Wednesday, 20 May 2009
Monforte Dairy Town Hall
On Sunday Mr. Ferdzy and I took a trip to Stratford to attend the Monforte Town Hall. As I've posted before, Ruth Klahsen is building a cheese factory - on the Community Shared Agriculture plan.
As people arrived at Stratford's city hall, they were greeted with cheddar cheese, crackers and relishes, as well as tea from Tea Leaves. Cheddar is all there is left of Monforte cheese at this time until the new factory is built, but there was a great range; plain, smoked, garlic scape, sundried tomato and chipotle.
There was a good turn-out, and a lot of cheese was consumed. It's amazing to think of all that went into that cheese. In her presentation, Ruth Klahsen gave some figures. It takes about 8 litres of milk to make a kilo of cheese. But it's not just milk. In general the cheesemaking process may take 10 litres of water to each litre of milk used, although in the new factory they will be looking for ways to keep it down to a one to one ratio. Ruth did remark that in restaurants, about 10 % of her time was spent scrubbing; in the dairy it's more like 80%. Cheese is a second career for Ruth; she was one of the original graduates of the Stratford Chefs School.
Another astonishing fact that Ruth mentioned in her talk is that most cheesemakers in Ontario don't make much, if any, money - may in fact lose money - selling cheese: their profits come from the sale of whey-powder, one of the by-products of modern cheese manufacturing. Ruth's plan involves the same formula used by restauranteurs to price their food; 30% to food costs, 30% to fixed costs, 30% to labour and 10% profit.
The auditorium in Stratford city hall is a fabulous Victorian theatre - obviously Stratford's interest in theatre predates the Stratford Festival.
Although Cheddar is all that is left now, Ruth was making a wide range of cheeses before; soft to firm, smoked, plain and flavoured. Most of them were sheeps' milk cheeses, but there were some goats' milk cheeses as well. The plan for the new factory includes all these, and a lot more. Ruth was bubbling with plans and ideas: four different cows' milk cheeses, water buffalo milk for mozzerella and more, butter, and beyond milk products; charcuterie, preserves, crackers, maybe even beer someday!
Did you know Ontario used to have around 600 independant cheesemaking dairies? I was looking at a government page a week or two ago and the current figure is a lot closer to 20, although new artisanal cheesemakers seem to be showing up every month. Monforte hopes to help that number grow by running a cheesemaking apprenticeship; turning out 10 to 12 trained cheesemakers in a year. Ultimately, Ruth also sees the dairy employing about 20 people. She thinks this isn't a lot of employment, but actually I'm impressed. And that's not counting all the farmers that would be making a living selling milk to the dairy. That number will likely be about 30 farms - a very substantial number indeed. What's more, Ruth intends that the milk she buys for the dairy will be from animals not induced by hormones and lighting to give milk all year long, but on a natural cycle which ends in November and doesn't begin again until March, after young have been born and nursed for a month (which also doesn't happen in modern dairy farming.)
Ruth gave a lively and interesting description of the history of Monforte Dairy. It got off to a rocky start as a partnership between herself and an experienced cheesemaker. They didn't work out as a partnership, and he left her with the company name and tons (really!) of dodgy cheese that had to be thrown away. It was bankruptcy or learn about cheese from scratch and keep going. Ruth's a keep-goer, for which all Ontario cheese lovers can be truly grateful.
After Ruth spoke, there were many questions from the gathered crowd, from requests for descriptions of the factory, the marketing system, the farms and farmers she works with; everything from philosophy to the nuts and bolts. I got a lot of the information for this post out of the question period.
Here's the site of the new factory. Right now, it's a fairly non-descript modern industrial building of about 20,000 square feet. It'll stay that way, with the addition of a new 7,000 square foot non-descript modern industrial cheese-making building. Ultimately, the older building will be turned into an cheese aging facility. Why so non-descript and basic? Money, of course, but also because Monforte isn't about the building - it's all about the cheese.
And it's FABULOUS cheese. You can get a slice of it at Monforte Renaissance 2010.