Phenomenal Swiss Cheeses, Made with The Best Raw Milk.
This time we had the pleasure of speaking with Ramon Eberle, from Stonetown Artisan Cheese, located in St. Marys, Ontario Canada. Stonetown is an on-farm cheese plant, and its cheeses are made with unpasteurized milk. The cheese-making process is very similar to how cheese has been made for many centuries in the mountains of the Swiss Alps. A family tradition that has been passed down from generation to generation.
In this interview, Ramon explains the process of creating almost 25 types of cheese, from the care, comfort, and feeding of the cows to the aging time of the cheese, which has made them multiple award winners. We enjoy so much this conversation and hope you will be inspired to visit the farm or order their products through the various local stores where they are available.
From Swiss Alps to Ontario
“Happy cows, happy milk, and happy Cheese”
Dario: Thank you, Ramon. We had an opportunity to meet him in the past. The product is quite incredible and unbelievably versatile in many ways you want to use for consumption.
Anita: So, in the beginning, we actually were muted and we weren’t on video so for those people that don’t know we are Anita and Dario’s adventures, O’live your life, we talk about food travel and anything to inspire you to live your life to the fullest so I’m so happy that we have Stonetown Cheese and Ramon is here today. How are you doing Ramon?
Ramon: I’m good, how are you guys?
Anita: Good! We’re excited to have you. We’ve worked with you many times in the past over the years and actually, we came across you because we were the celebrity chef team at Medley and that’s when we met Hans and Jolanda, and once we tried your cheese it was heaven, so we always love working with you and all that you do over there and St. Marys Ontario.
Dario: I still have the memory of this cheese, actually that it was incorporated in one of our recipes your Grand Trunk, one of my favorite cheeses and I know pretty sure you got many more than you would like to share with us but it was such a phenomenal phenomenal phenomenal. Cheers!
Then we incorporate it in one of our recipes that actually work perfectly for the product. And I think the uniqueness about your company is the passion around the ground zero, meaning how to grow out the animals so in this case the cow, the habitat of the cows, and of course, your expertise in cheese making.
Anita: Yes, we had a great time, and then we’re going to ask you some questions, but when we actually came to visit your facility I mean, for people that want to take a drive, if they live in Ontario it’s definitely a drive to take and to see the store, the facilities and how you take care of your cows. How the quality in making the cheese. I remember that you had these bags of sand that you had in there for the cows to be able to relax comfortably and then they had these back scratchers and they were almost like you know, you’re in a car wash one of those spiny things and I’m thinking…
Ramon: It’s like a spa almost.
“I think the uniqueness about your company is the passion around the ground zero, meaning how to grow out the animals so in this case the cow, the habitat of the cows, and of course, your expertise on cheese making”
Chef Dario Tomaselli
A tradition passed down from generation to generation
Anita: Happy cows make happy milk and happy cheese, Right? So, explain a little bit from ground zero, how do you start with producing some of the cheese and the quality that you have in your cheese?
Ramon: How did we start? I think it starts with the Weber’s and myself growing up with quality cheese right back in Switzerland. I grew up with my parents owning a cheese business back into this one. They owned a business where we made swiss cheese, Emmental cheese, and the workers grew up milking cows that produce milk that went into cheese factories or cheese plants.
So they were always used to producing quality milk that was turned into cheese, and then they came over here to Canada and they just continued this, and they wanted to make their own cheese, and in order to make good cheese as you said, you need healthy animals, you need good quality milk, and they found a cheesemaker, and we made good cheese out of good quality milk so it’s quality from how you treat your cows, to how you milk the cows, to how the milk is all over to the cheese. Now the cheese will turn out once it’s all aged and done.
“In order to make good cheese as you said, you need healthy animals, you need good quality milk, and they found a cheesemaker, and we made good cheese out of good quality milk so it’s quality from how you treat your cows, to how you milk the cows, to how the milk is all over to the cheese.”
