Recently I found myself in a cheddar rut (a comfortable place to be stranded) when it came to packing nibbles for camping, bike rides and outdoor summer adventures. So it was with anticipation that I was introduced to something new, Rathtrevor, a raw milk Gruyère-style cheese from Little Qualicum Cheeseworks in British Columbia.
Firm, mountain-style cheeses travel well; they were originally created to be hardy, for transport over rugged terrain. And the Gruyères, Comtés and Appenzellers never fail to deliver rich, full flavours. But most of all, I'm a sucker for their textures. The smooth supple quality of each slice yields grassy, nutty notes. My favourite match is crisp rye toast (buttered) or a crunchy apple.
Rathtrevor did not disappoint. Its aroma is full, fresh and a little tangy. The pliable texture softens even more at room temperature, further revealing its sweet, salty, buttery flavours. (Yet even after a few hours out of the fridge, the cheese maintains a welcome firmness.) The finish is savoury, rounded and long – making you pause and enjoy before reaching for another piece.
Aged eight months to one year, Rathtrevor is made in blocks. Though it may not be evident on an individually cut piece, it does develop a rind, like Gruyère. Each fresh cheese is smeared with culture and salt for the first 60 days of its aging to promote rind development and help cultivate flavour.
Little Qualicum Cheeseworks is located on the east side of Vancouver Island near the base of Mount Arrowsmith. The business is owned by Clarke and Nancy Gourlay, who source milk from their own Morningside Farm, on which they run their cheese facility as well as MooBerry Winery. Their passion for cheese was sparked during three years spent in Switzerland – when they first experienced a raclette grill, they were hooked.
Returning to B.C. in 1999, the Gourlays began to seriously research cheese-making and established Little Qualicum Cheeseworks in 2001. Nancy then returned to Switzerland to apprentice at a fromagerie for several weeks. During that time, she acquired the recipe for the cheese that was recreated back home as Rathtrevor.
With the belief that the quality of the milk depends on the welfare of the herd (a mix of Holstein, Ayrshire, Brown Swiss, and Canadienne dairy cows), Little Qualicum in 2005 became the first dairy farm in B.C. to be certified by the SPCA. The farm's temperate climate, in the shadow of Mount Arrowsmith and just inland from the Strait of Georgia, allows the cows to feed in pastures during most of the year, coming indoors only in the coldest weather.
If you're travelling in the area, you can visit Morningside Farm and see the cheese being made. Visitors are welcome to explore the land and even conduct scavenger hunts for kids.
I'm not sure how long it takes to explore 100 acres of forest and fields, but I know what I'd snack on while I wandered.
Little Qualicum cheeses can be found at grocery stores, Whole Foods, delis, specialty stores and farmers' markets all over B.C. Check the website cheeseworks.ca.