Almost A Year On The Winding Road or How The Time Flies!

Every time I sit down to type out a blog post I get side tracked with a customer order, an email from my business partner or I am just too tired to type.  They are good distractions to have from a business point of view, but not so much for the people who have been loyally waiting for an update on my Travels along the Winding Road.  When I started this blog all those years ago under the name of “Pop-tarts and Schnitzel”  who would have thought my rambles about food would turn to cheese making, to Much To Do About Cheese; now to being the cheese maker/co-owner of Winding Road Artisan Cheese.   It is funny what journeys life will take you on.

Our view

The view from the door of the cheese building

In September of 2015 I was asked if I wanted to buy an existing cheese making facility as the owners wanted to retire from the cheese life.  I was working on another project with my business partner, Aurelio, when I told him of the opportunity he was excited.  After jumping though many hoops we had our deal in place to take over the business and Winding Road Artisan Cheese was born.  My Linkedin account reminded me the other day that it was our one year anniversary of announcing our new company.  We took possession in mid February 2016 and started production in mid March.  We started out small with test batches and small runs.  Trying out my formulas to work with the Cardoon Enzyme we use instead of rennet, then scaling them up for 150 and 300 litre batches.  It was fun but hard work.

The first test batches of what would become Highland Hall and 183

The first test batches of what would become Fromage Blanc, Highland Hall and 183

The first batches of Josef, based on an Appenzeller, and named for my Paternal Grandfather.

The first batches of Josef, based on an Appenzeller, and named for my Paternal Grandfather.

Even our first batches of RDB, named for my Maternal Grandfather, were different from their current forms.

Even our first batches of RDB, named for my Maternal Grandfather, were different from their current forms.

I know it sounds like it has been all sunshine and rainbows, there have been setbacks.  We had two of the aging rooms go down, including the cold room, just as my milk delivery arrived.  At that time I was receiving 1000 litres of milk in 4 litre jugs, so it was a marathon all night cheese making session to process all the milk by the time the repair guy could show up in the morning.  I think I was up 37 hours during that time.   I was pretty punchy by the time I could go to sleep and the rooms were repaired.  There have been some equipment that needed to be replaced or fixed, but that is part of normal up keep.  All and all it has been a good experience and we now have regular shutdown for cleaning and maintenance.

We started to sell cheese in mid April, with our semi-lactic, yogurt and our take on German Butter Cheese being the first to go to restaurants.  We started in at the French Quarter Farmer’s Market in April of that year and started to gather a regular customer base.

Stirring curds during a Josef make.

Stirring curds during a Josef make.

I believe that gone are the days that a cheese maker can survive on Farmer’s Markets alone.  We have always made it a priority to speak to Chefs and retailers to get our cheeses in their hands so they see if they can use it or sell it in their locations.  We are in several restaurants/cafes  in Edmonton, Calgary and Canmore.  We were fortunate to be picked up by The Organic Box in Edmonton and all 3 Community Natural Food stores in Calgary now carry several of our cheeses.  We shifted to the City Market Edmonton for the winter and hope to continue with them in the outdoor season as well.

It is pretty cool to see my cheese in stores.

It is pretty cool to see my cheese in stores.

Our First Day at the City Hall Farmer's Market

Our First Day at the City Hall Farmer’s Market

We tested the first batch of Josef after 3 months.

We tested the first batch of Josef after 3 months.

One of the coolest thing that has happened during this time is having a food scientist and sales rep from the Enzyme Development Corporation come up to Smoky Lake to work with me.  They convert the Cardoon to a liquid for us, we are the only cheese makers using it in Canada (we have an exclusivity agreement) and they want to take it to cheese makers in the US.  I was happy to have them come up and show them the progress we have made with the enzyme and how I use it.  If I can get my act together and get my passport sorted I hope to be at the American Cheese Society meeting in Denver this year to help promote the enzyme.

I enjoyed working with the EDC reps, and of course I had to let them get their "hands dirty"

I enjoyed working with the EDC reps, and of course I had to let them get their “hands dirty”

As we approach our second year I want to thank everyone that has made this first year a success and we look forward to making cheese for years to come.  Did I mention my Bow Tie addiction?

I wear Bowties now, because Bowties are cool!

I wear Bow Ties now, because Bow Ties are cool!

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12 comments

  1. My son in law wears bow ties – and he is a nerd, too = but not a cheese curd – I mean nerd. 🙂 CONGRATULATIONS. I am tickled for you. I continue to live under a rock and thought I would be out to photograph you and write about you and connect with you MANY times by now… it is unforgivable… but I think of you often and am so happy for you. Have you approached the Italian Center Shops? I am certain if you can supply them, they will take your cheese and sell it there, too…. of course, it all depends on everything buying and selling and pricing depends upon, but know for certain Teresa would be interested in talking to you about it and I will be happy to write an introduction if you haven’t already had that conversation! I am enthralled by your passion, your perseverance and so pleased that at the end of year one, the overall review is positive. Hard work. Of course. That 37 hour bit would be terrifying. Hope you made your money on that hard night. The cardoon thing really fascinates me as I do not understand it… how it works and why you chose to use it… exclusively… but clearly, it is a huge coup. Anyway, had to give you a cyber hug. Hope you can feel it!!! XO V

  2. Congratulation Ian, it is so nice to see that you have been able to succeed in your dream. You were fantastic at the Great Canadian Cheese Festival and hopefully, we will see you someday there presenting your cheeses. All the best.

  3. Awesome! Congrats on 1 year in business. I passed on your info to Chartier a restaurant in Beaumont, AB that might be a good fit for your product and I hope that led to some additional business.

    If there is anything we can do at Smoky Lake Region to help support your business – please let me know! Shaun @ 780.271.1111

  4. Well done Ian. Great to hear that you still have the passion for making those amazing cheeses! Sounds like you had a steep learning curve, but manage through hard work and persistence. Kudos to you!

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