The table in Jeff and Coralee Nonay’s kitchen is a beast. At 108 inches long and 40 inches wide, the weighty, hand-crafted beauty can accommodate a dozen diners. Today, the chairs are pushed aside to give people better access to what it has become: the biggest charcuterie board I’ve ever seen.
I’ve arrived in time to witness Kristina Shufelt-Harris of Workshop Eatery arranging, layering and propping a profusion of cured meats and condiments on trays of varying size. She is quiet, intent and methodical in her approach, so I step aside and busy myself with jotting notes and snapping pictures for posterity.
It’s an impressive assortment and my mouth is watering, but despite the tantalizing array of capicola and coppa, rows of bresaola and pastrami, nobs of duck paté and slivers of smoked beef tongue, and all the nuts and berries and crackers and bread one could imagine, what I and a handful of friends and family have come for is Ian Treuer’s cheese.
Many will recognize Treuer as the head cheesemaker from Winding Road, a company he co-owned up until recently. The cheeses he made there won awards and garnered rave reviews from people near and far. But that was then. Treuer’s new endeavour has him north of Edmonton at Lakeside Dairy building cheese recipes out of the milk provided by Jeff and Coralee Nonays’ cows.
Today, a handful of us get to benefit from Treuer’s masterminding and manipulations of rennets, cultures and processes. Sampling and feedback is step one in this project between him and the Nonays. Once he’s happy with the outcome, the team will scale up production in their newly built production facility.
Having tasted Treuer’s Winding Road cheeses, I know firsthand his skill, and having interviewed Jeff Nonay on several occasions regarding both his dairy and beef operations, I am well aware of this man’s work ethic and excruciating attention to detail, quality and care when it comes to his farming practises. I am very excited about the future of Lakeside Farmstead‘s offerings.
Now, on this table before me, 10 varieties of Treuer’s cheese are on display and portioned into hunks and chunks, cubes and slices, wedges and rounds, and placed amidst the peaks and valleys of other components. Finally, we are given the green light to feast.
I start with the Chaga Cheddar, a cream-coloured cheese laced with thin, golden swirls brought about by first soaking the curds in chaga tea. Chaga is a fungus that grows mainly on birch trees and has, for years, been used to make teas and tinctures. It is odd looking in its natural state but loaded with nutrients, and when allowed to infuse its properties into cheese, imparts a nutty, chocolatey flavour.
Treuer’s other cheddar is a 5-month-old Clothbound. Despite its youth, it exhibits rich undertones and has a lovely texture. I hope to taste it in another 15 months because even at this early stage, it shows great potential for ageing.
The Lakeside Red and the German Butter cheese would be two I’d keep as staples in my cheese drawer. One briny, the other creamy. Both are interesting enough yet totally approachable and—I have a feeling—highly addictive.
The Jack cheese studded with bits of earthy morel mushroom would pair beautifully with a Pinot Noir or a Chardonnay, maybe even a Cab Franc. I want to grab them all and run away on a research mission to the Okanagan to pair these specimens with BC wines.
Just when I think I’ve found one I like best, I cut into the Lakeside Brie. It has come to room temperature and relaxed to a perfectly spreadable, gooey state. The rind is white and bloomy and the buttery flavour of this soft, ripened cheese has me wishing for a glass of Tantalus Riesling to go with it.
At the stove, a friend of the family is assembling pizzas and topping them with Treuer’s fresh, hand-stretched mozzarella. As quickly as he takes one out of the oven and sets it on the table, it’s gone.
So much freshness. So much good cheese made right here on this farm by a man completely devoted to the craft. Ian Treuer is a gem; a cheese wizard. If the only thing holding up this production is funding, give the man his rennet, I say. Let him make cheese!
I return for another trip around the table. More Brie, more Chaga Cheddar, more of everything. Now that my palate is primed, other nuances make themselves known. Cheese research is a wonderful thing.
Treuer is open to comments and opinions. These are necessary in order for him to tweak and improve recipes before ramping up production. What a wonderful and telling trait in a person devoted to perfecting his craft. If these samples are what he has to offer as an introduction to the Lakeside Farmstead project, I can’t wait to taste the improved versions.
I will keep repeating what I believe to be true and what I’ve said for the past 15 years in my foodwriting: we need to support the farmers and ranchers who care about the land on which they humanely raise their animals. We need to encourage and support the cheesemakers and bakers; the crop growers, the millers, the butchers, and independent restaurants whose chefs source directly from conscientious producers. We need food artisans to create food that is made with love and passion and care and devotion.
There is no more obvious a time than right now, during this pandemic, to emphasize the importance and value of supporting local.