Dario: Let’s talk a little bit about milk here because obviously, Anita started saying happy cow, happy milk. So, you know the expertise of people about cheese making and the quality of cheese. Obviously if the quality of the animal, the feeding, I’m talking about the way the habitat of the cow has, the environment, and you guys are very specific about that.
You guys are really focused. I remember talking to Hans and Jolanda when we were there the last time, I said this what feels like the fourth season for cows. They have all the perfect habitat, the perfect way of doing the feeding process, so we are talking about feeding. What’s animal gets fed in order for you at the end of it maintain a high good quality of cheese?
Ramon: So ideally you would say you want to have your cows grass on a pasture outside, but with the amount of cows we have here in Canada on a farm, the Weber’s have up to almost 300 cows, at this point, you don’t have enough pasture to graze those cows right so they’re in the barn, you want to make it comfortable for the cows.
That’s why you saw those bags of sand, so they lay on beach sand which controls the temperature, in the summer it keeps them nice and cool, in the wintertime, it absorbs the heat from the cow and keeps them warm, and it’s very clean too and the feed for the cows are spent their days in the barn.
It’s silage from corn from the hen that’s mostly their nutrition for us to make raw milk cheese. It doesn’t really matter what the cow eats as long as it’s good for the cow, because once we make the cheese and the cheese ages, it develops its own flavor. It’s not like you feed the cow something specific and your cheese will taste a certain way.
Anita: But it’s important to feed them healthy because if you don’t some people can feed their livestock with bad things, and the next thing you know you don’t have quality cheese, so it’s important to feed them healthy things anyway right.
Dario: And also, we’re talking about the mass production and I know you guys are very crafted in a way to really maintain a high-quality product for the consumer to obtain that quality product and that’s sometimes the phenomenon, nowadays and everybody wants to produce mass production but eventually the quality of your product doesn’t really stand for it this is one thing you guys pride yourself. To really maintain the great quality of the product and that is the memory.
I mean I lived in Switzerland, I worked in Switzerland, I am a neighbor of Switzerland the way I live in Italy, so I consider myself knowledgeable about the product and the system the way cheese making is done in Switzerland. Obviously, I’m not an expert but before our North American consumers did not necessarily know who Stonetown Cheese is, and the type of philosophy the Stonetown Cheese have.
For a person like yourself Ramon, like you just said that is being grown in a swiss type of environment, how did you have to adapt and translate your mentoring of cheese making in Switzerland to North America?
Ramon: The cheese-making process itself is not much different than it was back in Switzerland. Back in Switzerland, everything is a little bit more controlled. You make one kind of cheese usually, maybe a couple, specialty cheeses at the side but at the end of the month your wholesale partner picks up all your cheese and everything is very certain and controlled. Here we had to start out.
We started out with three different kinds of cheese, we had to do all the marketing ourselves, we had to go to the stores ourselves in the beginning and sample our cheese, drop off samples and ask them: are you interested in this cheese? So, there was way more groundwork here for us to do.
Also, your consumers over here are not as used to artisanal cheese as they are back in Europe back in Switzerland so it’s also an introduction to a new kind of product to a lot of customers making them familiar with artisanal cheese, I think that’s been growing over the past years. We’ve not been the first ones to do that but the smaller artisanal cheesemakers are popping up, but as I said the process of cheese making is not much different than it is back in Switzerland.
Anita: I find it interesting because in North America as a child my parents had to be from Holland, they had to go to the specialty markets to be able to get cheese, and in North America at the time, I mean this is talking many years ago when I was a child, you’d have a block of a processed type cheese that was considered the cheese for north America, and my parents coming from Holland, and you know from coming from Italy you know you’re shaking your head thinking that’s not really cheese, it’s more plastic.
So, for North America to adapt, and now over the last few years there is that exposure, and cheeses that come in from other markets but with Stonetown you’re able to create that quality of cheese and then be able to use the cows from home which is a great thing to try as well, and I think that people have broadened their minds and what’s available out there for cheese for the heart or soft cheese for cooking or for charcuterie which we’d love to get into as well, and it’s nice to see that it’s not just that square place of plastic anymore.
