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The Cheesemaker

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Boutique cheesemakers
Boutique cheesemakers

Pine River Cheese is owned by local farmers who not only govern the co-operative but also produce the key ingredient (milk) used to make its award winning cheeses. The artisanal plant manager and lead craftsperson is from El Salvador. And CEO Prehn is of German decent, raised in farm country just down the road. This blend of local/international/craft thinking seems to be paying off.

“The cheese industry is full of big players who mass produce cheddar using mass produced ingredients like milk powder imported from the United States. We decided that it’s silly for us to try to compete with that – so we also decided to be different. We have an artisanal plant here, new and state of the art. We have all the technology we need on the dairy and supply side – and all the skill we need now to make unique cheeses by hand. Why do what everyone else is doing? Pine River Cheese thrives by being different. And at this scale, that means being nimble, being comfortable in a state of change and leveraging our strength – the artisanal side of cheese making.”

Keeping an eye on cheese
Keeping an eye on cheese

The innovative thinking at Pine River Cheese is attracting attention from retailers across Canada and that’s good news. The new “Casa” line of Italian cheeses (Asiago and Pressato) is a strong seller. They’ve launched their own Capra Nero goat cheese and the latest innovation – The Craft Beer Cheese Puck – drew rave reviews at a recent trade show in Montreal.

“The 300-gram craft beer cheese puck is as Canadian as hockey. That’s a good fit. But so are our European cheeses because Canada is so diverse culturally. We invent our own recipes, we include local and regional partners like craft beer producers, and we stay as close to natural sources as we possibly can. Each of those decisions differentiates us.”

It’s a lifestyle decision first.
It’s a lifestyle decision first.

Ulrike moved to Huron-Kinloss in stages, leaving the city life and moving further and further into the countryside. She preferred the lifestyle and finally made the big push to being back home permanently in 2013.

So what does the future look like? “For starters, we won’t be having any black flies here – that’s a big selling point 
(she’s laughing).”

“But seriously, it’s a lifestyle decision first. Then it’s about food, anything to do with food production because you’re so close to the source of such great raw product. You have the ability here to start small and be more creative – and then to move faster than if you’re working in the big corporate world. You don’t have the obstacles here – the example is our Asiago cheese launch; everyone thought it couldn’t be done here. I asked our cheese master if it could be done; he said sure, and boom, we have this amazing new product.”  

“You can do what you love here and as long as you have a vision, it’s much easier to bring that vision to life. You can be a little quirky – you should be. You can find good creative people here and attract others. This is a blank canvas and that’s the best news of all.”

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