Many people when viewing or tasting my cheese start out with the same question. How many goats do you have. The answer is NONE. We are an ARTISAN Cheese producer which means that we use raw product (milk) and make cheese. We do not have the time to feed and milk the livestock and make cheese and work a full-time job! Not only the time factor but it takes a very special breed of farmer to do the livestock cycle of milk production and we truly respect the farmer that does that job for us. Also the farmer that produces the milk does not have time to make cheese.
Alex and I were working at a Charter School Calle Mother Earths Children’s Charter School. It is Canada’s first Indigenous Charter School. We were learning many things during the course of that employment and the plights of the aboriginal people of Alberta. It at times was very stressful and very rewarding. “Having been self-employed for most of my Adult life and heading into “retirement years” we thought a somewhat sustainable lifestyle while we had the physical capabilities and energy might be the way to go heading into the twilight years. Let me tell you that the cheesemaking lifestyle is a LOT OF WORK!. The monies are tough to come by and we now have off farm income to help sustain us while we grow the cheese business. Now we also work at VITERRA which is an Ag Retail Location in Smoky Lake. Every day we deal with many farmers of the area and until one walks a mile in their shoes, their job is the hardest of them all. It is a lifestyle sure that we all dream about!. No boss nobody telling you what to do and living off the land. Being in the food and agricultural world is all that but, there is a very big price to pay. You have to grow your product, store your product and then market and sell your product. Maybe, just maybe you will make enough to live on. Yesterday I had a customer come to the cheese facility and ask me would i have done it all over again if i knew then what i know now, and the answer is ….. I don’t know. What I do know is that when a customer tastes the cheese we have created and they not only buy the product but then thank us for making it and bringing it to market…I say Absolutely YES Great Decision. When we are late in the night and cooking the curds and dispelling the whey with our bare hands in the vat, the answer is Definitely YES. When we are washing the cheese and seeing the rind develop and the creation of a FOOD that is healthy and fresh and we are contributing to the feeding of people and the enjoyment of our products by customers having a get together and tastings with their wine and other foods and beverages…YES..we made a great choice. When the monies are low and the winter nights are long and cold, and the highways are treacherous, its like what have we done. So the good outweighs the bad on MORE Days than not. We are just past the one year mark, give us many more and ask us again.
When we first came to the farm it was the start of winter. The building has no windows, no music, no tv and barely communication with the outside world. It was a very big adjustment because when you head to the cheeseroom there are many hours spent in the room and time flys by. So if you go in the early morning and you come out at 5pm, all you have seen is darkness. The only time we saw daylight it seemed is when we went to market. Market days gave us the energy to go back and do it all over again for another week. However, some weekends the hwys were treacherous and we would miss a market but our customers really wanted us there so sometimes we just braved them carefully. Thankfully touch wood nothing went wrong except for a flat tire.
So their came a project called #cheesepalooza. The project was started by @acanadianfoodie, @bigaddie, @pleizar and @debthelocavore. The project involves getting cheesemaking as a home hobby. Getting people to experience making their own cheese. I could have taken this project as a threat to my business as I am a cheesemaker and i want people to come and buy my cheese at the market and the project is encouraging people to make cheese at home so they don’t need to go to market to buy cheese. Thats how I make a living. Well I thought about the project and called Valerie @acanadianfoodie. I suggested to her that I would like to incorporate Smoky Valley into the project and maybe we could do workshops at the facility on the farm. She and her group said yes, and came out for the first workshop Sept 09th. It was a hit and the 3 project people that attended were awesome. We have had a slow start with attendees but I am confident that if we build it they will come and everyone that has attended has been satisfied that the experience has been fantastic. It is not so much of a teaching workshop as an EXPERIENCE workshop. It allows people to come out and gain more confidence in going home and trying to make cheese, and the camaraderie has been priceless. Ian especially has been so supportive in helping us to develop more cheeses and stretching Smoky Valley’s abilities to make more varieties. Addie is very attentive to detail and has many interests and knowledge, and Valerie is second to none. I cannot say enough about these people to appreciate what the experience this far means to Alex and I. Valerie is a wonderful hostess when it comes to the cheese tastings and she knows food and home food making , baking and growing. We are very grateful to be included in this project.
Those long cold winters with the little daylight is not going to be a problem this winter and we have #cheesepalooza to thank for that. We have a purpose now to keep up with what the project is all about. Getting people excited about creating cheese at home and for those cheeses that take time and cold rooms and maturation Smoky Valley will be there. For those that don’t want to participate on a monthly basis in making cheese but want to experience it without the mess and investment and cleanup, can come out to the workshop at Smoky Valley. Even if it is just enough to tweak their interest and boost their confidence to do this at home. Lets face it …so many people do not cook at home anymore from scratch nevermind make cheese. But if what we are doing contributes to just a few meals, a few appetizers, and a few farm fresh ingredients to add to people’s pantry then it is a success.