Monforte to start cheese school with Premier’s Award

Ruth Klahsen of Monforte Dairy was honoured with the Premier’s Award for Agri-Food Innovation Excellence by Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne this week for implementing a Community Shared Agriculture micro-financing model to raise capital to build a new plant in Stratford, Ontario. The award comes with a cash prize of $75,000.

“I am so thrilled and so honoured.” Klahsen said in accepting the award. “We want to take that award and we want to give it back. So what we intend to do with the money is to set up a cheesemaking school here at Monforte and that’ll start in February next spring. Because what we really need in the industry is education and depth and understanding of regulations so that we can do safe, wonderful products that are as good as Europe. And so a school becomes so important.

“The school becomes the coolest thing that we can do and I’m so excited about the potential of that. And the potential for what that can do to Ontario as far as just making really, really good cheese . . .

In 2008, when rent at Monforte Dairy’s location skyrocketed, the artisanal cheesemaker faced the challenge of securing enough money to build a new facility. So Monforte turned to its biggest believers—its customers.

It sold shares in denominations of $200, $500 and $1,000, redeemable in cheese. While many farmers have turned to community-supported agriculture to finance their operations, this is the first time the model had been attempted by an Ontario food processor. Monforte customers came through, purchasing nearly 900 shares totaling more than $400,000. The money helped pay for one-and-a-half acre of land in Stratford and a new, purpose-built environmentally sustainable cheesemaking plant.

This year, Monforte is on target to reach $2 million in sales, with the help of cheese aficionados determined to keep their favourite producer in business.

If you ask Ruth Klahsen, how she got into making cheese, she’ll tell you, in that self-deprecating way she has: “I’m just an old broad who had a mid-life crisis!”

Click here to read more.

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Monforte Dairy’s Ruth Klahsen and Kathleen Wynne, Premier and Minister of Agriculture and Food.

Best bites: Outstanding cheeses of 2012

This is the third year Avonlea Clothbound Cheddar has been selected as one of the outstanding cheeses of the year at CheeseLover.ca.

This is the third year in succession that Avonlea Clothbound Cheddar has been selected as one of the outstanding cheeses of the year at CheeseLover.ca.

We bring the curtain down on 2012 with friends in fromage recalling the memorable cheeses that crossed their palates this year. In alphabetical order, here are 20 outstanding cheeses of the year just ending—and one terrific cinnamon butter:

Any cheese made by Gunn’s Hill Artisan Cheese
Regardless if I’m eating his curds or the harder aged cheeses Shep Ysselstein is best known for, his cheeses never disappoint, they’re always outstanding bites to remember. He is truly a talented cheesemaker to watch.
—Wendy Furtenbacher, Blogger, CurdyGirl

Avonlea Clothbound Cheddar, COWS Creamery
I was in P.E.I in the summer and finally got to meet Scott Linkletter,  owner of COWS Creamery, and Armand Bernard, the cheesemaker. Ate Avonlea Clothbound Cheddar (still good everytime I have it) looking out over New London Bay as the sun was setting.
Sue Riedl, Cheese Columnist, The Globe and Mail

Bella Casara Mozzarella di Buffala, Quality Cheese
Discovered shortly after my trip to Italy when I was experiencing serious fresh cheese withdrawals. Enjoy the fresh, mild, milky flavor and smooth silky texture of this oh-so-versatile cheese made from Ontario buffalo (Yes, water buffalo) milk.  The small, soft, delicate hand-pulled rounds pair perfectly with both sweet and savory accoutrements. Click here for more tasting notes.
—Vanessa Simmons, Cheese Sommelier, Savvy Company

Black River 8-Year Cheddar, Black River Cheese
While many Black River cheddars have a characteristic bitterness, the 8-year has lost this. It is incredibly thick and smooth in the mouth, rich and nutty, with a hint of caramel.
—Andy Shay, Cheese Buyer, Sobeys Ontario

Monforte Dairy's Bliss makes our Best Bites list for the second time.

Monforte Dairy’s Bliss makes our Best Bites list for the second time.

