How Imsil Became South Korea's Cheese Region
Cheese didn’t make its debut in the Korean diet until 1964 when a Belgian missionary Didier t'Serstevens arrived in Imsil County. He wanted to help grow the parish's struggling economy and decided to raise two mountain goats.
t'Serstevens, who now goes by the Korean name Ji Jeong-hwan, started producing cheese and over the next three years traveled to France, Italy, and back to Belgium to learn about the cheese-making process. Eventually, his small cheese operation became a factory.
The governor of Imsil asked Jeong-hwan to teach the community the skill of cheese-making. As the people in the town honed their craft, it invigorated the economy and turned Imsil into the cheese region of South Korea. The cheese factory expanded nationwide and today produces 70 brands of Imsil Cheese.
To drive tourists to the area, the 32-acre Imsil Cheese Theme Park opened in 2004. The park hosts more than 200,000 visitors every year. In addition to cheese-making workshops, it boasts a “cheese experience” where visitors can learn more about cheese, a “cheese playland” with rides and games for kids, and a research center dedicated to studying different methods of cheese-making.
The park is designed to look like a Swiss village but also features unique cheese wheel-shaped buildings. There are two restaurants and a large gift shop that sells local cheese.
Cheese is now widely consumed across South Korea and can be found in variations of traditional Korean dishes. You can find rice cakes, chicken ribs, and bibimbap, a Korean rice dish, in cheesy flavors. International foods with cheese have also gained popularity. Nearly 40 years after the nation’s first pizza restaurant opened using cheese from Imsil, a pizza franchise using the cheese has become a widespread business throughout the county.