Bernadette’s Take #42

The Cheese Conspiracy

Paul Sutter from Courtenay B.C.

PaulSutter3What Paul Sutter holds in his hands are not hockey pucks. They are not wheels for his son’s toy truck. It is cheese. (All photos Paul Sutter)

I have an idea for my next mystery novel. It goes like this:

It might be one of the best kept secrets in Canada. Okay, in Western Canada.

There is a brain drain from Switzerland to Canada. In a secret mission, Swiss cheese makers are lured over the Big Pond to places like Vancouver Island.

Swiss knowhow is used to revolutionize the Canadian cheese industry. Secret service agents spy on Swiss cheese makers and make them give away their best recipes of the famous Swiss cheese artistry.

Maybe I could name the new book “The Cheese Conspiracy”, it could be a sequel to my existing book “The Zurich Conspiracy”, published by AmazonCrossing.

I am doing some research right now. I closed in on Paul Sutter, a Swiss cheese maker who has already won some awards with his cheese made in Canada.

For 11 years, Paul has been working for Natural Pastures Cheese Co., a family business in Courtenay B.C. Paul is the production manager there. He originally comes from a Swiss village called Sonnental near Oberbeuren in the canton St. Gallen.

PaulSutter1 - CopyPaul seems to have invented the mobile cheese grill with attached kitchen and overhead mirror. One has to be inventive to sell his stuff!

“The whole process of cheesemaking is Swiss”, Paul (41) says. “The only thing I learned in Canada was making fresh Curd.” Fresh Curd is a variety of Cheddar cheese, a speciality that comes from Quebec where Curd is used in the traditional dish Poutine.

What about luring Swiss cheese makers to Canada? Paul tells me that all his assistant cheese makers are from Switzerland! From places like Fribourg or Thurgau. He says: “In Canada, it is almost impossible to find trained cheese makers.” Last summer, Paul had three young Swiss cheese makers here at the same time.

(I knew it! The plot thickens!)

Paul was lured to Canada himself. A cheese dairy in Chase B.C. (good location name for a mystery novel!) had an ad in a Swiss newspaper.

Little did Paul know what would be expecting him in this faraway place. He just wanted to work abroad and learn English. The cheese dairy was owned by Swiss immigrants Hänni und Theres Gasser who raised sheep and wanted to make cheese from sheep milk.

PaulSutter2Cheese, cheese wherever you look, an ocean of cheese. Who is going to eat all this? The Canadians of course, they just don’t know it yet.

Hänni Gasser was the first person in Canada to raise sheep for the production of milk. He imported semen for his
Ostfriesen sheep from Switzerland and Germany.

Paul Sutter did what he was told. He produced cheese, Brie, yoghurt, butter, Feta and semi-hard cheese from sheep milk.
He did this for a year, then flew to Switzerland and came right back to Canada. (In my mystery novel, I will write: He was already in thrall to the Canadian cheese industry.)

Paul.SutterThis cheese is called the Pizza/Omelett Cheese Hybrid, or short POCH. (Yeah, you’re right, I just made it up. How did you know?)

Paul made cheese in Grand Forks B.C. and in Salmon Arm B.C. where he stayed five years and made cheese and yoghurt and ice cream and soft cheese from goat milk. Then he made a stint in Armstrong B.C. and came to Natural Pastures in Courtenay on Vancouver Island in 2002.

They haven’t let him go since. He is just too good a cheese maker. The same year, he got an award for the best Camembert in Canada.
In 2008, he won the gold medal at the World Championship in Wisconsin with his “Comox Brie”.

PaulSutter4 - CopyAward-winning Swiss-Canadian cheesemaker Paul Sutter. No, he did not get the award for his fancy suit, that would be too cheesy.

So cheeses in Canada get better and better. And what happens to the famous Swiss cheeses?
Paul has created a similar cheese to our Swiss Raclette. It is called “Verredelait”, derived from the French verre de lait – a glass of milk. (In my book, I will make a case for industrial espionage. Hey, it is fiction, anything is possible!)

Natural Pastures is a small cheese dairy that buys the milk from farmers in the Comox Valley. Paul develops new products for them, like semi-hard cheese or Cheddar cheese. In 2007 he started producing Mozarella from water buffalos.

And here comes the twist in the plot:
These Swiss cheese makers take revenge in Canada! Canadians who generally prefer milder cheese because they are not used to strong tasting cheese, change their habits. They actually have started eating things like Brie. They try out new cheeses.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis must be mozzarella from water buffalos. Lots of water, no buffalos.

And the Swiss cheese makers in Canada take the opportunity to develop new products for the Canadian market.

I have to spy on these cheesy activities and make an

UPC (Urgent Phone Call) to Paul Sutter in Courtenay B.C.

Paul, is there a Cheese Conspiracy?

What do you mean?

Why is cheese from Switzerland so expensive in Canada?

Imported cheese is actually not so expensive, compared with Canadian cheese. The price for milk is high in Canada because Canadian farmers are still well paid. The Milk Marketing Board that manages the milk production, dictates the price for milk in Canada.

Plant 2008 buffalo 002 - CopyTypical Swiss, scrounging for the last bits, nothing is wasted. (Please don’t hate me for this, Paul!)

Does this sound like it used to be in Switzerland before the changes?

Yes, Canadian farmers have fixed quotas of milk that they can sell. Like it used to be in Switzerland.

There has been a controversy around raw milk in Canada. Are you allowed to use raw milk?

Yes, I can use raw milk for cheesemaking but you have to let the cheese ripen for 60 days which is a long time. That is why I only work with pasteurized milk at this point.

Could you make Gruyere cheese or Emmental cheese in Canada?

Yes, but you would have to build up a new cheese factory and use raw milk. The problem here is that the farmers feed their cows from the silo. The cows eat little grass. For hay, Vancouver Island is too wet.
In the Comox Valley there is only one farmer whose cows eat only grass in the summer. But in the winter, he also feeds them from the silo. With silo food, you have to clean the milk much more.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe Swiss cheesemakers say: “Oh what funny cheese the Canadians make. They look like plastic bowls.” What do they know…

What do cheese makers from Switzerland comment on when they come to work with you?

We have a small cheese dairy and they say that we are a step behind Switzerland regarding the technology. I still open the valves manually and not by computer program.
And initially they mocked my Canadian cheese creations.

The Swiss laughed about you?

Yes, I made cheese with caraway, garlic, onions, parsley or chives. They said: “Oh, what funny cheese the Canadians make!” But today they make the same thing in Switzerland.

So the Swiss can learn something in Canada?

Sure. When they come here to work, they like to try out new stuff. We always have fun working. And they enjoy going out after work, fishing, traveling, skiing, they love the ocean and the freedom here, the relaxed life style!

PaulSutter5 - CopyThree Swiss cheesemakers in the making – they just have to ripen for 15 years or so.

Can the Swiss cheese industry lure you back to Switzerland?

I don’t think so. I have married a Canadian woman and I have three small boys. I love to visit Switzerland every few years for some weeks but I like to go back to my job in Canada. My boys enjoy their time in Switzerland. Maybe I will send my oldest son to a Swiss school one day.

Does he like cheese?

Oh yes, he really stuffs himself with my Comox Brie!

Have a look at the website of the Natural Pastures Cheese Company:

P.S. If you know an interesting person or if you have an interesting story to tell, please let us know:

One response to “Bernadette’s Take #42

  1. I really enjoyed this story. I spent my teen years in the Fraser Valley and saw plenty of dairy farms, but I never knew that the milk from cows that eat from a silo is different from grass-fed cows. Live and learn.

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