Bliss, Monforte Dairy
I had been waiting and waiting for Bliss to be available after trying a sample in 2011. Finally, in May, I scored some at the Brickworks farmers’ market in Toronto. Worth the wait!
Sue Riedl, Cheese Columnist, The Globe and Mail

Brebiou, Fromagerie de Chaumes
Brebiou is a pasteurized sheep’s milk bloomy rind from Fromagerie des Chaumes in southwest France that I thoroughly enjoyed discovering. Click here for more tasting notes.
—Jackie Armet, Cheese Co-ordinator , The Great Canadian Cheese Festival

Brie Paysan, Fromagerie de la Presbytere
It’s been consistently beautiful this year, especially when ripe. If purchased, folks should hold it for an extra while. This is my favourite example of “vegetal” notes in a cheese.
—Vanessa Simmons, Cheese Sommelier, Savvy Company

Downey’s Cinnamon Honey Butter
My personal favourite this year is Downey’s cinnamon butter. It was a breakfast favourite of my youth, and I knew the family that made it in upstate New York. Through sleuthing with Gerry Albright and Sue Riedl, it turns out this is a heritage Canadian product! Many people remember McFeeter’s Honey Butter. The McFeeters licenced honey butter to the Downeys in Eastern Ontario. The Downeys later moved the company to New York. Whether you like the history or not, it is an awesome breakfast treat on toast. Sobeys is very happy to offer this heritage Ontario product again—now made in Pennsylvania.
—Andy Shay, Cheese Buyer, Sobeys Ontario

Figaro, Glengarry Fine Cheese
My favourite Canadian cheese of late has been Figaro, by Glengarry Fine Cheese, because it is unique (though I believe modeled after a style of Robiola) and risk-taking (very moist, difficult to package and transport) and absolutely delicious (yeasty aromas, complex texture, musky finish).
—Julia Rogers, Cheese Educator, Cheese Culture

How can a cheese that looks as good as Fleuron not be selected for the annual honour roll? Photo by Vanessa Simmons.

How can a cheese that looks as good as Fleuron not be selected for the annual honour roll? Photo by Vanessa Simmons.

Fleuron, Les Fromagiers de la Table Ronde
A beautiful rustic creamy blue that is simply stunning. I think the photo speaks for itself. How could this not make the list?
—Vanessa Simmons, Cheese Sommelier, Savvy Company

Fromagerie Du Champ a la Meule
Le Fetard, Les Metayeres and Le Victor et Berthold are three awesome cheese from Québec made at Fromagerie Du Champ a la Meule that I hope we in Ontario can purchase really, really soon!
—Jackie Armet, Cheese Co-ordinator , The Great Canadian Cheese Festival

Golden Blyth, Blyth Farm
A delicious, mild goat’s milk Gouda produced by Paul van Dorp near Blyth, Ontario
Gurth Pretty, Senior Category Manager, Deli Cheese, at Loblaws

Grey Rush, Primeridge Pure
I’m a sucker for the plain as it is so versatile, but I find myself craving the chili, and this summer I was blown over by the frozen cheesecake made with their exceptional cream cheese.
—Wendy Furtenbacher, Blogger, CurdyGirl

Cheddar Île-aux-Grues, Fromagerie Ile-aux-grues
It has a lovely sharp bite while maintaining a creamy crumby flavour.
—Jackie Armet, Cheese Co-ordinator , The Great Canadian Cheese Festival

Mascotte, Fromagerie Fritz Kaiser
A washed rind, semi-soft, goat’s milk cheese. Slight tang to it.
Gurth Pretty, Senior Category Manager, Deli Cheese, at Loblaws

Nostrala, Kootenay Alpine Cheese
At The Great Canadian Cheese Festival, I sampled (and sampled) Nostrala and again was reminded how amazing it is and that I should buy it much more! Click here for more tasting notes.
Sue Riedl, Cheese Columnist, The Globe and Mail

Sensations Applewood Smoked Cheddar, aged 2 years, Sobeys
A thermalized cheddar made in Québec. Like a campfire, you can taste the nuance. Would be perfect with a single malt!
—Andy Shay, Cheese Buyer, Sobeys Ontario

Fromagerie Les Folies Bergères deserves to be on the best-of-2012 list if only for the artistry of its packaging.

Fromagerie Les Folies Bergères deserves to be on the best-of-2012 list if only for the artistry of its packaging.

