18 Jan Our Story
“How did you get into making cheese”? it’s a question I get asked frequently. Well here is how it all started.
I decided to celebrate my thirtieth birthday on a fun filled solo trip to Italy. I took a leave of absence from my job as an agronomist, threw myself an Italian themed 30th birthday party and a month later I arrived under the Tuscan sun!
My mom joined me during my second week in Italy where we stayed at a beautiful agriturismo called “Cretaiole” nestled in the clay hills near Pienza. The agriturismo was across the road from the cypress lined property with that nice Italian house – you know the house; it’s the quintessential Italian postcard scene.
During our stay there were many local suggestions Isabella from the agriturismo had for us to do in the area. We could visit natural hot springs, go for olive oil tastings, make pasta or have a full body olive oil massage from Salvatore in the olive grove…*sigh*. The one night we were invited to a nearby farm to feast on a typical Tuscan supper.
We arrived with the rest of our agriturismo guests to a rustic Italian farm atop the Val d’Orcia. Sandra, the matriarch of the farm, points down to a wheat field in the valley, “ See that patch of green? Thats where they filmed part of The Gladiator where he’s walking through the field at the end”. She goes on to show us all of the animals and explains they make wine and olive oil as well. She finishes the tour with a tour of the casieficio or as her husband calls it the cheesiry where they produce sheep milk cheeses. We had a glorious supper with the family and end it with a goat milk cappuccino ~ say what? I was impressed.
As I continued my Italian travels I fell in love with a bowl of soup, the Amalfi Coast and turned down an offer from a 70 year old B&B owner to sleep with him – even though he had offered me a bag containing 8 chocolate bars and 2 bags of cookies.
November came and after skiing in the Italian Alps, I came to realize that I wasn’t finished with Italy. So I wrote letters and secured me a spot making cheese in Pienza and possibly making soup in Castelnuovo Dell’abate ( ). I was told it was a secret recipe of the chef but I was welcome to come and try to learn anyways from the owner of the restaurant.
I returned to Canada quit my job at Sturgeon Valley Fertilizers, rented out my condo and moved in with my baba on her farm for 4 months.
I returned to Italy to learn all I could in exchange for room and board.
I learned to make the soup the last day I worked at the restaurant – although the chef told me to take a tray of glasses and put them on a table so I hope she didn’t add more to the pot! I then went on to make cheese for a month and a half with Ulisse the farm owner at Podere Il Casale and Ronaldo don Casaro my cheese making mentor.
Il Casale (http://www.podereilcasale.it/) was not only a working farm but also an agriturismo. I enjoyed my time there making cheese, washing cheese, flipping cheese and I would daydream what it would be like to do something like this at home.
When I returned home people would ask, “what are you going to do now”? I would jokingly say, “maybe one day I’ll open up a cheese factory”. Word got around and people started asking me when I was opening the cheese factory. So out of obligation I did. Luckily I was engaged to a man whose family farm used to be a cow dairy.
I had worked on a sheep farm in New Zealand and of course fell in love with cute cuddly sheep and wanted sheep on our farm. My new husband said, “No sheep on this farm. We have cattle and chickens we dont need sheep.” However, the New Zealand farm hand got us a sheep for a wedding present that quicky turned to four sheep because sheep dont like being alone so we got her a friend.
Originally we were going to milk cows but were denied quota for 13 cows that we wanted because the milk board wanted us milking all year long but we wanted to only milk in the summer.
6 months later 100 milking sheep and 75 lambs arrived at our farm and we began milking seasonally in the spring of 2010. Thanks with help from my husband’s family they helped us renovate the barn and cheese facility.
I make cheese with the help of Tara, our full time employee, and with the help of 3 other interns. My mother in law Debbie works hard with the trainees and keeping things running with my husband Brian and father in law, Brian Sr., through the season.
Click here to read about my escapades under the Italian sun http://iamunderthetuscansun.blogspot.ca/ to go the start of the journey click on 2007, August.