Hi, I recently returned to my hometown of Antigonish and am working from here for ACORN this summer. I am happy to report that I am really excited and impressed by the food and agriculture communities in town here. You may have read about VOICES Antigonish’s local food box program in ACORN’s E-news this month. VOICES also co-ordinate two large community garden plots, and have provided and helped to plant raised beds to several organizations including a L’Arche house, a senior’s residence, co-op housing groups, and the town’s elementary school. Those in the area may have heard that Tony’s Meats, a long established abattoir and processor, was recently bought by 15 local farmers–including local organic farmers, Frazer and Angela Hunter. The Tony’s crew will open a deli, The Prissy Pig, later this week to make their local offerings more accessible to the lunch crowd. They will be joining several Antigonish restaurants (Justamere Café, The Alcove, and Gabrieau’s) who are making efforts to offer more locally grown foods.
Last week, I had the pleasure of paying a visit to Frazer and Angela Hunter who run our area’s only certified organic dairy operation, raise organic beef and lamb, and (HOORAY!) will soon start to sell their own organic cheese!
The Hunter’s emigrated to Nova Scotia from the U.K. in the late 70s. In 1998 they bought a functioning dairy farm in Knoydart, halfway between Antigonish and New Glasgow, along the beautiful and rugged coastline of the Northumberland Strait. As Hunter would now be giving up his off-farm income they had to increase their revenue. They decided to do this in a variety of ways: they diversified–adding some beef and lamb production, and decided to add value to their dairy production by transitioning to organic, and eventually setting up a facility to produce organic cheese.
In 2002 they started their transition, and in 2006 they got their organic certification. They currently have about 80 head of dairy cattle, 40 beef, and 60 heifers, and small herd of lamb. Organic certification requires that that calves are suckled, and that the animals graze outdoors. This has encouraged the Hunter’s to make a switch from Holsteins to Jersey cows, because the Jerseys are better grazing animals, smaller and less maintenance than the heavy-producing Holsteins. Plus, Jersey milk has a higher solid (fat and protein) content that makes it ideal for cheese production.
As Nova Scotia currently has five small cheese producers (Foxhill, That Dutchman, Ran-cher Acres, Earltown Country and Holmestead), and one can already find locally produced cheddar, gouda, feta, havarti and goat’s cheese in NS, the Hunters wanted to produce something different. They eventually chose a British classic, a Double Gloucester style cheese.
The large wheel (7 kilos!) that we sampled from had been aged for two months and was deliciously rich, creamy, and had just the right kind of flavourful bite! As the milk is non-standardized (not blended in large batches to balance naturally occurring variations), each batch will have a slightly different flavour/texture, which changes as the seasons do. Hunter claims the cheese made from milk produced when the cows were eating the very fresh and tender spring grasses had a very different taste than that produced a few months later. This imparts an element of what oenophiles (a.k.a. wine geeks) refer to as “terroir,” or a “sense of place”–flavour that reflects the particular geography, weather and soil conditions, and farming techniques.
Although they cannot yet sell it, the Frazer very generously sent me home with several packages of their cheese sporting an attractive garnet and gold label that reads, “Knoydart Farm, Naturally Organic.” Some of the cheese was flavoured with black pepper, and some with red pepper flakes, and pretty much all of it has been happily consumed already! Hunter hopes to bring their cheese to market within the next month or two, so be sure to look for his certified organic Double Gloucester at the Antigonish and New Glasgow Farmers Markets, The Prissy Pig, and other local restaurants, and soon at select NS retailers. And it’s certainly worth the drive to get it straight from the farm!
A couple of articles (several years old now) from Rural Delivery on organic milk: