Dairy association incubates artisan cheese association


MAPLE RIDGE – Steady interest in cheesemaking has led the BC Dairy Association to incubate a group devoted to raising the stature of BC cheesemakers.

With approximately 18 cheesemakers licensed in the province, up from 15 a decade ago, Emma Davison of Golden Ears Cheesecrafters in Maple Ridge is spearheading formation of the BC Artisan Cheese Society. Davison’s vision calls for an organization similar to the American Cheese Society, which provides cheese aficionados with educational resources and networking opportunities while encouraging the highest standards of cheesemaking focused on safety and sustainability.

“Unfortunately in Canada we don’t have anything: there’s no set standards or benchmarks in our industry for new cheesemakers or people that want to get into the industry,” Davison said.

A common voice is also critical to securing government funding to expand markets for local cheese.

Cheesemaking, like other aspects of the dairy industry, is highly regulated in Canada. Cheesemakers must be licensed and purchase milk through the milk marketing board. While various individuals offer courses in cheesemaking, there is no fermentation science program along the lines of what Oregon State University offers. Cheesemakers who want to cut it must learn from each other or enrol in the University of Guelph’s annual short course in cheese production.

Similar to the US organization, the proposed BC cheese society would have three levels of membership: voting members, all of whom would be cheesemakers; associate members, such as retailers; and enthusiasts, who would receive benefits determined by the voting members.

The membership terms would ensure that society members are advancing the cause of BC cheese.

“We want to make sure we’re not having the wrong people,” she said.

With respect to voting members, the right people are commercial producers rather than hobbyists – artisans who “understand that safety is the number one priority and [are] ensuring that everybody is doing everything by the book and not producing anything that might be harmful, not only to our organization but the entire industry of artisan cheese-making in British Columbia.”

A cheesemaker on Vancouver Island shut down in late 2002 after a pregnant guest at the upscale Aerie Resort near Victoria became sick and miscarried. All told, 42 people reported illness linked to the bad cheese.

While the owner reincorporated and is now a thriving business, Davison wants to avoid a repeat.

Associate and enthusiast memberships would help artisan cheesemakers connect with the public.

“I’d like … to have the general public be as involved as possible so that they can gain some important knowledge about high our quality is and how high our standards are in not only British Columbia but Canada as far as milk goes,” she said. “Everybody assumes we’re the exact same as our counterparts down south, which is quite the opposite.”

Davison expects the society to have a dozen members when it comes into being.

Davison wrote a strategic plan earlier this year with the assistance of Trevor Hargreaves, director of producer relations at the BC Dairy Association, and it evolved after discussions with the BC Ministry of Agriculture, BC Dairy Association and the BC Milk Marketing Board.

Consultations this fall with cheesemakers across the province are a final step prior to the society’s incorporation.

While there’s no timeline for the society’s launch, the date is closer after the hard work to ensure that government and industry support for the initiative.

CLBC September 2017

Vol.103 Issue 10


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