Sorcière Bien Aimée, Fromagerie Les Folies Bergères
A soft, unctuous goat’s milk cheese is new to the luxurious lineup of Fromagerie Les Folies Bergères cheeses. Click here for my tasting notes. Again, keep until it’s soft and ooey-gooey good.
—Vanessa Simmons, Cheese Sommelier, Savvy Company

Tuxedo Triple Creme
A delicious triple-cream from France.
Gurth Pretty, Senior Category Manager, Deli Cheese, at Loblaws

Wendy’s Own Camembert
A sheep’s milk Camembert that I made in a class at George Brown taught by Ruth Klahsen. I was not expecting success, but one out of the five cheeses I affineured actually turned out well. I was really proud of myself.
—Wendy Furtenbacher, Blogger, CurdyGirl

See also:

Outstanding cheeses of 2011

Outstanding cheeses of 2010

Learn cheesemaking at Monforte with Ruth Khlasen

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Ruth Khlasen, owner and lead cheesemaker at Monforte Dairy.

Monforte Dairy in Stratford, Ontario, will become a cheese school for eight weeks in February and March with eight students studying and practicing the fine art of artisan cheesemaking.

Ruth Klahsen, Monforte’s owner and lead cheesemaker (photo above), will share the curriculum with Neville McNaughton and Evelyn McManus.

McNaughton, widely known in the cheese business as Doctor Cheese, owns and operates CheezSorce in St. Louis,, Missouri, a consulting and training firm. His experience in cheese goes back 35 years to his native New Zealand. He has many clients in Canada.

McManus has a PhD in Organic Chemistry, a diploma from Stratford Chef School and is chef instructor at Conestoga College Institute of Technology and Advanced Learning.

The cheesemaking program is limited to eight students. To enroll, email Ruth Khlasen or telephone 1.877.437.5553.

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Neville McNaughton of CheezSorce aka Doctor Cheese.

Outstanding cheese bites of 2011

Bliss from Monforte Dairy, an outstanding cheese bite if there ever was one.

We bring the curtain down on 2011 with friends in fromage recalling the memorable cheeses that crossed their palates this year. It’s a tradition at CheeseLover.ca we started last year.

Interestingly, two friends selected the same stand-out:

Lindsay Bandaged Cheddar, Mariposa Dairy:
Lindsay Clothbound was the best new Ontario cheese I tasted this year.  Beautifully balanced flavour, everything you would expect in a great clothbound cheddar in texture and flavour—with a terrific goat bonus at the end.
—Andy Shay, Cheese Buyer, Sobeys Ontario

Lindsay Bandaged Cheddar, Mariposa Dairy:
New to Ontario’s cheese scene and winning awards already, Mariposa’s twist on bandaged cheddar is an aged hard goat’s milk cheese, slightly dry and crumbly, with significant earthy, but distinct “meaty” flavor.
—Vanessa Simmons, Cheese Sommelier, Savvy Company

Vanessa named three other memorable cheeses of 2011:

Jersey du Fjord, Les Bergeries du Fjord:
My memorable cheese this year is definitely the Jersey du Fjord, aged 10 months, a 20-kg English Cheshire-inspired cheese that was one of the 16 Champions at the Canadian Cheese Grand Prix, a first prize and silver medal overall at the Quebec Caseus Awards.
Alain Besré, Fromagerie Atwater and Aux Terroirs

Old World
2011 was my year to celebrate Old World classics. Iconic Spanish cheeses, such as sultry smoky Idiazábal and cool minerally Valdeón were big hits, as were rare treasures from tiny shops in Toronto, including Danish Esrom (Stinky! Umami!) and Portugal’s Serra da Estrela—a tangy, wobbly, grassy wonder.
—Julia Rogers, Cheese Educator, Cheese Culture

Hail to the blues!
At what point do we stop developing our taste buds? For years, I have fought with the blues, only to find it actually works to try something 25 times! I have now come to the other side and crave the blues. No cheese board is complete without them. So what blue converted me? Saint Agur. How can you resist that double creamy, lovely balanced blue served with a beautiful glass of Karlo Estates Van Alstine Port. Hail to the blues! Bring them on in 2012!
—Jackie Armet, Cheese Co-ordinator , The Great Canadian Cheese Festival

Lady Jane, Farm House Natural Cheeses:
I first fell in love with this cheese at The Great Canadian Cheese Festival in Picton when I tried it during one of the pairing sessions.  It looks like the best, most beautiful buttermilk-y cheesecake, with a texture that is such heaven in your mouth. Lady Jane is one of my favourite new finds of 2011.
—Wendy Furtenbacher, Blogger, CurdyGirl

At CheeseLover.ca, the most memorable moment in cheese of 2011 came when we first tasted Laliberté, the triple-cream cheese made with whole organic cow’s milk at Fromagerie du Presbytère. Such rich dairy delight!

