On a stopover in Halifax airport last spring, Adam Blanchard decided to pass some time by using his laptop to make a Facebook group for his cheese-making hobby.
By the time he got home to St. John’s, his group had more than 100 fans — and potential customers — and the media had already come calling.
Blanchard, a native of Carbonear, originally planned to go to law school when he began working as a dishwasher at Magnum and Stein’s restaurant on Duckworth Street in St. John’s. Inspired by the meals he saw being prepared, he changed his mind, and enrolled in the Culinary Arts program at Holland College in P.E.I.
After completing the course and being hired as an entremetier chef at the restaurant, Blanchard picked up a book about cheesemaking over the Christmas holidays and decided to give it a go. Though he had no experience in making cheese, he had seen it being done during his training, and, after buying a second-hand cheese press and some ingredients that aren’t available locally online, he got to work.
His first cheese, made with a recipe from the book, was a cracked black pepper cheddar.
“I started last February, just making it for friends and people who came around to the house, then people started saying, ‘I want more cheese,’” Blanchard said, smiling.
“I called my business Five Brothers in honour of my brothers — I’m the oldest of the five — and I started selling it last March.”
Blanchard’s had a booth for his Five Brothers Artisan Cheese at the St. John’s Farmers’ Market, held Saturday mornings at the Lions’ Club chalet, since it began last month. In addition to the pepper cheddar, his menu includes a chèvre (goat’s cheese), a cow and goat milk feta, mozzarella, gouda, monterey jack, white cheddar and queso fresco, a Latin American soft cheese. He sells out of everything just about every week.
“Right now I’m just testing the market, seeing what people like,” Blanchard explained.
“It’s hard to keep up, some days, but I have to take a moment to put it all in perspective and not get ahead of myself. I try and take it one day at a time.”
The cheese-making process is quite complicated, involving heating homogenized milk to specific temperatures, according to the recipe and type of cheese being made. Bacteria and rennet is added and warmed before the cheese is left to sit. It’s later heated to a new temperature, the liquid whey drained off, and seasonings like pepper added. Blanchard then hangs the product in a cheese cloth before pressing it. While he’s got some he’s allowing to age, the cheese can be eaten almost right away.
“I like to do cheeses where people can taste the milk,” Blanchard explained. “I was going to try and add colour to the cheddar, but I decided the less additives, the better.”
Blanchard buys all his ingredients locally where he can, including the goats’ milk, which he gets from a farm in the Salmonier Line area. He buys his wax, bacteria and rennet from the U.S., but is hoping one day to find a local source for them. He also experiments with additions like almonds, jalapeno peppers and ash — which he says lends his cheeses a smoky flavour when sprinkled lightly on the outside of them — and is looking forward to blueberry season, so he can try infusing his cheeses with those, too.
“Staying local is very important to me,” he said. “The ingredients are fresher, they taste better, it makes sense economically and it’s all about the farmers, so why not?”
He is also researching the viability of adding a lactose-free product, since he’s been getting a lot of customers asking for one.
Apart from the farmers’ market and taking orders through his Facebook group, Magnum and Stein’s sometimes uses Five Brothers cheeses in dishes. Blanchard’s fond of using the feta for a Greek-style gnocchi recipe he’s developed. He also prepares catering platters with his cheese for wedding receptions and other events.
The cheese doesn’t come cheap, ranging from $7.50 per 100 grams for the feta to $12.50 per 100 grams for a toasted white almond cheddar, but it’s not the typical block of cheese found at the grocery store, and it doesn’t taste like it. Though Central Dairies has recently begun selling a locally-made cheese, Blanchard said he’s the only one in the province that he knows of who makes artisan cheese, by hand, and he reckons he’s filling a niche in the market.
“It’s made with good milk, lots of love and patience. Whether it’s aged or freshly-made, it’s all about the time and effort that goes into making something unique,” he said. “Plus, everybody likes cheese.”
Blanchard’s been getting requests to ship his products out of province, but said he doesn’t yet have the means to do so, and he’s not interested in doing it quite yet, anyway.
“I’d like to really make a namesake, but I want to keep it a Newfoundland treat for now. Let Newfoundlanders enjoy what’s being made locally, first.”
Out of the other four Blanchard brothers, all are fascinated by the cheese-making process, and two have shown an interest in it, Blanchard said. He’s hoping to eventually bring on some investors in order to open up a small creamery somewhere in St. John’s, where he says he’d like to see a cheese culture develop, similar to what’s seen in parts of Europe.
The end goal is to become a full-time cheesemaker, he said.
“I want to make cheese 22 hours a day — I’ll sleep for the other two,” he said.