By Dan Rankin
Stonetown Artisan Cheese president Hans Weber had no problem last Friday telling the crowd of friends, well-wishers, government dignitaries and media gathered at his new on-farm cheese shop and processing facility about the history behind setting up their operation. He easily thanked Ramon Eberle, the expert Swiss cheesemaker he hired to help make his dream of bringing authentic Swiss cheese to the Canadian kitchen a reality, as well Perth County officials Allan Rothwell and Kristin Sainsbury for their hard work on his behalf. But when it came to thanking his wife Jolanda, Hans got a little choked up, and his emotions and excitement about the ribbon-cutting for the new business that was years in the making became clear.
“As a grandmother of five, I know she was ready to retire,” he said after taking a moment to collect himself with Jolanda and the rest of his family by his side. “Without her help, it would never have happened.”
Though he had the dream and lots of high quality milk, he described how they were in need of an expert cheese maker from Switzerland. “In Ramon Eberle we not only found an awesome cheesemaker, with a passion for cheesemaking, but a young man with lots of patience,” he said. “Ramon attended a lot of meetings and helped in the layout of the plant.”
After Hans’ speech, Eberle gave a tour of the facility to the assembled crowd, which included Perth-Wellington MPP Randy Pettapiece and new Perth-Wellington MP John Nater, as well as Perth South Mayor Robert Wilhelm and councillors Sam Corriveau and Cathy Barker. Eberle’s young children Lorelei and Trenton helped too.
Eberle, who like the Webers is from Switzerland originally, has previous experience making cheese in the United States and, prior to that, in British Columbia. When he saw the Webers’ ad in a Swiss magazine, he “thought that was the perfect opportunity,” he said.
“We started planning the cheese plant and I was fortunate to get to give my input,” said Eberle. “You don’t really get the chance as a cheesemaker to build a project like that from the ground up and be able to say, ‘I want this and that, and we should get this.’ Hans and I worked really well together, I think.”
They made their first batch of cheese on Aug. 10 and haven’t looked back.
Eberle walked the crowd through their milk receiving area, where between 2,000-3,000 litres of milk are brought to be processed per day. There, the milk is heat-treated to 65 degrees Celsius but not pasteurized. “We want to age our cheese for between three and up to six months,” Eberle said. “If you do raw milk cheese or just heat-treat it below pasteurization, it ages really nicely and the flavour of the cheese will just improve with age. That’s our goal here, and we want to keep our cheese as natural as possible.”
In another large room, the cheese curds are stirred, separated from the whey, shaped into wheels and pressed. In still another room, the wheels are dipped into a salty brine to dry and to give them their signature flavour. Finally, the wheels are set in one of the facility’s three huge ripening rooms to sit for a number of months until they’re properly aged.
The ripening room is where Eberle spends a great deal of his time. He smears the aging cheese by hand with salt water on a regular basis so it can ripen from both the inside out and the outside in.
Stonetown Artisan Cheese’s three varieties – Homecoming, Wildwood and Grand Trunk – each require different amounts of moisture and ripening time. Grand Trunk, is their oldest and hardest, with homecoming being the softest.
“It’s basically up to us to decide when the cheese is ready to be sold,” Eberle said. “The Grand Trunk we would like to age it to six months or even longer. But, it has a really nice flavour after three months, so we decided just to see what people think of it.”
All three varieties are currently on sale at the on-farm store, and the first batches have also been sent out to a selection of grocery stores and markets in the region including London’s Angelo’s Italian Bakery and Market and Remark Fresh Markets, the Towne and Country Cheese Shoppe in St. Marys,The Butcher The Baker in Stratford, Dutchies Fresh Market in Waterloo and a number of Foodland locations. Further expansion is planned, with Stonetown Artisan Cheese soon to be available from stores in the Farm Boy grocery chain.