Other taste hits of the year just ending:

Bliss, Monforte Dairy:
Cheesemaker Ruth Klahsen never ceases to amaze with her creations. This Brie-style pasteurized sheep’s milk is pure bliss.

Goat Cheese Curds, Monforte Dairy:
Be prepared for bursts of farm flavours when you pop these squeaks into your mouth.

14 Arpents, Fromagerie Médard:
Every time we taste this soft-ripened cheese we get religion and want to make a pilgrimage to the Lac Saint Jean in Quebec where Rose-Alice Boivin Côté and her family work wonders.

—Georgs Kolesnikovs, Cheese-head-in-chief at CheeseLover.ca, wonders what outstanding cheeses he’ll encounter in the New Year.

Ruth Klahsen: Rebel cheesemaker with a cause

Ruth Klahsen in a classic cheesemaker portrait photographed by Nigel Dixon for Toronto Life.

If you ask Ruth Klahsen, owner and lead cheesemaker at Monforte Dairy, how she got into making cheese, she’ll tell you, in that self-deprecating way she has: “I’m just an old broad who had a mid-life crisis!”

The real story is that Ruth is a graduate of the inaugural class of ’83 at the Stratford Chefs School where she also teaches cheesemaking. Her cuisine is well-known to patrons of premier restaurants Rundles and the Old Prune in Stratford, Ontario.

For 11 years, from 1990 to 2001, Ruth was the Chef and Manager of the Green Room of the Stratford Shakespeare Festival responsible not only for the entire smooth functioning of the kitchen but also the special on-site catering. When she walks into the Festival today, she still gets hugs from Festival staff and actors. She’s the one who bolstered their bodies and souls with truffles and caviar and anything their hearts desired . . . sometimes on the sly.

While at the Festival, Ruth dreamed of being a cheesemaker and made her own chèvre.

But managing a big operation took its toll and when budget restrictions conflicted with Ruth’s strong principles, she threw in her apron and apprenticed at a local sheep milk dairy.

By 2004, Ruth and a partner opened Monforte Dairy (refinancing her house for the start up money) and started making sheep-milk cheeses in a rented facility in Millbank, Ontario, just north of Stratford.

The partnership dissolved early on but Ruth continued making cheese and Monforte soon became known as southwestern Ontario’s premier artisanal cheese company. Ruth, clad in her vintage apron, sold her signature Toscano and other cheeses at numerous markets in the GTA, quickly gaining fans and followers among foodies, chefs and people who like cheese and remembered when almost every small town in Ontario had a dairy. Monforte doubled sales every year.

Known for its range of extraordinary cheeses, Monforte has become supplier of choice to five-star restaurants, leading wineries and progressive food retailers throughout Ontario. In the fall of 2009, Ruth was invited to the State dinner for Prince Charles and Camilla at Rideau Hall where her cheese was featured on the menu.

Not one to follow the well-worn path and no fan of bureaucracy and procedure, Ruth made the tough decision in January 2009 to pull out of the facility where she was making Monforte cheese, striking out on her own to realize her dream of creating a permanent home for Monforte. Monforte Renaissance 2010, a revolutionary microfinancing campaign through Community Shared Agriculture (CSA), was conceived to raise the capital to build Monforte’s new dairy.

CSAs were offered at three different levels—$250, $500 and $1000—paying out in cheese over five years. Close to $400,000 was raised from her loyal customer base—people who both love Monforte cheese and want to add their support to microproduction, sustainable farming and just food. Ruth has always said the farmers from whom she buys milk have to earn enough to afford piano lessons for their kids.

And the dairy got built. And the party thanking the subscribers and community is now the stuff of legend.

Located at 39 Griffith Road in the heart of an industrial park in Stratford, the dairy has a store front and garden and the sexiest, blingiest, edgiest paint job around thanks to installation artist Corinne Carlson and the graffiti artists at The Loft in Toronto.

