese came to Jay randomly. He and his wife bought a cow to provide their children with natural milk. The cow gave a lot of milk. Too much, in fact. So he had to find something to do with it. This is when the couple when on their honeymoon to Holland. That’s where they were introduced to cheese making technology, studied, and decided to start their own business. These days, Jay makes 20 kinds of cheese, including goat cheese. White-legged goats reside side-by-side with the cows in Jay’s barn. “I really love all kinds of cheese. With herbs, fried, cream cheese. Making it is pure pleasure! I pour my whole heart and soul into the process,” says Close.

Kids, two cars, a driver, and a garderner. That’s the standard American dream, according to Jay. He doesn’t know what the Russian dream is, though. “A lot of people tell me, ‘you’re not an American. You’ve been leaving here so long, you’re Russian!’ But I doubt that you can become Russian without being born and raised here."

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