streaked with blue, cheese is a testament to human ingenuity. Over the ages, we’ve learned to transform curdled milk into hundreds of varieties, including bries, fetas, cheddars-and individually wrapped processed cheese slices. In fact, the last century was a bane for the venerable foodstuff in North America-think Cheez Whiz and tofu cheese. Fortunately, we’ve started to learn how-or rather, what-to eat again, thanks in part to artisanal cheese-making operations springing up across Canada.
One such producer is David Wood, whose Salt Spring Island Cheese Co. provides delicious goat and sheep-milk cheeses to connoisseurs and high-end restaurants on the West Coast. Sitting on the patio of his stylish cedar house and adjacent cheese operation, situated on a bucolic eight-hectare property, the former Torontonian quickly dispels the impression that he’s been living a country idyll for the past 14 years. “When you get to be 60, you don’t really expect to be getting up at five in the morning and milking sheep,” he says wryly. Particularly punitive is the springtime, when sleep gets edged out by the need to deliver the flock’s lambs.
And profits have been elusive, despite sales of 450 kg a week of fresh chèvre, Pyrenean-style ewe’s-milk cheese, sheep yogurt, feta and surface-ripened (like Camembert) goat’s-milk cheeses to restaurants and shops throughout B.C.’s Lower Mainland and Vancouver Island. But the Scottish-born Wood perseveres. “It’s not just money in your pocket; it’s the positive feedback. People say, ‘I tried your cheese in a Vancouver store and had to come and buy more.’ ” Most important, moving here has given Wood-fondly remembered by Toronto foodies for bringing gourmet takeout fare to the city-a chance to spend time with his wife and three children. “If you have to milk the damned sheep, at least you’re doing it with one of your kids.”
To improve the bottom line, Wood got rid of most of his 100-odd “damned sheep” last year, but he still gets their milk from the farmer who bought them (and, in fact, most of his cheese is made with goat’s milk). As well, his company will soon be federally licensed as a cheese-maker, allowing nationwide distribution. So the next time you say cheese, it could be to a montaña, a Marcella or a truffle chèvre from Wood’s patch of paradise. PATRICIA HLUCHY
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