PIERO Guerrini's story seems like it could be an excerpt from a summer novel—an Italian photographer on assignment to the tropics falls in love with the serenity and beauty of a village on the northern coast, only to abandon his former way of life to pursue his dream of living in the Trinidad countryside where the waves crash mere feet from his front door.
Guerrini's reinvention from a photographer to hotel/restaurant owner could have ended there, but it didn't. Like the ever adaptable chameleon, Guerrini has reinvented himself again—this time taking on the new challenge of making cheese and yoghurt.
While Grande Riviere will forever be associated with some of its famous visitors—the leatherbacks, in recent times the village is fast becoming known for being ground zero or the production house of Italian cheeses and fresh yoghurt. It was curiosity over Guerrini's latest venture which led us to Grande Riviere in the middle of the week. It was difficult to link the village with anything other than the turtles—that was until Guerrini brought with him a selection of several freshly made cheeses laid out on a board. Armed with a parmesan cheese knife, he sliced into each chunk.
"This is Caciotta, with rosemary,"said Guerrini, as he pointed to the flecks of rosemary against the pale yellow cheese.
Each cheese is special to Guerrini, representing years of playing around with ideas, making plans and lots of hard work.
"The idea came about after I saw the amount of water buffalos and nobody was using their milk, especially since mozzarella cheese made out of water buffalo milk is very much in demand all over the world," said Guerrini.
The idea had taken root, but for it to materialise Guerrini needed the experience and knowledge of someone who was versed in cheese-making. He enlisted the help of his friend and fellow Italian Massimo Matteo. Matteo's family is famous for their mozzarella cheese. The Matteo family is the main supplier of mozzarella in Bologna, Northern Italy. In his friend, Guerrini found the knowledge, expertise and know-how to bring his idea to fruition.
After sampling more cheese than our stomachs could have handled, we piled into Guerrini's Hilux. In the ten years since Guerrini first entertained the idea of making cheese, he now has his own cheese-making facility in the heart of Grande Riviere. As he drove into the facility's garage, the cows in the field, recognising the familiar sound of Guerrini's engine, looked up. Then flashing a look of boredom, they resumed grazing.
The building is kept at a controlled temperature of 20°C. Everything has to be clean and sterile, said Guerrini. All equipment is stainless steel and made in Italy.
The Dolce Valle Dairy churns out mozzarella, ricotta, provola, caciotta, restagionatto, stracciatella or soft mozzarella cheese, and yoghurt. Guerrini already supplies to several restaurants, including Chaud, Jaffa at the Oval and Buzo Osteria Italiana, along with some gourmet shops. Guerrini has already received requests from other islands such as Mustique, Antigua and St Lucia.
But the story of Grande Riviere goes far beyond leatherbacks and exotic cheese.
Grande Riviere is named after the wide river that greets visitors coming into the community. Grande Riviere was big in the dance when cocoa was king. The cocoa shed that lies on the Mt Plasir estate is now the only reminder of that bygone era. In the years thereafter, the village became a mostly agricultural community, with few men taking up fishing as a livelihood.
There was significant trade in and out of the village, said Len Peters of the Grande Riviere Nature Tour Guide Association. Most older heads have said trade between Tobago and their village and Port of Spain happened via the sea, when steamers would bring produce in and out of Grande Riviere.
Peters, who was born and grew up in Grande Riviere, explained that the road leading in and out of the village was a bridle road—owing to the fact that it was a thoroughfare narrow enough to accommodate a donkey cart and nothing else. Electricity was introduced into the community in the '70s, Peters was just a boy when the roads in the village were being paved for the first time.
In the early '60s and '70s, Peters said there was an exodus out of the village seeking job opportunities outside of the rural community. Then in the late '80s and early '90s, due to increased sensitisation of the leatherbacks and the Piping Guan or "pawi" which are special to Grande Riviere, the community moved into eco-tourism. Today, residents are very much sensitised to the value that the leatherbacks bring to their community.
"The villagers realise the importance of the leatherbacks to the community, but they are not capitalising on the opportunities to provide services to visitors," said Peters. He added that it is easy to drop one's hands and adopt a carefree attitude in a community such as Grande Riviere, where it does not take much to survive and there is minimal crime.
There were a number of possibilities residents could seize to facilitate the large influx of visitors who frequent the beach, particularly at night, during the turtle-nesting months. For instance, by day there were a few eating places that were opened, said Peters, but by night there were none to facilitate the flood of visitors.
"Some say hotels and the persons associated with the turtles are the only ones benefitting, not realising that there are so many opportunities to make a livelihood. We're looking to change that," said Peters.