Monforte has added cow’s milk cheese to the repertoire of sheep and goat cheese, crackers and charcuterie from the pigs fed Monforte whey. Faced with financial “pinch” in January 2010, Ruth once again appealed to her supporters for help. Within a week her supporters came through with a loan of $100,000.

Says Ruth in her blog, “What a privilege it is to be in this place at this time.”

Ruth Klahsen will be a featured seminar presenter at The Great Canadian Cheese Festival taking place June 4-5 at Crystal Palace in Picton, in the heart of Prince Edward County, Ontario’s fastest-growing culinary destination and Canada’s newest VQA wine region.

Ruth will define and defend genuine artisan cheese, and discuss why integrity of ingredients matter, why turning milk into cheese is a craft, why the bond between and farmer is important‑and worth preserving. She’ll tackle the MMI issue and offer selection of her artisan cheeses for tasting.

Click here for the complete seminar program at the Festival.

—Maureen Argon

Maureen Argon, a widely published writer, was fortunate to work as the “shepherdess” at Monforte Dairy keeping the community in know during Monforte’s Renaissance year. Maureen now is the Chairman of Chairman Mo Media, a digital consultancy where she helps business people use social media to spread their message.

Monforte Dairy takes on the look of a giant art gallery

Click on the image for a larger view of the mural that adorns one wall of Monforte Dairy in Stratford in Southwestern Ontario.

A cheesemaking plant is a practical, utilitarian thing. To see one showcasing large pieces of both high and street art is unexpected, to say the least. But Ruth Klahsen, the cheesemaker responsible for the new Monforte Dairy plant’s artsy makeover, seems to enjoy keeping the public guessing.

The idea of a dairy-as-art-gallery began five years ago, when Ruth purchased a billboard-sized piece of art from an exhibit in Stratford. The billboard, created by Toronto-based artist Corinne Carlson, features a single word in a black font set against a silver background. The one word: “Baa?”

Ruth says she always knew she would display the billboard one day, but didn’t have the proper space for it at the old dairy. The unadorned walls of the new cheese plant seemed like a perfect spot for the billboard.

For the next art project, Ruth decided on an edgier direction. She commissioned an art piece from a group of Toronto graffiti artists affiliated with Life Opportunities Food and Technology, or LOFT, an organization devoted to inspiring youth involvement in community development projects.

For 10 years LOFT has run a graffiti art program that mainly produces murals in Toronto’s Bloorcourt neighbourhood. After hearing about LOFT’s artists from CBC’s Jane Farrow and learning about the community work done by the organization, Ruth invited LOFT’s artists to come to Stratford and paint the new plant.

For an entire weekend in June the artists, under the direction of Javid Alibhai, worked on a graffiti mural that covers the west side of the plant and a silo. Ruth left the content of the murals completely up to the artists.

“I gave them free rein. I didn’t want to interfere or put any restrictions on them,” Ruth says.

The result is a colourful mural featuring traditional farm images of cows and pastures, with a funky, urban feel. Large graffiti script covers the silo, including the words “Monforte Dairy.”

Ruth has no concerns that visitors to the dairy may find the plant’s artwork odd or unsightly. She says so far, both the mural and the billboard have been well-received.

“The response has been huge. I’ve heard nothing negative. Maybe the people with negative opinions aren’t saying anything, and that’s just fine. I think for the most part people enjoy seeing something innovative and exciting.”

Corinne Carlson finishes the installation of her billboard creation made of sequin-like reflective disks that sparkle as they twist in the wind.

Monforte began producing cheese at the new plant a month ago. So far, Ruth and her apprentices have made fresh sheep and goat varieties. By the end of July, Monforte will move on to cow’s milk cheese, and also begin working with buffalo milk when supply is sufficient.

All the cheeses produced are available at Monforte Dairy’s in-house store or at a number of farmer’s markets in Ontario.

Ruth and Monforte made news earlier in the year when they raised $400,000 toward the cost of the new plant via a unique business model called Community-Supported Agriculture.

—Phoebe Powell

A journalism graduate and budding turophile, Phoebe Powell last wrote for CheeseLover.ca about where to get educated for a career in cheese.

Cheese smarts: Get what you need for a career in cheese

A student in the Cheesemaking Technology course at University of Guelph learns how to pour Camembert-style cheese into forms.