There are so many other options out there for people to try for their health, and also for flavor.
Dario: Well health is a big one too it’s that’s probably one of the biggest things, I think. You look back, for an example that cheese producing, okay they really have to depend on the milk from somebody else, and you have to make sure that the farmer grows the animal in a specific way, and then you get your milk in it for you guys have 100 full control of your product from point zero to the final product which is quite remarkable. It’s not an easy process.
Raw milk cheese at Stonetown Artisan Cheese
Ramon: No, it’s not, but it allows us to make a quality product. This was the reason why we wanted to make raw milk cheese at Stonetown Artisan Cheese, this was our vision from the beginning to differentiate us from other artisanal cheesemakers.
Here in Ontario there wasn’t many that made raw milk cheese, and because we knew our cows, we know who milks the cows, we know the quality of our milk, that is that allows us to make raw milk cheese, and raw milk cheese tends to age nicer, tends to create a nicer flavor in the cheese, and it’s also a little bit more of a challenge to make a quality raw milk cheese to produce a safe product and that starts with safe clean milk, so this really having control over all the processes allowed us to make raw milk cheese which is one of our selling points.
The Process of Making Raw Milk Cheese
Dario: Yes that’s for sure. So, for people that don’t know what role milk cheese means and how is the process, could you please give us an idea so people understand a little bit more? and when they go to a shelf and they see I know raw milk cheese, that’s what it actually means?
Ramon: So, the process between making raw milk cheese and making cheese from pasteurized milk is not that much different. Pasteurization means you heat the milk to a temperature and keep it hot at a certain time to kill off any bacteria that could potentially harm you, any pathogens. So that’s usually let’s say 72 degrees Celsius for 15 seconds that should eliminate or eliminate all the bacteria that could make you ill like Coli, E. coli, Salmonella, Listeria, those are the most known.
So when we make raw milk cheese we don’t pasteurize the milk we stay below that temperature we warm the milk up because the milk comes to our cheese plant cold it needs to be cooled down below 4 degrees Celsius, we have to reactivate the milk so we warm it up but we don’t heat it up to pasteurization temperature, we have hurdles and steps in our production when we make raw meal cheese that eliminate any kind of harmful bacteria’s that could possibly in the milk.
But like I said, it starts in the milk itself by having a clean milking process, when you touch the cows, and when you milk the cows when your equipment utensils they all need to be sanitized and clean, so you don’t even get those pathogens into the milk and if any of those pathogens make it into the milk, well then we have steps within our productions like heating the cheese curds, salting the cheese, aging the cheese for a certain length of time that eliminate any of those possible pathogens, so we have to be maybe a little bit more mindful when we make cheese from raw milk than when we make cheese from pasteurized milk.
But on the other hand, when you pasteurize your milk you don’t just eliminate all the bacteria that could harm you potentially, you also eliminate all the bacteria that are good for your body that come within the milk.
You don’t sterilize the milk but you wipe out all of the good beneficial bacteria’s that are within the milk which are the ones we try to keep in the raw milk cheese, and then we add culture to the milk our bacteria’s that control what’s going on in the milk, and later in the cheese that will give us the flavor in the cheese later on that we desire so that is really the difference here.
Where I can find them?
Anita: Yeah and it’s interesting, you know our philosophy at O’live Your Life is that not to eliminate and cut everything out of your life, but to enjoy and bring good products into your life and good foods, and that’s why Stonetown Cheese is so important, and we created the recipe with the Onion Soup as well and we use Stonetown Cheese, and I know with all the hard work that you guys have done you’re in Sobeys now right. You’re in Sobeys across Canada?
Ramon: Yes, we were fortunate enough to be part of a campaign in that they already started last year around Christmas time and thanksgiving, but again this year for Easter we had four of our cheese: our Emmental Grand Trunk, Moonshine Cheese, and I think Homecoming or Fontina in each and every Sobeys store all over Canada, and same again for thanksgiving this year which was for us quite a struggle to get all that cheese, not just made but also pre-packed, boxed up, and shipped out, but was a great marketing firm.
