Friday, 12 November 2010
A Visit to Quality Cheese
Quality Cheese is located in Vaughan, at 111 Jevlan Drive, just off the 400 and north of Highway 7. In addition to the factory they have a very well stocked shop which carries all their cheeses - sold under the brand name Bella Casera - as well as an assortment of imported cheeses, pasta, baked goods, olive oil, balsamic vinegars and other Italian groceries. We asked if we could photograph the shop, and were referred to Joe Borgo, who not only agreed, but offered to give us a tour of the factory. Whoa, amazing!
We all started off by putting on white lab coats, hair nets and disposable booties over our shoes, and we washed our hands thoroughly (although I also tried to made a point of not touching anything!) As the door closed, it shot disinfectant over the first few feet we had walked over.
Every time I talk to cheesemakers about what they do, the first thing that gets mentioned is "cleaning". Half of each day Monday to Friday is dedicated to cheesemaking, and the other half of the day is dedicated to cleaning. On Saturdays they get serious and spend the entire day cleaning. Of course, we were there on a Saturday so what we saw happening was mostly cleaning.
There was a truck delivering milk for the next batch of cheeses. Apparently it came from Stayner. Hey! We know Stayner... we drive through it regularly. The other thing associated with cheese is stainless steel. This is just the beginning of all the shiny metal stuff...
The floor is wet because I think the driver had just finished unloading the milk and now he was cleaning. (You're sensing a theme here, aren't you?)
The next thing that happens is the newly delivered milk is pasteurized. The milk is on one side of stainless steel plates; steam is on the other. This allows the milk to heat and cool quickly. Then, off it goes through the pipes.
Some of it may go through a separator. Pizza block mozzarella and provolone are made with skimmed milk. Most of their cheeses, however, are made with whole milk, which also gets homogenized.
The milk is then stored in one of two stainless steel silos until it is time to send it off through more pipes into the cheese making area. Between the two silos they can have on hand up to 37,000 litres of milk. I'm saying "stored", but they frequently go through more than that amount of milk in one day.
There is a smaller tank in the receiving bay to hold the water buffalo milk.
Soft, creamy cheeses like brie and what Joe referred to as blue cheese (a Gorgonzola type) are made in this vat. The whey is drained off and is used to make ricotta cheese. They make two ricotta cheeses. One is sealed in a plastic tube and has a short but manageable shelf-life. The other is a fresh ricotta sold only through the factory store as it has a shelf-life of only a week. (That's what I used in the Ricotta Gnocchi).
The "pasta filata" cheeses are started in this vat. That means all the "stringy" type cheeses, mainly forms of mozzarella.
After the curds are formed, they are left to settle in the whey. They are drained and shredded into fine strands, then soaked in hot water. The hot water causes the strands to stretch and clump, and the texture becomes doughy. Here's where it gets tricky. The clumps get stringier as time goes on. The cheesemaker must judge the right moment to drain them. Too soon, and the cheese will be crumbly. Too long, and the cheese will be too tough and rubbery.
Next, the cheese is extruded (molded) into different shapes.
It then goes into this litle wagon, where it is soaked in cold water to set and chill it. In general, they receive enough water buffalo milk to make three batches per week; a total of 3,ooo litres of milk, with half coming from each of the two farms.
These are the molds used to form the mozzarella into balls.
Looking across the floor of the factory, you can see the vats in which cheeses are started. They are then fed, by gravity, into the molds that will determine their final shapes.
This device is used to turn loads of cheese, so that the whey will drain off of the cheeses evenly, keeping them in good shape and consistent in quality on both sides.
Some cheeses need to be soaked in brine. There is a room mostly dedicated to that purpose. Since it's a cool room, some packaged cheeses find their way in there as well.
There is also a smoke room, which we didn't go into, on account of it being full of smoke. While there was no cheesemaking happening, cheeses were being packed and labelled, in this case smoked Cheddar. In addition to the cheeses they sell under their own brand name Bella Casera, Quality Cheese makes and finishes cheeses for other companies.
Next, we went upstairs. The entire upstairs is dedicated to cheese aging rooms. These are rounds of blue cheese.
Behind the blue cheese, trays and trays of "fondue brie", flavoured with herbs and designed to be served hot and melted.
Wheels of my old favourite, Friulano, wait in the packaging room.
Pairs of scamorza cheeses hang in the shop. After all that, I forgot to actually take any other pictures of the shop, but trust me: it's a great place full of Italian goodies, not to mention all the cheese. It's well worth a visit if you are anywhere near Vaughan, and the shop is just 5 minutes off the 400.
Right now, their cheeses are mostly sold in the Toronto area through stores such as Pusateri's, Longo's, Whole Foods, Olympic Cheese, Scheffler's Deli, The Healthy Butcher, as well as others. They are hoping that soon some of their cheeses will be carried by one or more of the national chains, so keep an eye out for them in your local Loblaws or Sobeys - or ask for them.
As we finished the tour, Joe said he would give us some samples. We were picturing slices on the end of a knife, so we were pretty floored when Joe handed us a box full of cheese. You can see many of the varieties they make here: starting at the bottom right and going clockwise on the plate: a mild, nutty brie, "borganzola" (their blue cheese), smoked scamorza and Friulano. Around the back from left to right: stracchino, ricotta, burrata and water buffalo mozzarella in two sizes.
I've already used some of the water buffalo mozzarella here, and the fresh ricotta (not pictured) in Gnocchi.
It was the first time we had tried burrata, so I didn't do anything fancy with it. It's an interesting and intricate cheese; bits of mozzarella trimming and cream are enclosed in a thin mozzarella pouch. The cheese is extremely fresh - it's so mildly milky and creamy it's almost like eating milk made solid. This cheese just won a first prize at the Royal Winter Fair, along with their ricotta and water buffalo mozzarella.
All this cheese expertise has been around for a long time. The present generation of the Borgo family are the fourth to be cheesemakers, although the second in Canada. The company was started in 1957 in Orangeville by Almerigo Borgo. He had come to Canada a few years earlier, but was obliged to work for the railway for a while before he was able to get back to making cheese. In 1988 Quality Cheese started up in its' present form.