Vive la Cui­sine Mon­tréalaise

DINE and Destinations - - ON THE COVER -

At her fam­ily-op­er­ated fa­cil­ity in Strat­ford, Ont., Ruth Klah­sen pro­duces 30 dif­fer­ent kinds of handmade cheese from ri­cotta and ched­dar, to the ex­otic, moldy, French styles us­ing a va­ri­ety of milks like sheep, goat, wa­ter buf­falo as well as cow. Her part­ner farms are free of GMOS, pes­ti­cides and her­bi­cides, the dairy cows are all pas­tured, and all the milk is sea­sonal—mean­ing they don’t pro­duce year-round. There is tire­less work, pas­sion and hon­esty in her process, but alas it ain’t easy bein’ cheesy. It is a very dif­fi­cult busi­ness. What makes Klah­sen unique is the in­dus­tri­ous­ness with which she has been able to grow her dairy us­ing com­mu­nity in­volve­ment. Her busi­ness model is one in which she has in­verted the whole con­cept of “go­ing lo­cal” to mak­ing “lo­cal” come to her.

Klah­sen’s Com­mu­nity Shared Agri­cul­ture plan en­tails sub­scrip­tions re­paid in fu­ture de­liv­er­ies of cheese. It’s not an in­vest­ment or a pur­chase of a piece of Mon­forte. “What hap­pens is that you put in $500, for ex­am­ple, and ev­ery year for the next five years we give you $150 worth of prod­uct; so you get $750 worth of prod­uct.” The re­sult of com­mu­nity in­volve­ment is that peo­ple want her to do well.

The aim of her “Home Farm” is to ex­plore sus­tain­abil­ity, ar­ti­sanal food pro­duc­tion, a re­turn to spend­ing time as a fam­ily and sup­port­ing our farm­ers. “There are so many young peo­ple who want to farm but who have no ac­cess to land,” Klah­sen says. Mon­forte has now bought a farm and is giv­ing it to young farm­ers, so they will have the op­por­tu­nity to use it, stay and be part of the com­mu­nity. After tak­ing a per­cent­age of what they grow, Klah­sen says, “We then use that pro­duce in our restau­rant or sell it for them some­where, or turn it into pre­serves.”

The Home Farm is sit­u­ated be­tween Shake­speare and Strat­ford, off of High­way 7/8. Farm­ing be­gins next spring. In the mean­time, Klah­sen is clean­ing the GMOS from the land by lay­ing down or­ganic al­falfa, rest­ing the soil over win­ter, and then plow­ing next spring. Peo­ple head­ing to Strat­ford will drive past an ac­tive farm with gar­dens, wa­ter buf­falo and Cly­des­dale horses. The goal is to ac­tively and di­rectly ed­u­cate and con­nect the com­mu­nity through farm­ing. She is also hold­ing cook­ing classes and farm din­ners, as well as es­tab­lish­ing a cheese-mak­ing school.

“I just think we’re in a re­ally lovely place.” Klah­sen beams. “I think the com­mu­nity of peo­ple who care about good food both in a he­do­nis­tic man­ner and for eth­i­cal rea­sons is grow­ing ex­po­nen­tially in On­tario.” Her cus­tomers un­der­stand the value of what she is try­ing to do, and want to be a part of it. While it is a work in progress, Klah­sen be­lieves that trans­parency in what works and what doesn’t work can in­spire others to im­prove upon this model.

Her good-na­tured con­ge­nial­ity and hon­est hard work has en­abled ca­ma­raderie and an un­der­stand­ing with other chefs that, “we’re all try­ing to make re­ally good prod­uct.” In an era when food pol­i­tics has be­come so vi­tal to our lives, and we re­ally have to care where our food comes from, it is im­por­tant to rec­og­nize the gen­uine sources that are in­no­vat­ing in pos­i­tive di­rec­tions. “It will be in­ter­est­ing to see where this goes,” Klah­sen muses. “It will be fun to see what hap­pens.” —Adam Wax­man

Ruth Klah­sen first made cheese on her hon­ey­moon. We have loved her ever since. An alum­nus of the in­au­gu­ral class of the Strat­ford Chefs School, she cooked in restau­rants for 20 years be­fore thoughts of cheese churned her imag­i­na­tion. Mon­forte, her ar­ti­sanal dairy, opened in 2004 and has qui­etly grown to be­come a fix­ture at farmer’s mar­kets and a mark of so­phis­ti­ca­tion on restau­rant menus across Toronto

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