Anita: You’ve probably had some really happy homes out there right being able to access it much quicker from you, and I know that we’ve had some local companies here that have carried your cheese as well, so it is very special when you do get your hands on it for sure and we also have a special at the end for some of our members that we’re going to talk about later too that if you ordered directly online from you that we’re going to talk about soon, but yeah I guess we should talk a little bit about cooking with cheese and charcuterie, did you have any specific questions?
Dario: Well there’s one thing I want to start, but I want to go back for a bit. Ok, so we talked about it, I remember the first time we came to Stonetown Cheese and I think Ramon was the only person there doing the cheese I think at that time was really the beginning.
Anita: I have a video online on it too!
Creating the Ideal Cheese Board and Cheese Fondue
Dario: About the development of the company, and it’s almost joyful to hear the way you guys were able to expand, and still maintain those passion craft techniques, and this is great and the reason why I asked about raw milk, pasteurized and unpasteurized is because people don’t understand that, but it’s such an important fact.
I mean I love Romero cheeses I have always been a big fan of Romero cheeses, so at the beginning, we talked about how to use your product we are coming into the Christmas season now we are into the season of people start creating a charcuterie board what to do with cheeses and we always say to everybody: cook and use local, and you guys are the classical example so tell us a little bit of the variety of cheese than you would recommend right now.
For example, for any type of charcuterie board, so obviously looking of cheese maybe that is a bit more aged, and cheese maybe then is a little bit softer that could be used, for example, I know you guys have a phenomenal selection of cheese that could be used for cheese fondue okay which for example you know for us in Europe we know that there are the classical cheeses for fondue than you use, but you guys have your specific type of cheese than you recommend Christmas time, and I remember when I lived in Switzerland sometimes at night you get a group of people, you’re organized, you create your cheese fondue night, and I know a lot of people are interested and want to know-how.
“We always say to everybody: cook and use local, and you guys are the classical example so tell us a little bit of the variety of cheese than you would recommend right now”
Chef Dario Tomaselli
Anita: We love doing our cheeseburgers as well, it’s a great way of getting people together and eating together.
Ramon: For the cheese fondue we have our original three really which is the Homecoming which is kind of like an oka or would be known in Europe as a till set a mild semi-soft cheese, that’s about 3-4 months old, it’s very creamy than the Wildwood, which is based on an open cellar cheese that is very popular in Switzerland of course, and Austria, France, Germany, and Italy.
A cheese that’s at this point about 9-10 months old also still creamy. At this point, it’s a firmer cheese that has tons of flavor very kind of like herbal flavor, and then the Grand Trunk, of course, our two-year-old heart cheese that’s based on a swiss gruyere recipe just a smaller wheel that brings like a punch to the fondue.
So if you combine those three kinds of cheese, at the third of each you’ll get the perfect fondue, and then it’s all about adding garlic, white wine or you can do it with cider too, you can do it with beer, you can do it with any kind of liquid really, and pepper and just make it taste the way you like it right.
Dario: We put a clear stew.
Ramon: Oh yeah, if you have that’s great too. You want to go wild, then you take your bread and you dip it in the kirsch you put it in the cheese.
Dario: I’ll tell you a story, Ramon. when I lived in Switzerland I was invited to this family and she’s full like traditional, you get there the right bread the right cheese. and you’re from the start. and exactly you say; you’re dipping the bread in here but that was the trick if you drop your bread into the fondue, you got to pay a round of drinks to everyone. I cannot tell you many times I bought drinks for everyone over there!
Ramon: Yeah there’s you can make a game out of it too, right? We always say if you drop your bread in the fondue and the cheese, you got to do the dishes.
Dario: What I would have might try to clean the dishes, to be honest with you.
Ramon: But yeah that’s the fondue, right? And then for the charcuterie board like I said, we started out with those three different kinds of cheese but now we have 25 different kinds in our store so you can put on we have some very aged cheese like the Grand Trunk, more HD’s like the Wildwood, but then we have tons of semi-soft cheese that contain, let’s say we have the Muskoka Bliss with cranberries, we have a Chipotle Pepper with chipotle peppers, garlic, onion, and black pepper. Then we have Jalapeno Cheese.
