Say Cheese and Smile
European-inspired cheese making gaining traction in Atlantic Canada.
It’s kidding season at Au Fond des Bois cheese makers near Rexton, NB. Kidding means an even longer day than usual for the Hendersons. “The day begins about 5:50,” says a genial, but tired Patrick Henderson, co-owner of the fromagerie with his wife Marina. “We feed the goats with hay and grain. We milk them and clean the barn.” It takes one person four hours to complete the morning chores. “In the meantime,” says Patrick, “we help the mothers give birth.” He says five or six kids are born every day. Patrick, Marina and their two helpers—their son and his girlfriend—feed all the kids by bottle for the first two weeks of their lives. “If we let the kids drink from the mother, they don’t want the bottle,” he explains.
It’s taken the Hendersons just four short years to progress from startup to successful artisanal cheesemakers who now offer 18 varieties. When asked to name a favourite, Patrick Henderson says, without hesitation, “Barbizon. When it’s young, it’s mild, but with aging it becomes stronger and it stays creamy. The texture is between a Brie and a hard cheese.”
Originally from Belgium, Patrick and Marina lived in Auvergne, France for five years, where Marina began to explore making cheese in the traditional French way. In search of land to start their own fromagerie, the Hendersons headed for Quebec, the only French-speaking area of Canada they’d heard of.
Then, says Patrick, they discovered New Brunswick. They loved the freedom and sense of space. “In Belgium and in France there are a lot of people. All the people here are more friendly.” The Hendersons also saw opportunity, and for that, Atlantic Canadians can be thankful.
Cheese artists in Atlantic Canada
The Hendersons are not the only artisanal cheese makers in the region. Maja and Willem van den Hoek of Upper Economy, NS, were perhaps the first artisanal cheese makers on the East Coast. The owners of That Dutchman’s Farm have been making their farmstead Dutch-style Gouda for more than 30 years. After immigrating to Canada in 1970, they returned to the Netherlands to study cheese making, with the goal of establishing their own venture in Nova Scotia. Recently, they’ve added a very popular blue cheese dubbed Dragon’s Breath Blue. Willem describes it as, “subtle, no bitterness, nothing harsh. Slightly milky, it lingers pleasantly.”
Down the road in the Annapolis Valley, Fox Hill makes Gouda from milk supplied by their 50 head of Holstein cows. But they’ve added other familiar European varieties like havarti, feta, cheddar—and an Italian parmesan-style they call “parmesran.”
Scott Linkletter makes the only artisanal cheese in PEI—Avonlea Clothbound Cheddar—at his Cows Ice Cream facility in Charlottetown. He brought the recipe back from the Orkney Islands off northern Scotland after a visit there some years ago. The result is a crumbly, hard white with a rich, tangy flavour that won silver in 2008 and gold in 2009 at the American Cheese Society competition.
Back in New Brunswick, Alberte Doiron has been operating Les Blancs d’Arcadie since 1991 near Caraquet. Alberte made cheese with milk from her own goats, but she’s since switched to making cheese from cow’s milk, specializing in a smooth white she calls Emerillon with various flavourings like pesto, dried tomato and herb.
Monique Rouselle and André Martineau run La Bergerie aux 4 Vents near Dieppe. The family moved to France where Monique studied sheep milk and cheese production. They returned with two English milking sheep that they crossbred with a hearty Dorset variety. Now, their 200 head supply milk for the production of cheeses at their fromagerie.
Hetty Smyth of Armadale Farm Dairy Products in Roachville, New Brunswick is a sixth generation cheese maker from Holland specializing in Gouda. Her father taught her husband Ian the secrets of the trade. For 20 years, they’ve been selling on site and at local farmers markets in Fredericton and Dieppe. “I don’t really have a favourite,” says Hetty. “I like them all, but if I had to pick, it would be mild Gouda and our fenugreek Gouda.”