I first met Scott and Steacy den Haan a year ago at the media launch of the inaugural Great Canadian Cheese Festival. They had just gone through two major life events: the birth of their daughter and the launch of their cheese company Primeridge Pure. This summer, Grace has started walking and the cheese business is up and running; Grey Rush, Primeridge Pure's farmstead cream cheeses, are now at farmers' markets throughout Toronto and the surrounding area.
Ms. den Haan, the cheesemaker for Primeridge Pure was still helping to milk the couple's small herd of 16 Holsteins on their farm in Grey County, Ont., right up until the birth of their daughter. "It's even crazier than we thought," conceded Ms. den Haan, taking a break from packaging a new batch of cream cheese to speak to me, "we're trying to manage production around Grace's needs." This includes a lot of planning, and grandparents step in to help when cheese needs to be produced.
They settled on making Grey Rush in three flavours (original, herb blend and hot chili pepper) after researching the artisanal cheese market and seeing a gap when it came to cow's milk cream cheese. Though cheesemaking started as an alternate source of revenue, it has also become a passion."It is a love, it's exciting to see our milk make such a beautiful thing," she says.
The Primeridge milk is pasteurized using a "low and slow" treatment to preserve more of the milk's natural flavours by heating it at a lower temperature for a longer period of time. This method eliminates potentially dangerous bacteria, but keeps more of the good bacteria that help flavour the milk.
The first thing you notice is its fresh taste, especially if you're more accustomed to having a container of Philly in the fridge door. The flavours are tangy but softly rounded by the creaminess of the cheese. The original-style product (plain) can be eaten on its own or serves equally well as a base for other flavours: fresh fruit, preserves or honey. It is easily spreadable and has a light texture with a rich, smooth finish.
The herb blend version is my pick for a toasted bagel. The bright mix of chive, parsley, onion and garlic lingers gently on the palate. Unless you're looking for a real kick-start in the morning, I'd take it easy with the hot chili pepper cream cheese for breakfast. (It would however be a very tasty meal spread on crisp baguette and served with a cold beer on a warm summer night. )
Ms. den Haan, who studied at the the Vermont Institute for Artisan Cheese, is still playing around with the texture of the cheese to make it as creamy as possible. Draining for a shorter amount of time keeps in more whey and allows for a more spreadable product but also means the cheese will release some moisture once packaged – a fine balance when it comes to customer preference.
Grey Rush is made with minimal processing and contains no preservatives (the cream cheese lasts about five weeks in the fridge). The den Haans are in the process of applying for official organic certification, and already follow organic farming practices.
Grey Rush is currently only available in Southern Ontario. To try some of their cream cheese look for the Primeridge Pure table Saturdays at the Owen Sound, Orangeville, Caledon and the Stop's Farmers' Market. Tuesdays in Toronto through My Market at SickKids Hospital and Ryerson University and Thursdays in Toronto at Dufferin Grove and the East Lynn MyMarket.
Sue Riedl blogs about cheese and other edibles at cheeseandtoast.com.