The Muthurajawela wetland on the western outskirts of Colombo, parts of which have been reclaimed, has nothing to do with cheese. However it is ideal grazing land for dairy farming and cheese is a major component made out of cow’s milk. Sunil Rodrigo, Chairman, Lili Cheese (Pvt) Ltd, born and bred in Muthurajawela in Mahawatte, [...]

Business Times

Sri Lankan cheese maker says supply insufficient to meet demand


Range of cheese products manufactured by Lili Cheese

The Muthurajawela wetland on the western outskirts of Colombo, parts of which have been reclaimed, has nothing to do with cheese. However it is ideal grazing land for dairy farming and cheese is a major component made out of cow’s milk.

Sunil Rodrigo, Chairman, Lili Cheese (Pvt) Ltd, born and bred in Muthurajawela in Mahawatte, Pamunugama, started dairy farming as far back as in the 1960s as a schoolboy maintaining six cows and he recalls in the early days there were 300-400 dairy farms in that area.

Now a versatile dairy technologist/industrial engineer, Mr. Rodrigo is one of the pioneering cheese makers in Sri Lanka. In 2005 he manufactured around 50 kg of cheese and now makes 4 metric tons of cheese per month. To find out about the successful ‘Cheese Story’ of Lili Cheese, a ‘Business Times’ (BT) team visited his Cheese Plant, last week. Lili Cheese Factory is built, in the heart of Muthurajawela in Delatura, Ja-Ela.

Cheese an energy packed delicacy very much liked by children is made out of fresh cow’s milk. There are many varieties of cheese and Mr. Rodrigo says pure cow’s milk cheese is different from processed cheese as the latter is blended with other additives with cow’s milk.

He said that another kind of processed cheese, which is tastier and called ‘analogue’ could be harmful for human consumption as in some cases, it contains a certain amount of petroleum substances. Most people are ignorant of the blended cheese with other additives and it would be like adulterated coconut oil with palm oil. Analogue cheese doesn’t contain any cow’s milk.

Analogue Cheese which is a replacement for cheese is made out of soya beans, rice, almonds and other ingredients which cannot be called real cheese.


His ambition and first choice has been to become a dairy technologist and he achieved his target after an almost 40 year journey from 1973 to 2011, initially joining the National Milk Board (NMB) in 1973 at the Polonnaruwa condensed milk factory.

In 1979 he secured a Dairy Technology Diploma from South Asia Pacific Centre and was awarded another scholarship to Dairy University, Finland. With diplomas and other extensive training in dairy, he returned from Finland in 1983 and was posted as Dairy Manager, NMB. Again he underwent training in the dairy industry in Finland in 1984.

Process of separating fat from milk

Mr. Rodrigo started the first NMB Ultra Heat Treatment (UHT) cheese plant and worked there until 1987 and then joined the Mahaweli Authority, Dairy Development Programme and organised the small dairy farmer mobilization and empowerment.

He established mini dairy processing plants in Girandurukotte, Nirawiya, Thunkama and Kirindioya in Tissamaharama and in several other places within the Mahaweli region. In the beginning of 1990s Mr. Rodrigo joined the European Union rural development programme in Hodeida, North Yemen for two years and then joined ‘Kotmale Dairy’ as plant manager and started ice cream and liquid milk plants.

He worked there until 1997 and that year joined the National Dairy Federation (NDF) as a Consultant and formed District Small Dairy Farmer Cooperative Societies throughout the country. They established several processing plants in Gal Oya, Rikillagaskada, Baddegama and Polonnaruwa Milk producer cooperatives.

New company

In 2011 with Ms. Samanthi Ratnayake, Managing Director, Lili Cheese, another dairy technologist, they floated their own cheese making facility ‘Lili’ Cheese (Pvt) Ltd. The company has won several international awards as a social enterprise. Ms. Ratnayake was adjudged as Woman Entrepreneur of the Year in 2016. She has also won scholarships to receive training in cheese processing in the Netherlands.

While becoming the first runners-up in the International Business Development Competition held in the Netherlands in 2007, he also received a cash award of Euros 15,000 and subsequently obtained a loan of Rs. 10 million from the People’s Bank and modernized and developed the factory with latest dairy technology.

Their range of cheese products under Lili brand available locally are: American Spice Cheese, Cream Cheese with natural spices, garlic butter. Apart from that their other cheese products in the market since 2007 are Mozzarella, Cheddar, Processed Cheese, and Paneer cheese.

Pioneer cheese maker Sunil Rodrigo, Chairman, Lili Cheese

An innovative company with a grant under the Technology Grant scheme of the National Science Foundation (NSF) they started a new product turned out from whey (the watery potion after curding the milk into cheese) protein an energy beverage mixed with natural fruit extracts and the product was launched recently at the NSF premises.

Mr. Rodrigo said that there are around 200 dairy farmers in the area supplying around 50,000 litres of milk but to meet their local demand they need at least another 30,000 litres of milk. He said exporting is secondary as they are still unable to meet the local demand.

One of the bottlenecks is the scarcity of fresh milk which means they are unable to increase production. There about three local cheese producers, while a large quantity is imported to the country. “There is immense economic potential in cheese making and apart from being a good income earner, as a cottage industry it could generate employment with more and more small dairy farms,” he said.

He said that the economic benefits for the country are massive if local milk production is substantially enhanced and could help reduce costly milk imports.

Like the whey protein energy beverage, Lili Cheese is inclined towards innovative products and they are on the verge of making ‘Vegan Cheese’ which is low in cholesterol, environmental friendly and healthy and ideally suited for a country like Sri Lanka as it does not contain animal products. Mr. Rodrigo said that he hopes to introduce vegan cheese to the market by end of April.

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