Pharmacology to fermentation to wine to cheese at Lighthall

Cheesemaker Heather Robertson and three of the first cheeses made at Lighthall Vineyards and Dairy.

Cheesemaker Heather Robertson and three of the first cheeses made at Lighthall Vineyards and Dairy.

How does a pharmacist become Ontario’s first small-batch winemaker/artisan cheesemaker? Lighthall Vineyards and Dairy owner and winemaker Glenn Symons can explain:

He has been making cheese for personal use for the past two years, discovering new recipes and perfecting techniques along with Heather Robertson. She is a longtime friend and a 15-year cheese industry veteran. She has worked in cheese retail and cheesemaking at another cheese producer.

Lighthall Vineyards and Dairy will be one of 40 artisan cheese producers sampling and selling cheese at The Great Canadian Cheese Festival on June 6-7 in Picton, Ontario.

Glen Symons, winemaker and cheesemaker, too.

Glenn Symons, winemaker and cheesemaker.

Symons had been a home winemaker since age 19. He started in pharmacy in 1993, taking over the Lighthall vineyard in 2008. Lighthall produces three still wines, two sparkling, including 2014 Lighthall The Fence Rosé, and and one dessert wine. The Fence the first rosé from its own vineyards. It is 100% Pinot Noir, refermented using the Charmat method.

All the wines are produced in a non-interventionist manner. Non-interventionist winemaking consists of doing as little as possible to the grapes from their growth to their eventual vinification.

Lighthall Vineyards and Dairy endeavours to produce the highest quality wines, primarily from their own grapes, with all employees and family members involved in every step of production, including vineyard work through to final bottling, said Symons. With the tasting bar inside the production area, they aspire to share this enriching experience with every customer who comes to visit.

“It’s much like making home vintage, but on a larger scale,” said Symons. “In some ways the commercial equipment makes the process easier.”

Cheesemaking has proven to be so much fun and the cheese so delicious that Symons and Robertson are sharing their talents with the public. They sell their three sheep’s milk cheeses at a farmers’ market in Kingston and at the winery. They produce three varieties:

  • Runner – a soft ripened cheese, the rind washed in Lighthall Chardonnay,
  • Cocotte – a rustic, earthy unpasteurized blue,
  • Brie de Milford – a soft, surface-ripened cheese with a hint of Prince Edward County terroir flavours.
Glen Symons and Heather Robertson toast they first cheese creations.

Glenn Symons and Heather Robertson toast their first cheese creations with his wine creations.

Symons is planning to expand his facility. For now, he and Robertson make the cheese off-site, but hope to soon have an on-site commercial kitchen. They will keep to the three current varieties, said Symons, producing in quantities sufficient to sell at the winery and in Kingston. They may try some seasonal cheeses or a more aged cheese in the future, said Robertson.

The winery is located at 308 Lighthall Road, Milford, in Prince Edward County, Ontario, and is open seven days a week from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. For more information on Ontario’s newest artisan cheese producer, please visit Lighthall Vineyards and Dairy’s website www.lighthallvineyards.com

The fifth anniversary Great Canadian Cheese Festival—the biggest artisan cheese show in Canada—takes place Saturday and Sunday, June 6 and 7, in Picton, Ontario, at the Fairgrounds. For complete information and tickets, please visit CheeseFestival.ca.

—Joanne Fralick

Joanne Fralick is a cheese lover and freelance writer who lives with husband and son in Prince Edward County.

 

Tania leads the Mariposa charge in Royal competition

Grand Champion: Tania Lenberg Farms Toscano Sheep Cheese.

Royal Winter Fair Grand Champion: Tania Lenberg Farms Toscano Sheep Cheese. Tania also won a Super Gold in the World Cheese Awards in September.

Mariposa Dairy dominated this year’s Royal Agricultural Winter Fair competition for cheese made with goat, sheep or water buffalo milk. Mariposa’s Tania Lenberg Farms Toscano Sheep Cheese was named Grand Champion. Three other Mariposa cheeses won their classes as did Tania.

Tania, a farmstead Toscano-style sheep’s milk cheese, is a relatively new addition to the array of cheeses produced by Mariposa Dairy in Lindsay, Ontario. Sweet and nutty, attractive on the cheese board, Tania already has many fans.

px-tania-royal-winnerA distinctive characteristic is the colour of the paste that deepens as the cheese ages. Cheesemaker Pieter vanOudenaren says the orange colour comes from the carotene in milk. The inset shows a wedge of Tania in our cheese bin that was made in early 2012, now nicely aged, darker in colour and delicious.

Mariposa markets its goat and sheep cheeses under three labels: Celebrity, Mariposa Dairy and Lenberg Farms Classic Reserve.

