By Dan Rankin
When Stonetown Artisan Cheese held the grand opening ceremony at its facility located on Kirkton Road a year ago, they had plenty of cheese ready to taste for those in attendance. For the average consumer, their three main varieties (a semi-soft cheese called Homecoming, and two firmer cheeses called Wildwood and Grand Trunk) were each delicious in their own right, but Swiss-born cheese maker Ramon Eberle decided not to bother sending any of them to the competition at last year’s Royal Winter Fair.
“Back then, our cheese was about three months old,” he told the Independent on Tuesday. “We do cheese that needs to age quite a bit. It was good cheese back in November last year, but not very exciting. Now that they’re a year old, they have more flavour and character.”
Eberle, who grew up near Zurich, Switzerland but now lives in St. Marys with his wife and children, described how he goes about imbuing his cheese with its distinctive flavour. “I had recipes in mind for all three of those cheeses, but it takes time for it to develop its flavour,” he said. “Then you try it, taste it, and you might say, ‘okay, that’s not bad.’ But, it takes time to see where the cheese is going with age, how the flavour develops. I had to adjust the recipes a little bit to get them where I wanted. I did some tweaking.”
This year, he sent in aged examples of all three varieties and was handsomely rewarded for his efforts. Competing against cheese makers from across Ontario, Quebec and Alberta, the local business saw its Homecoming cheese place first in the “Surface Ripened” category (Fontina, Oka, Munster, St Paulin), while Grand Trunk placed first in the Firm category (Brick, Colby, etc.). Grand Trunk narrowly beat out Wildwood, which place second in the same category.
“There were some established names behind us,” said president Hans Weber. “It makes us really proud.”
Weber said he’s optimistic that the exposure on such a large stage will open up more avenues for them to sell their products. “It should open some doors, we hope,” he said.
Beyond their three main varieties, Stonetown Artisan Cheese has recently introduced several new flavours. These include “Baby Swiss,” “Muskoka Bliss,” and “Zesty Festival.” They’ve also got a pair of varieties dubbed “Red Game Changer” and “White Game Changer.”
“Vineland Estates, a winery down Niagara Falls way, approached us and asked if we could make a cheese to pair with their new wine, Game Changer,” explained Weber, who said they were introduced through a mutual business associate. “They go to the stores with the wine and the cheese together now.”
Another area cheese maker showcasing at the fair, Adam Van Bergeijk of New Hamburg’s Mountanoak Cheese, had his Mountainoak Farmstead Premium GOLD named this year’s “Grand Champion Variety Cheese – Reserve.”
Both Weber and Eberle hoped to attend some of the festivities at the Royal Winter Fair at Exhibition Place in Toronto this week. Events continue through Sunday.
Stonetown Artisan Cheese, which has products available in St. Marys at the Cheese Shoppe, is open Thursdays and Fridays from 3:00 pm to 6:00 pm and on Saturdays from 9:00 am to 4:00 pm. For more information, call 519-229-6856 or visit Stonetowncheese.com.