When Petra Kassun-Mutch, founder of Fifth Town Artisan Cheese in Ontario's Prince Edward County, stepped down as president in 2011, there was genuine sadness in the cheese community. Through her commitment to sustainable management, support of local producers and espousal of traditional cheese craftsmanship, Kassun-Mutch had become inexorably linked to the artisanal cheese movement. The company went into receivership in 2012, partly because of divorce complications between Kassun-Mutch and her husband (a 50-per-cent partner) and challenges covering operating costs. But even as it shut down, there was speculation about who would buy the facility.
This spring, buzz spread that it had been purchased and would reopen. The recipes for all the Fifth Town cheese were included as part of the deal, so yes (do your happy cheese dance), Cape Vessey, Fifth Town's popular sweet and tangy goat cheese, will be back.
The new owners are Patricia Secord and her brother, Hugo Bertozzi (an Alberta physician), whose father, Adriano Bertozzi, came to Canada from Italy and launched Bertozzi Importing, one of the first companies to supply us with Parmigiano Reggiano, in 1952. Bertozzi is active on the company board, while Secord works as the general manager.
"We've always said that importers are in the middle. We rely on manufactures for good-quality products and retailers to sell them – and we often spoke in the family that we should have manufactured this or that," Secord said. "This is really a kind of dream that we always had and I wish my dad would have been around to see it."
The bad news (just when I got you excited) is that it could take at least six months for cheese production to roll out. Even though Fifth Town is already a cheese-making facility, it must go through all the applications and procedures to register as a brand-new dairy, plus do some renovations in the factory.
The store is on track to open May 30, in time for the annual Great Canadian Cheese Festival in Prince Edward County June 1-2. For the time being, the store will offer a variety of lesser-known cheeses from producers in Italy. Secord was hesitant about bringing in international products, knowing that Fifth Town's reputation had been built on its support for local product, but she says the community has been very supportive. "Everyone wants to get the place up and running and this is going to help us get through the period of reconstruction," she said.
Fifth Town's cheese maker is Laura Todd, who had worked there previously as an associate cheese maker. She's teamed up with Todd Burley, a sixth-generation dairy farmer who has been plant manager since the company opened. The factory will work with more of a farm mentality, meaning fewer people doing more hands-on work.
The goal is to expand Fifth Town's farm-to-table concept. Ultimately, Secord wants to go beyond cheese, and has already talked with local salami producers about making charcuterie from local whey-fed pigs. She would also like to help the area's artisans by selling cheese-friendly chutneys and sauces.
Secord acknowledges that maintaining Fifth Town's legacy of local, traditionally made foods in a fiscally sustainable way will be a challenge and a "work in progress." But that legacy means a lot of people are in the stands rooting for the home team.
For updates on the store opening, check www.fifthtown.ca
Sue Riedl blogs about cheese and other edibles at cheeseandtoast.com.