Here are the results for cheese made with goat, sheep or water buffalo milk:

Grand Champion Goat, Sheep or Water Buffalo Milk Cheese

Mariposa Dairy – Tania Lenberg Farms Toscano Sheep Cheese

Reserve Champion Goat, Sheep or Water Buffalo Milk Cheese

Woolwich Dairy – Woolwich Dairy Crooked Wheel

Hard Cheese

1 Gordons Goat Dairy – Farmstead Goatagiono aged 2.5yrs no GMO

Firm Cheese

Mariposa Dairy – Lenberg Farms Bandaged Goat Cheddar
Mariposa Dairy – Lenberg Farms Premium Age
Woolwich Dairy – Woolwich Dairy Goat Cheddar

Interior Ripened

1 Mariposa Dairy– Celebrity International Mediterranean Gouda
Woolwich Dairy – Woolwich Dairy Goat’s Milk Feta Cheese
Mariposa Dairy – Extra Sheep Feta

Surfaced Ripened

Woolwich Dairy – Woolwich Dairy Crooked Wheel
2 Upper Canada Cheese – Nosey Goat
3 Fromagerie Fritz Kaiser – Sainte-Nitouche

Mold Ripened Cheese

1 Alexis de Portneuf – Cendrillon
2 Woolwich Dairy– Woolwich Dairy Triple Creme Goat Brie
3 Quality Cheese – Ashley Goat

Unflavoured Fresh Cheese

Mariposa Dairy – Celebrity International Goat Cheese Original
2 Quality Cheese – Ricotta
Woolwich Dairy – Woolwich Dairy Original Chevrai

Flavoured Fresh Cheese

1 Cross Wind Farm – Cranberry Orange
2 Cross Wind Farm – Italian Blend
Woolwich Dairy – Woolwich Dairy Chevrai Cranberry Cinnamon

Flavoured Cheese

1 Blyth Farm Cheese – Blyth’s Jalapeno
2 Blyth Farm Cheese – Blyth’s Garlic
3 Blyth Farm Cheese – Blyth’s Cumin

All New Innovations

1 Alexis de Portneuf – Double Joie
2 Quality Cheese – Buffalo Mozzarella
Woolwich Dairy – Woolwich Dairy Plain ‘N’ Simple Fresh Chevre

Any Cheese Made with Sheep’s Milk

Mariposa Dairy – Tania Lenberg Farms Toscano Sheep Cheese

Cheesemaker on hunger strike against bureaucracy

Josef Regli of Canreg Station Farm and Pasture Dairy near Cornwall, Ontario, has gone on a hunger strike to protest attempts by South Stormount township council to apply regulations that are near-impossible for a small producer.

Regli, originally from Switzerland, says he attempted a small expansion when demand for the farmstead cheese he produces started to grow. Regli admits his mistake was not seeking a permit, but once he tried to correct it with the municipality, administrators wanted to treat him like a major cheese producer instead of the tiny farmer he says he is. It meant costs and rules he simply wouldn’t be able to afford.

Read more and watch video: http://ottawa.ctvnews.ca/farmer-battles-bureaucracy-with-extreme-measures-1.106118

Regli and his family have been legally producing sheep’s milk cheese since 2008. Canreg’s cheese has found many fans, including Vanessa Simmons, cheese sommelier at Savvy Company. Click here to read her take on Pecorino Classico.

UPDATE

“Because of the great support and the direct intervention from so many people, the situation is for now somehow under control,” Josef Regli said an email to CheeseLover.ca on December 2. “The Township officials are in the progress of working out a feasible solution together with us.”

Video: Curdy Girl visits with Best Baa

It’s Video Wednesday and we’re off to St. Lawrence Market in Toronto with Wendy Furtenbacher aka Curdy Girl, one of our favourite bloggers. There’s no doubt about it, Wendy is head-over-heels in love with cheese. Today, she talks with Elisabeth Bzikot of Best Baa Dairy about the wonderful sheep-milk cheeses made by the Bzikot family near Conn, Ontario.

Video: Sheep farming for cheese on the Saguenay

On this Video Wednesday at CheeseLover.ca, we visit Les Bergeries du Fjord to learn about the sheep’s-milk cheeses produced at La Baie on the Saguenay River in Québec.

Les Bergeries du Fjord, owned by Claude et Martin Gilbert et Josée Gauthier, started making cheese from the milk of Jersey cows in 2003, soon winning awards with Belle du Jersey and Jersey du Fjord. In 2006, they began production of sheep’s milk cheeses, soon also winning awards with Blanche du Fjord and Berger du Fjord. They use raw milk exclusively for all their cheeses.

Enjoy!

