Monforte Dairy (Stratford, Ontario)

Ruth Klahsen owns and operates Montforte Dairy – Ontario’s oldest operating artisanal cheese company. After 9 years, Monforte Dairy has grown to fill a 5,800 sq.ft. facility that produces 30 different kinds of cheese. Ruth is committed to continually improving and she wants to give back by teaching others.

Why did you become a cheesemaker?

I was a chef for 25 years and needed to transition to a gentler pace. Turns out, making cheese is hard work and delivers more pressure than I could have ever imagined. It’s worth it – I love making cheese and contributing to the sustainable farming movement. The 20 farms I deal with share my philosophy. Together, we try to make a world our great-grandchildren can live in.

What makes your cheese artisanal?

We use a variety of milks (cow, sheep and goat) to produce everything from ricotta and cheddars, to the exotic, moldy, French styles. To be considered ‘artisanal,’ the cheese must be handmade, using milk from under 20 farms.

We only allow seasonal milk – meaning we don’t produce year-round. From October to January we stop milking and allow our ruminants to “dry” up as part of their natural lifecycle. Our partner farms don’t allow GMOs, pesticides, or herbicides and the dairy cows are all pastured. Today, there are about 8 of us in Ontario making artisanal cheese.

Is there any advice you’d give a fledgling cheesemaker?

Learn everything there is to know about making cheese before you start because mistakes are expensive. To that point, there is nowhere to learn – that’s why I’ve offered up my dairy and am working hard to establish a cheesemaking school. The nearest agricultural school has a 4-day course that’s mostly large-scale commercial cheese production. To learn a craft like this, you need to do it over and over. So, we’re proposing an 8-week course.

Where and how do you sell your cheese?

We sell directly to high-end restaurants like Café Boulud, Royal York, Jamie Kennedy, Cava, etc. (That’s why I’m in Toronto 2-3 days a week.) We also sell at roughly 30 farmers’ markets per week. If you work for me, you sell at markets.

What’s your favourite way to enjoy your cheese?

I confess, I can’t enjoy it because I’m so self-critical and always trying to find what’s wrong with it. But when I do, I like to pair it with hard ciders and beer. I love wine, but for me, cheese just seems to pair with beer and ciders better.

Buying and storing artisanal cheese:

  • first, ask the right questions about where it comes from and how it’s made
  • buy just enough to eat for the week (Cheese isn’t meant to hang around)
  • store in cheese cloth, parchment, or foil
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