Seven years ago, Amal Shalabi wanted to buy good quality, tasty cheese for her family, but finding a product that met her high standards in the city of Zarqa was not an easy task. Amal’s family owns a cattle farm in the Sokhneh area in Zarqa, so good quality dairy products have been a staple in her family’s breakfasts for as long as she can remember.
However, after she got married and had children, her spare time depleted, so she had to give up making homemade cheese and relied on store-bought dairy products.
“I quickly realized I could not feed commercial cheese to my family; forget about the preservatives and the flavorings, it just doesn’t taste good. So one day, I came home with a few kilograms of raw cheese. I cooked a few pieces, soaked them overnight, and when I woke up they were gone. My children loved it, and that was enough to encourage to start making cheese at home on a regular basis”.
She used fresh goat’s milk from her parents’ farm and made everything from scratch, with no additives or preservatives.
Al Sokhneh area is a small, close-knit community where word travels fast, and Amal’s cheese quickly became the talk of the town. Whoever tasted her cheese could not get enough and had to ask for more. It started with family, friends, and neighbors, and before she knew it, orders were coming in from everywhere.
After establishing a good customer base and a reputation, Amal began taking training courses to improve her technical skills. “I’ve always considered making cheese and other dairy products as easy as making tea, but I needed to learn the science behind it to be able to establish a solid business that produces the highest quality products in the market”.
She started with courses that specifically target food producers, to learn everything she needs to know about the business. One of the training programs that Amal joined was the Home-based Businesses Upgrade training facilitated by the USAID Local Enterprise Support Project (LENS). The training covered many areas that support artisanal food producers, including food safety, pricing, packaging, accounting, and marketing.
“Because I’ve been a cheese-maker for several years, I thought I knew everything. But the training taught me things I could never learn from experience alone; food safety was one of them. Temperature, storage, and other important aspects are determining factors that make or break your product. Of course, I’ve always been aware of that, I just never had the opportunity to learn these things from experts” said Amal.
During the six-month training, Amal exhibited exceptional skills, enthusiasm, and dedication towards mastering the craft. For those reasons, she was selected to become a trainer herself in the same program she first joined as a trainee, allowing her to create a new revenue stream from becoming a trainer, and transferring her knowledge and experience to other women from the area.
Amal Shalabi with US Ambassador to Jordan during her meeting with Zarqa's woman-owned home-based businesses
The strong heritage and the artistry of cheese-making, along with the allure and vast growth of the artisanal food industry in Jordan are some of the things that attract women to this craft more and more every day. Likewise, people in urban cities crave fresh, homemade and authentic food products that cannot be found in shops. These factors caused an exponential increase in the demand for foods produced by home businesses in the last few years.
Part of the Home-Based Businesses Upgrade training supported by USAID LENS, includes linking the trainees with buyers and end markets such as supermarkets and restaurants, and giving them the opportunity to participate in different fairs and events. Amal took this as an opportunity to establish new business connections and widen her customer base, where she managed to connect with a well-known restaurant in Amman. She has also gained new customers who have made repeat orders since participating in those fairs.
Amal’s hard work and consistency in offering high-quality products, enabled her to also connect with Ayadi AlBalad, an online website that sells the products of artisanal food producers, and provides logistics and marketing solutions for more than 300 food artisans throughout Jordan. Connecting with a platform like Ayadi Albalad helps Amal grow her business and increase her revenues by selling her cheese to customers residing outside Sokhneh without worrying about transportation and the costs associated with it.
Amal, like any other aspiring entrepreneur, dreams of expanding the range of products she offers, and reaching new markets. She wants to learn how to make new types of cheese and plans on traveling abroad to learn cheese-making techniques that are still unknown in Jordan.
“I would never make a product that I wouldn’t personally feed to my children, and I think my customers can sense that. The quality of my products is something I’ll never compromise, and I think that’s the main reason behind my success”.