Video: Visiting Salt Spring Island Cheese in B.C.

On this Video Wednesday, let’s visit with David Wood at Salt Spring Island Cheese just off Vancouver Island in British Columbia. It’s a dairy worth a visit in person, if you have the opportunity. To sample the Salt Spring chèvres is to taste what arguably are the best goat’s-milk cheeses produced in Canada. The garlic chèvre is to die for.

La Moutonnière: Happy sheep make award-winning cheese

Alastair MacKenzie and Lucille Giroux with their sheep at La Moutonnière in Quebec.

For Lucille Giroux, Fromagerie La Moutonnière was a second home, and cheesemaking a second career.

More than 30 years ago, Giroux and her husband moved from Montreal to a farm three hours outside the city, so they could raise their children in the Quebec countryside. Giroux, who had worked as a nurse in Montreal, began raising sheep and selling both their meat and wool. A few years later, she began milking the animals and making cheeses.

With her business expanding, Giroux took on Alastair MacKenzie as a business partner in 2000. He oversees the animals and farm, while Giroux manages the cheese side. Much like Giroux, MacKenzie got into the cheesemaking business in a roundabout way. He grew up in New Zealand and was a third-generation sheep farmer on the family farm.

MacKenzie met his wife, Karine, in New Zealand; a native of Quebec, she was a university student studying abroad. When she finished her studies in New Zealand, Karine returned to Quebec, and after seven years of dating long-distance, MacKenzie moved to Quebec in 1999.

Wanting to put his farming skills to use, MacKenzie searched for a suitable job in Canada. It was Karine who first heard about La Moutonnière. She read an article about Giroux and her business while sitting in a dentist’s waiting room. MacKenzie visited Giroux on her farm, and after discussing the business, they agreed to become partners.

“I’ve been here 11 years now—time really flies,” MacKenzie says. “Over that time we went from making about 1,000 kilograms of artisanal cheese to over 12,000 kilograms now.”

The sheep herd now numbers 150. Three years ago, La Moutonnière built a brand new cheese plant. While 95 per cent of their products are made with sheep milk, they’ve begun experimenting with goat and buffalo milk as well.

Giroux and MacKenzie are dedicated to raising “100 per cent happy sheep.” MacKenzie explains their sheep live a good life: they move freely, and go outside whenever the Quebec weather allows it; they have enough to eat and drink; and they’re well respected by their owners.

MacKenzie believes consumers today are aware of problems in the food industry, and many now want to know how farm animals are treated. There is a movement toward artisanal products, and a concern for animal welfare.

“A few years ago, there was this big movement toward organic, and it was very trendy until we developed industrial organic farms,” MacKenzie explains. “For me, and for lots of the clients, they began wanting to know about animal welfare, whether the animals were given a good life. A lot of people know now that what happens behind the scenes of the food we eat is not good.”

At La Moutonnière, the focus is on creating quality, artisan products and tending to the welfare of the animals that allow them to run their business.

TASTING NOTES

  • Le Fleur des Monts – pasteurized pressed sheep’s milk cheese aged from 3 to 9 months. Rich tasting, with notes of almond.
  • Le Sein d’Hélène – blend of sheep and Jersey cow milk, aged from 2 to 4 months. Creamy, with a slight acidity.
  • Le Bleu – mild-tasting sheep’s milk bleu. Slightly sweet with the sharpness typical of bleu cheeses.
  • Feta – fresh sheep cheese stored in olive oil and fresh herbs.
  • Ricotta – fresh sheep cheese made with whey. It is smooth, creamy and sweet.
  • Le Neige de Brebis – mild, fresh cheese made from whey.
  • Le Cabanon – aged soft cheese, wrapped in an alcohol-soaked maple leaf. It’s a full-bodied cheese with notes of hazelnut and spice.
  • Le Foin d’Odeur – soft washed-rind cheese. It’s a creamy, runny cheese with delicate flavours.

La Moutonnière also sells homemade yogurt, cream, sheep’s milk and desserts.

FROMAGERIE LA MOUTONNIÈRE

3456 rue Principale, Ste-Hélène de Chester, Québec, Canada, G0P 1H0  Telephone 819.382.2300

La Moutonnière cheeses are sold at the farm’s creamery in Ste-Hélène de Chester, Québec; at Jean-Talon market in Montreal; at select grocery stores in Quebec and Eastern Ontario; and at the Leslieville Cheese Market in Toronto.

La Moutonnière  will be a featured cheesemaker 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 newest wine region and fastest-growing culinary destination.

—Phoebe Powell

Phoebe Powell, senior roving reporter at CheeseLover.ca, is based Ottawa. Her last blog was on Beau’s All-Natural Brewing Company.