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In Pictures: Behind the scenes at Gunn's Hill Artisan Cheese

Shep Ysselstein is the owner and cheese maker at Gunn's Hill Artisan Cheese near Woodstock, Ont. Learn more about how he turned his family's dairy farm into a thriving cheese company

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Shep Ysselstein is the owner and cheese maker at Gunn's Hill Artisan Cheese near Woodstock, Ont.

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Gunn’s Hill has been a dairy farm since the 1800s and since the Ysselstein family bought it in the 1960s, the daily routine is to feed and milk the herd of 130 Holsteins morning and evening.

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"I really like business and farming is a business. But milking cows every single day wasn’t necessarily for me," he says.

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Mr. Ysselstein has other brothers and two had already moved away from the farm to pursue other careers. He’s seen many family farms get sold because the younger generation didn’t want to put in the hours it takes to make a living farming.

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"We produced milk and they just trucked it away and it was hard to know where it was used," Mr. Ysselstein explains.

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Rather than send away the milk they produced, his inspiration was to become a producer of artisanal cheeses to add more value to the farm.

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Mr. Ysselstein found that sales of specialty cheeses were growing rapidly in Canada. "It seemed like the time was right for what I had in mind," he says. But he had no experience as a cheese maker, and he jumped at the chance to spend a summer on a cheese-producing farm in the Swiss Alps.

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The experience taught him the true meaning of artisanal: hands-on,’ Mr. Ysselstein says. "When I’m making cheese, I’m very physically involved with it. I feel it and touch it and stir it myself. In industry it’s all automated."

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"We will use about 250,000 litres of milk a year. (To put that in perspective, it’s the milk produced by about 30 cows in a year). A large cheese factory might use a million litres a day," he explains.

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If he had to do it over again, he might have built in more time before he had to get his cheese on the market. "The thing about cheese is it doesn’t just sell right away. There’s a long time in production. Some are ages eight months to a year."

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Now that he’s got the technique right, the business is on track. In his second year of sales, he figures the cheese operation will break even this year and turn a profit in 2014.

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