Monforte’s local cheese renaissance
The story of Ruth Klahsen and her dairy are well-known in Ontario’s local food world.
Montforte Dairy has a loyal – and growing – following of fans devoted to the agricultural values it espouses and the cheeses it produces.
So devoted, in fact, that they have raised about half a million dollars as members of a Community Shared Agriculture (CSA) project to help Montforte find a new home when an expired lease on its previous location in Millbank left the dairy suddenly homeless.
I had the chance to visit Montforte’s brand new facility in Stratford earlier this month as part of a food writer tour in Perth County and listen to Ruth talk about her business and her passion for making truly outstanding cheese.
Oh, and sample some of the delicious cheeses too. They were rich in flavour and a real pleasure to taste…but back to the story of the dairy.
The dairy features three ripening rooms – called fonage in France, where, according to Ruth, the ripening process of cheese is considered more important than cheese-making.
There’s a white mold room for camembert type cheeses, a blue mold room for Roquefort and a “wild” room for their cheeses like Toscano, Saler, Abundance and Piacere, which need a much longer aging process.
It’s still a work in progress and they’re not yet where they want to be with the mold rooms, Ruth candidly admits, adding they’re the only ones in Ontario currently working with ripening.
“We’re having some issues with the molds and trying to contain them – it’s definitely the tricky part of cheese-making.”
Originally a chef by trade, Ruth launched her cheese-making business in 2004, but even now, she says, “we still feel like we only know maybe 30-35 per cent of what we need to know about making cheese.”
All three of her sons, whom she says all swore they’d have nothing to do with cheese, now work full time with her at Monforte’s, where they make a range of artisanal cheeses out of sheep, goat and cow’s milk.
They’re hoping to add buffalo milk soon and are doing some experimenting with milking horses as well.
The dairy buys its milk from approximately 20 local farms, and is also expanding into complementary locally produced foods like charcuterie, crackers and flat breads.
Monforte’s makes about 30 different cheeses, which are sold through the dairy’s retail store, 31 farmers’ markets and some specialty food stores.
This includes four markets in Toronto on Saturdays, meaning Ruth gets up at 2:30 a.m. in order to hit the road on time for the two hour trip from Stratford.
But it’s worth it, she says.
“It’s important to build relationships and be able to look people in the eye,” she believes. “The most important thing we can do is to fix our world agriculturally by shortening our distribution channel. And as consumers, it’s our job to figure out how to make farming viable.”