Those cheese add color to your cheese board, they’re fun to have on a cheeseboard. We have some goat cheese too, we have Capri Ella, which is a semi-soft creamy goat cheese, we have the Amazing Grey, we just won at the British Empire Cheese Competition this year Overall Best Cheese which is a hug, that is a cheese that’s not really that much out there the Amazing Grey, but it’s like a two to three-year-old goat parmesan it’s very unknown still.
Dario: I didn’t know that! Wow!
Ramon: Nobody knows, that’s the problem. That’s why I’m telling it here. It’s an old cheese competition but they don’t publicize much about the competition itself, and about the products who win there.
It’s a nice recognition if you get a medal there or a trophy, but unfortunately, it doesn’t get publicized much but that is a cheese with lots of potentials that we try to grow for an example
Dario: And what’s the name of the cheese again?
Ramon: That’s the Amazing Grey that’s like a two-three-year-old goat parmesan.
Anita: We need to take a trip to the same area.
Dario: Think about that, and I’m going to ask a question here to parmesan. This is interesting because that has got a lot of healthy enzymes in it is actually much healthier than a parmesan bole.
Anita: You got to be careful what you’re saying
Dario: No, I know, but if you really look at it, that’s actually quite an interesting cheese, you’re talking about obviously a little more aged, so for greeting for finishing I actually think is perfect, correct me from wrong Ramon, a perfect cheese to actually finish at the end of the night.
Ramon: Yes, sounds good. I mean it’s like you said, you can just grate it over your pasta, it’s almost like at this point it’s like a spice almost, you can just add a little punch to it over your pasta or whatever it is, or just eat it like that with a glass of red or white wine.
Dario: Yeah that’s interesting, that’s right. Wow!
Ramon: All I’m saying is at this point we have a very big variety of cheese that all work well on the cheeseboard.
Anita: And you have 35 kinds of cheese?
Ramon: 25 to 30 maybe. Most of them, all this the whole selection you can get in our store but most of them you can order online on our web website and have them sent to you directly to your home,
Anita: And which ones are the ones that Sobeys is carrying?
Ramon: Emmental, Grand Trunk, Moonshine which is a semi-soft cheese that is marinated in actual moonshine produced locally here, and the Homecoming. Those four
Anita: The Fontina’s not in there?
Ramon: No, the Fontina’s was in there for Easter and some of those Sobeys, of course, they order again, right they like how the cheese was received by their customers, so they order again, but it was a promotion that had all these Sobeys all over Canada’s order our cheese, and some of the Sobeys we hopefully stuck, and some might not carry it again, but good to introduce our product to consumers in Western Canada where we just trying to get in now we still sell our cheese mostly in Ontario. Some of the cheesy selling Quebec which is a tough market for a European style cheese considering their background in cheese making, and we are selling some of our cheese or out west right but we just started that.
Dario: So, tell us again the cheese. I’m really fascinated now with that the age goat parmesan what’s the name again can you tell us again the name?
Ramon: We call it Amazing Grey. Originally it was supposed to be the goat version of our Grand Trunk. A cheese based on the gruyere recipe but like I said, it didn’t catch much footing at this point it’s not vitally available in stores yet, and so we got older and older and older, and now we’re almost at three years and it’s it just keeps getting better.
Anita: We’ve got lots of tasting over there but that was still when you didn’t have quite as many, but we’ve always loved the Grand Trunk, and I think is it the Grand Trunk that we have in our recipe. We love our Cheese Fondue recipe as well.
Dario: Yes, the Grand Trunk we used it for multiple recipes well one of these things, and the Fontina too, but one of the big ones was it was a revisit French Onion Soup, and we use only a strictly Grand Trunk and I got to be honest with you, and obviously Ramon knows, he’s almost one of the traditional new year’s eve to actually have a French Onion Soup, but once you use the Grand Trunk it really changed all taste of the soup.
