Queen Bees and Gourmet Cheese: Homesteaders Steve and Lisa McBride

"We've gotten fairly serious about it, turning out some 50 lbs of cheese this year in the form of brie, blue, cambozola, and even my first very very stinky swiss cheese.”

Anyone who’s attended a Pippy Park maple syrup workshop or seen the Southside goats stroll around the city is familiar with homesteaders Steve and Lisa McBride.

The couple have since left the Southside neighbourhood for the balmy climes of Mobile on the Southern Shore, and  thus brought an old Joan Morrissey song to life, The Mobile Goats. Their adventures in self sufficiency continue, not only with goats but also ducks, rabbits, a large garden, and seven beehives.

Yes, you read right, seven hives. Along with  traditional blessings of honey and beeswax, the passion they’ve developed for beekeeping has led them to the production of something even more precious. A queen. By splitting off part of a hive into new quarters, they both prevent the problem of swarming and now can produce queens to populate the new quarters. They are excited to be able to help new local beekeepers in the future, as hives can be hard to come by around here.

When not promoting self reliance and staving off the beepocalypse, the McBrides have also been finding some time to develop a cottage dairy scene, mastering the arts of goats milk cheese and ice cream. It was a natural progression starting the day they let some goat milk go bad in the fridge and  moving on through yogurt, ice cream, to simple cheeses. Now , Steve says, “4 years later, we’ve gotten fairly serious about it, turning out some 50 lbs of cheese this year in the form of brie, blue, cambozola, and even my first very very stinky swiss cheese.”

The news keeps getting better. “We’ve joined Cod Sounds to help launch some food skills workshops through their School of Cookery at Compton House. First up is artisanal cheesemaking” Steve continues.

For Lori McCarthy, operator of  Cod Sounds, it was “a no brainer“ to join forces with the McBrides and add their extensive skill set to the workshops on offer through her outfit, which already provides quality instruction on wild foods, breads, butchery, and beyond.

“Cod Sounds has built a brand in bringing NL cuisine, culture, and foraging knowledge to locals for three years now. As the business grows, Lori’s vision is to bring more traditional food skills to people, so to that end she has involved Lisa & I, as well as artisanal break maker Nicholas Gardner of Upper Crust, to bring some new food workshops to  Cod Sounds. Cheese making seemed like a good first step” Steve explains.

The workshop demonstrates the cheese making process, which is simpler than I would have thought, and equipment, which is quite minimal. Perhaps most important, you get to try some of the cheese the McBrides produce, paired with delicious treats like Lori’s moose chorizo and pickled beets. This is a partnership made in snack heaven. Steve is a goldmine of fascinating facts –  why cheese is orange, why swiss cheese has (or doesn’t have!) holes, cheese as medicine to the ancients, and even why people “say cheese” when they get their pictures taken.

The next workshops will probably focus on backyard animal husbandry. Lisa wants to demystify backyard animal keeping and the traditional skills it entails, the hide tanning, furring, butchering, and preparing that go into the full use of livestock.  I take this opportunity to ask about their own livestock choices.

”Rabbits get a place on our homestead  because we don’t keep chickens to eat, and we’re  too attached to our ducks to eat them regularly. Rabbits breed, well, like rabbits, and are great at turning inedible stuff like alders, weeds, pasture, and garden trimmings into delicious rabbit meat. As we try to become more productive and less reliant on purchased products, we’re finding more roles for the secondary products of rabbitry – leather & fur.”

So why ducks over chickens for egg production? “Ugh,” Steve replies,” let’s just say I’m not a morning person. 8am is fine but 6am alarm calls every day, no thanks. Rooster cawing drives me. My experience with backyard poultry makes me think ducks are the better choice for an urban setting. I prefer the eggs, bigger yolks.”

Want to know more? Further workshops are still in the development phase, but the McBrides’ excellent Newfoundland homesteading adventure is easy to follow through their Facebook forum, Backyard Farming and Homesteading NL. With over 7000 followers, it is an excellent place for people to share experiences, find kindred spirits, and pool knowledge.

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