Five Brothers Artisan Cheese: Local Couple Building Both a Business and an Industry

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Five Brothers2From visions of a European-style “cheese rolling” festival adapted for Signal Hill, to the daily realities of a small business, Five Brothers Artisan Cheese dreams large but works batch by batch.

When Adam Blanchard moved home to Newfoundland in 2010, he saw momentum building in the local food culture, but no local cultured dairy. Proving his true entrepreneurship, he learned a new science, honed his craft, made contacts and built not just a business but, since Five Brothers is the first licensed artisan cheese maker in Newfoundland, a new industry and audience. He did this with an adamant good nature, devotion to his product and, according to him, lots and lots of help (“everyone who has bought cheese or helped us make cheese”). He is currently helped most by his business partners, Julia Bannister and Dave Collins (Dave worked with Central Dairies, and set up their first cheese production plant on the island in 2011).

In 2011, Julia Bannister was working as a professional fromagère at a Whole Foods Market in Ontario. She was good enough at what she loved that she was about to get a promotion that would, ironically, take her away from the thing that she loved (cheese!) and put her behind a desk. About that time, on a visit home to Newfoundland, she made a cold call to introduce herself to the new cheese maker in town. Adam, seeing an unknown Ontario number interrupting his golf game, may not have been overly warm. Later, feeling bad about his manners, he called back and invited Julia to stop by and talk cheese. She showed up, he put on a pot of coffee, and … three and a half years later they have a brand new production facility, a daughter, and a work plan that will be making St John’s 400 kilos per week richer in fresh cheese.

As of today: You can buy their fresh, locally sourced and produced artisan cheddar, cheese curds and queso fresco in St John’s at Belbin’s, Bidgoods, Food for Thought, Real Food Market, and Rocket Bakery. Or try it at many local restaurants using it in their recipes, including Aqua, The Club, Bacalao, Chinched, Celtic Hearth, The Delta, JAG, Greensleeves, The Holiday Inn, Magnum & Steins, Quintana’s, Relish, and Oppidan.

In the future: Five Brothers is working with Atlantic Grocery Distributors Ltd to bring their cheeses to the rest of the island. They are also partnering with more local businesses in St John’s to both expand their product range and to leverage their waste. In this vein we may soon see a “beer washed cheddar” courtesy of a project in development with YellowBelly’s Brewer.

Partnering with local farmers could mean that the whey released during the pressing process may be used as pig feed, completing a circle of local food sustainability. (In my dreams, these two initiatives cross-pollinate and someday I will drink cheese-infused beer left over from the “washing” process). Long term, if they expand their facilities with controlled rooms for the introduction of molds etc, we may see more varieties.

Eventually sweeping the nation?: Nicole Hawco (a Five Brothers employee), with her background in food technology, has worked with the team to develop protocols and logs to ensure compliance in all aspects of record keeping and traceability needed for their current provincial licensing and inspections. With no other established artisanal cheese houses in the province to ask for guidance and advice, this is a serious accomplishment. To cross provincial borders, will take federal licensing. But it may all be worthwhile to, someday, see that wheel of Avalon Cheddar roll down Signal Hill and feed cheese lovers from the Atlantic to the Mainland.

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Emily Deming

Emily Deming is involved in a love affair with St John's so deep it extends to attending plays, poetry readings, and dance festivals.

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