Gruyere it’s good yes, it’s phenomenal, but I found the Grand Trunk personally to me, and not because I’m talking now to Ramon, add an extra step and it really made the soup with a little bit more, not necessarily more spice per se, but a little bit more around flavor. I highly recommend it for many things and we use the Grand Trunk for many other recipes.
Ramon: That’s our Grand Trunk is two years old. At this point, a gruyere swiss or French gruyere, which you would find in your stores might be 6-9 months old. It doesn’t have the same flavor profile as the Grand Trunk but we’re still producing on a small scale, we still have enough aging space to age cheese for a longer time.
Anita: Well we’re getting close to the end of this interview which I always think there’s always so much more to talk about, so we definitely want to have you back on to get into more detail and maybe we’ll get some more questions from people as well, and what they’re looking for so basically you have 25 kinds of cheese that are perfect for our charcuterie board, four of them are available at Sobeys but all the rest of them you can get online at stonetowncheese.com
Ramon: Yes, and if you go on our website you could actually look there’s a tool where you can put in your town, your city you live in, and it will show you all the stores that carry our cheese close to you, so we’re not just in Sobeys, we’re in Farm Boy, we’re in Metro Stores, we’re in many many stores, Now, they might not all carry the whole selection or barely any of them, but if you want to pick one or several out of those, I don’t know maybe it’s more than 25mgo on our website and then has them shipped to you.
Anita: Perfect, and then we have a special for our members that if they enter in a special code and we’ll give the code to our members they get an extra thing of the Grand Trunk is that not what it is.
Ramon: Yes, there’s a promotion on the Grand Trunk which is our favorite cheese, or everybody’s favorite cheese. It’s our bestseller.
Anita: There has not been a cheese that you’ve done that I haven’t liked now, I’m a big cheese person and Dario too, being from a Dutch and Italian background but everything you’ve created is just phenomenal.
Dario: And I think people sometimes are that one choice. You Know? Parmigiano, Pecorino, and something like that, and when they discover your product they say: oh my god that’s unique combos! Because there is uniqueness on this product and I’ll say from experience, for myself then it’s something that I can’t eat, and you know a cheese to me a specific cheese is good when you can use it in multiple faucets example, you can use it just like himself, or you can use it just grating, and or hiding into a dish. That to me is when a piece of cheese has all the purposes necessary, that’s it.
Anita: And I use cheese in weird combinations. I add it to my pancakes so, I’ll have maple syrup. I love the cheese consistency to the sweet consistency, and so for me my combinations. One day I think, I should write a blog of the things that I’ve done and see other people’s opinions because my kids now do it, and whenever we’re around people, even Dario said that is just really crazy, but I just love my cheese and that’s why we wanted to have you on today because we really really love what you guys produce.
So if anyone gets a chance to drive down to St. Marys it definitely is worth the trip to come to see the store there try the different products, you can go online or you can go onto their site, and actually see what locations are available.
Which is phenomenal, and you’ve got to try this cheese you’ve got we’ve got our recipe online I think we have a couple of them but the one that stands out is the onion soup so go on over to oliveyourlife.org and check out that one and for our members, we will be sending you the special link for the Grand Trunk that you get an extra piece of cheese for the Grand Trunk what’s available with the special too. So, I think that’s it for today. Any other questions or anything you want to say Ramon before we sign up?
Ramon: No, it was a pleasure to be with you guys again and we definitely have to do this again.
Anita: We do have to do it again and we’ll fill in the gaps on those areas that we missed for this one.
Dario: That is the last thing I want to say, I need to just before Christmas I think I’m using Grey. Sounds perfect, so I think we’re going to come for the visit for them to be gracefully pleased.
Ramon: Please do. it changed a lot since you’ve been here the last time.
Dario: I’m pretty sure.
Anita: Sounds great! Well, thank you so much!
Ramon: Thank you, guys!
Interview by Chef Dario Tomaselli & Anita Heidema with O’Live Your Life.
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