CHEESE FOR THOUGHT–ANOTHER POST FROM KELSIE. PLEASE LEAVE YOUR THOUGHTS AND COMMENTS!
One of my favourite blogs that I follow is Much To Do About Cheese. It’s written by Ian Treuer a home-cheesemaker from Edmonton, Alberta who maintains an honest and uncommon look into the world of a DIY cheesemaker. Recently he posed a question on his Facebook page. He asked, “Can a Cheese Maker be considered an Artisan Cheese Maker if they use pre-pasteurised milk? Why or Why Not?”
Purchasing pre-pasteurized milk is a cost saving option for many small producers as High-Temperature Short-Time (HTST) pasteurizers cost a ton of money and even vat pasteurizers can be time consuming. Heating milk to 162F and holding it there for 16 seconds (or 145F for 30min) isn’t where the art of cheesemaking comes into play.
There are three small-scale professional cheesemakers that I know of in Canada that use pre-pasteurized milk. The cheesemaker at each factory produces every cheese by hand, adjusts the recipe according to the weather, the feel of the curds, and the taste and smell of the milk. Their cheeses are all unique. Not only do I consider them all to be artisans but they are also some of this country’s best.
Surrounded by vineyards in Penticton’s wine region are two cheese companies – Poplar Grove Cheese and Upper Bench Creamery. Both purchase jugs of pre-pasteurized milk and also cream from D Dutchmen Dairy, which is located 190km north in Sicamous on Shuswap Lake. This isn’t a secret – Upper Bench proudly states the source of their milk on their website. D Dutchmen Dairy is known for their high-quality milk, flavoured cheeses, and their ice cream, which causes lineups that extend to the parking lot on a hot day. Their milk comes from their own herd of cows.
Five Brothers Artisan Cheese is the only artisan cheese company in Newfoundland. Cheesemaker Adam Blanchard actually purchases cartons of milk from his local Sobeys grocery store and then transforms it into cheese in stock pots on the stove-top. He started by making cheese in a friend’s kitchen but then decided to make a living doing it. He rented a commercial kitchen and the rest is history. There’s no way he could have afforded a pasteurizer when he started. Why give up on a dream if you can’t afford a $12,000 piece of equipment?
Perhaps several decades ago we could have asked whether cheese makers that use commercially available cultures instead of a mother culture could be artisanal. The industry has changed so much and now using mass produced culture is the norm. The basic ingredients have changed over the years too but as long as the figurative ‘hand of the cheesemaker’ is present in the cheese then I believe they deserve the title of artisan.
I’m not fond of debating the semantics of a term but I feel that labelling a producer as an artisan or not also suggests level of respect for producing a handmade product. Cheesemakers that use pre-pasteurized milk work incredibly hard, just like those that pasteurize on-site. I believe both deserve respect for labouring for long hours and transforming milk into my favourite food.
For some reason I feel many people also associate a certain level of quality with the term artisan. That’s one aspect that is usually not debated when it comes to defining the term but it is just as possible for ‘artisan’ cheese makers to produce poor quality products as much as it’s possible for them to create extraordinary ones. What really matters, is not the label ‘artisan’ but the story of the cheese company (is it something that excites the customer and the owner is proud of?) and the quality of the products.