There’s something special about seeing a product come to life from start to finish, and in the case of The Farm House Natural Cheeses you can do just that.
On a self-guided tour through the Agassiz property, you’ll find cows and goats grazing the fields and a farmer milking the animals daily in the barn. After that, the milk gets transferred to the farm’s processing plant. Viewers are invited to peer through the windows and see how the cheese-making process works. Inside is what looks like a bathtub – a large metal vat that heats the milk, pasteurizing it.
“Customers appreciate they can view the whole story,” said Dana Dinn, the wholesale manager who has been with the company for over 10 years. “Everyone wants to know and see where their food is coming from and what goes into it.”
The Farm House Natural Cheeses was established in 2003 by Debra Amrein-Boyes and her husband, George, who learned about cheese making in Switzerland before bringing the craft to B.C. The couple has since retired, relocating to Quebec. The new owner, Brian Bilkes, took over, and the company still maintains that family feel, with a tight-knit team of around a dozen.
In the summer, they pack their products into a truck and drive them to different farmers’ markets, mainly in Vancouver, where they sell cheese, milk, butter and yogurt. Their cows have a higher fat content, which in the case of cheese, is part of what makes it so delicious.
Their European heritage breed cows — Jerseys, Guernseys and Brown Swiss cattle — contain the A2 protein, which produces a higher butter-fat content, creating those creamy and rich cheeses.
Dinn said that people who think they are lactose intolerant come to their farm and realize they can consume their products, which may be partly due to the A2 protein and also because their milk isn’t homogenized.
“[Homogenized milk] can be difficult for our bodies to digest. When the milk is homogenized, it changes the structure in the molecules of the milk, making it harder to break down.”
The Farm House Natural Cheeses takes the word ‘natural’ seriously, which is often misused within the food industry. Despite regulations by The Canadian Food Inspection Agency, ‘natural’ products can still contain artificial or synthetic ingredients.
“Our products are the bare minimum. Milk, culture, a little salt, sodium chloride. That’s it for our cheeses. Our milk is heated-up with no additives. We make a drinkable yogurt, and we don’t add sweeteners. It’s just honey and fruit puree, for example. No sugar or anything like that,” said Dinn.
The Farm House Natural Cheeses offers various kinds of cheese, some of which are pressed into a mould, coated with an antifungal layer and then dipped into a wax – think gouda or their Country Morning cheese.
Other cheeses are their washed-rind cheeses, Heidi or Alpine Gold, for example. The cheese is washed with brine (salted water) every two or three days, forming its own rind and developing more colour while it sits and ages.
Most of their cheeses age three to six months, with some aging a year, two or more. Some cheeses head to the farmers’ markets, others to stores or restaurants, including the farm’s gift shop, where people can purchase them and indulge in cheese tastings. They also sell other curated products, supporting local artisans in the area.
It all sounds picturesque, although it comes with much hard work. For example, due to flooding a few years ago, many larger farms producing on a commercial scale could not transfer their products.
“We were working every day trying to get more milk bottled and products made. All the local grocery stores were calling us trying to get their shelves stocked because they didn’t have butter, they didn’t have milk. Everyone was kind of scared in that situation. It was a crazy experience,” said Dinn.
Since their farm doesn’t rely on external transportation and everything is made directly on-site, their employees loaded up their vehicles, delivering milk, butter, yogurt and cheese products as quickly as possible.
To keep up with demand, much of the milk regularly used to make cheese was instead bottled or made into yogurt. Yogurt takes around three days to make, but it’s a quicker turnaround time than cheese, which can take a few months, said Dinn.
The Farm House Natural Cheeses is quaint, and they love to support their community.
“We encourage people to go around, farm to farm, and see everything that the community has to offer.”
They’re part of the Circle Farm Tour, which guides people to 10 to 20 different farms, markets, eateries, fairs, heritage sites and other special events in the area. The brochure and map allow people to create a leisurely self-guided trip through the grassy fields of the Fraser Valley.
“A lot of people hop on their bicycles and go around to all of the different destinations,” said Dinn.
Visit farmhousecheeses.com for all your cheese needs.