Written by Alain Bossé. Photography by Perry Jackson and Louise Vessey. This article was published in the November/December 2013 issue.
How a chef reinvents himself as a cheese producer—getting by with a little help from friends and family.
It all started two and a half years ago when well-known PEI chef Jeff McCourt heard a rumour that another PEI icon was looking to retire. Martina ter Beek, better known as the Island’s premiere “cheese lady,” had been in business for 25 years, Jeff had been buying cheese at her Cheese Lady’s Gouda shop in Winsloe for 20 years.
Wanting to know whether or not the rumour was true, Jeff gave her a call. Martina said she was thinking about it but had not yet made a decision. She told him to check back in the fall. This went on seasonally for two more years, her answer always the same. In fall 2012, Jeff was offered full-time teaching work. He had some quick decisions to make—take the position and give up the idea of becoming a cheesemaker or try again. He decided to call Martina one last time. She said yes, she was willing to sell.
Why cheese? “I have always had a love of cheese and most recently was teaching cheesemaking at the CIC (Culinary Institute of Canada). In my 20-plus years of cooking wisdom I knew not to open a restaurant in PEI—there is an abundance, so why not use that to my advantage?”
This past April, business plan finished and financing in place, Jeff began his apprenticeship with the cheese master. Previously, he had taken a cheesemaking course from Ruth Claussen of Monteforte Dairy in Stratford, Ont. and Art Hill from the University of Guelph. Thinking of an idea Ruth had told him about how she sold “cheese futures” to finance building her dairy, Jeff posted a “crowdfunding” offer on Facebook: individual investors pay $1,000 up front, in exchange for two shipments a year for the next five years, of six kilograms of assorted cheeses.
His initial goal was to sell 50 and go from there. He sold two units the first night and met his target easily. He plans to sell just 50 more shares. “It’s amazing how much belief people have in me. Without question people were writing cheques for $1,000! I was shocked.”
And so Glasgow Glen Farm was born. Jeff—now the only artisanal cheesemaker on PEI—is still operating out of the former Cheese Lady’s Gouda shop in Winsloe but will soon begin construction on a new shop in New Glasgow, PEI. Located on a picturesque 12-acre lot with a stunning view of the river and Rustico, the facility will house a cheese plant, that will produce Cheese Lady’s Gouda, as well as three or four other cheeses, including some made with local sheep’s milk and a blue cheese. A wood-fired oven will bake bread to accompany the cheese.
Jeff and his team have recently introduced three new cheeses: Caraway, Smoked Peppercorn and Pizza, their most recent. The new fromage is a big hit already. They are awaiting the arrival of white truffles from Alba, Italy to make a limited edition White Truffle gouda; available next year. Blue Gouda rounds out the new gouda varieties.
Jeff’s wife, Grace, looks after sales and marketing, and will be in charge of front-of-house operations in the new facility. Their children, Finn and Molly, are also taking an active role at the shop. Jeff’s brother-in-law, Donald Younie, is the assistant cheese maker and right-hand man in production, and Jeff’s mother-in-law, Colleen Younie, does the books. Jeff says he loves making cheese but enjoys the family closeness of this calling even more. ~Alain Bossé
Jeff McCourt isn’t giving up his chef jacket just yet!