Cheese education in Ontario is thriving, as evidenced by the array of tasting classes catering to those who wish to enhance their appreciation of cheese. But what about individuals looking to carve out a career in the cheese business who require a more thorough, professional education?

Here’s a roundup of courses available to mould a fresh batch of cheese professionals.

The University of Guelph has been offering some version of its cheesemaking course since 1893, though its present professor, Art Hill, began teaching his Cheesemaking Technology program with the Food Sciences department in 1986. The program—designed for artisan and commercial cheesemakers, cheese hobbyists, and government and sales personnel who work with cheesemakers—focuses on the science and technology of cheesemaking. Students attend lectures and apply the principles learned in a cheesemaking laboratory.

“The focus is on understanding the manufacturing principles of technological families of cheese, rather than becoming expert in the manufacture of particular cheese varieties,” says Professor Hill. The program is offered annually in the spring and runs for five days. The next course offering will run from April 27 to May 1, 2015. Those interested can visit the course website.

Artisan Cheese Marketing, a cheese education and public relations company founded by cheese industry expert Kathy Guidi, was the first business in Canada to recognize the demand for professional cheese appreciation classes. In response, the company developed the Cheese Education Guild in 2005, the first institution in Canada to offer a certificate-level cheese education course.

To earn a Cheese Education Guild certificate, students must complete three 24-hour appreciation courses. The courses aim to develop students’ tasting and sensing abilities while building cheese vocabulary and knowledge. Cheese Appreciation courses 1 and 2 each cost $550, while the final Cheese Appreciation 3 costs $620. Information on upcoming courses is listed on the company website, and can also be obtained by emailing Artisan Cheese Marketing.

George Brown College has also sensed a demand for professional cheese education classes, and so the school began offering a Professional Fromager Certificate in January 2010. The course was developed by Scott McKenzie, a graduate of the Cheese Education Guild, and is offered through the college’s Hospitality and Culinary Arts department. The program consists of six classes, each focusing on an element of cheese appreciation and knowledge. The program includes classes on tasting and criticism, affinage, and pairings. Individual classes range in cost from $231 to $321, with the total program tuition fees amounting to $1,556. For more information, contact the department at (416) 415-5000 ext. 2517 or via email.

Monforte Dairy is developing its own unique program that will bring the company into the ranks of professional cheese educators. Unlike other programs available in Ontario, Ruth Klahsen, Monforte’s owner and head cheesemaker, has decided to offer an apprenticeship program that focuses on the craft of artisan cheesemaking.

“The school is intended to preserve and grow the art of artisanal cheesemaking as opposed to industrial cheesemaking. Ontario was once the dairy capital of Canada and Monforte would like to see more artisanal cheese operations across the province again. It would be our hope that the new cheesemakers would then be able to start up their own dairies,” says Maureen Argon, Monforte’s communications specialist.

Monforte is hoping to attract apprentices who already hold a keen interest in cheesemaking, and who have some food production knowledge. The program is still in the development stage, with cheese consultant Neville McNaughton building a curriculum. Monforte is also looking into partnership possibilities with Ontario colleges. The program will run over a two-year period, from January to April. For more information, contact Monforte Dairy through the company website.

Though the popularity of cheese education courses is on the rise in Ontario, some experts believe a more traditional education is all a cheese enthusiast needs to learn the business. Julia Rogers, founder of Cheese Culture, which offers cheese classes and events to the public, says that while these courses can contribute to an individual’s overall cheese education, on their own they are not enough to prepare a person for retail or entrepreneurial work in cheese.

“If you want a career in cheese, you’ve got to work in cheese, which means washing dishes, washing floors, getting up early, stressing over margins and expiry dates and Christmas pre-orders, fielding every consumer question known to humanity, juggling CFIA (Canadian Food Inspection Agency) and Public Health inspectors, navigating the minefields of fickle urban trendsetter taste, meanwhile smiling . . . and doing it for minimum wage, 360 days a year,” Rogers says.

If, after paying their dues in such a gruelling setting, aspiring cheese experts still wish to pursue a career in the business, Rogers recommends seeking apprenticeships with industry professionals and foreign learning experiences to polish their skills.

—Phoebe Powell

A journalism graduate and budding turophile, Phoebe Powell last wrote for CheeseLover.ca about getting to know sheep’s-milk cheese.