At the dairy and on the farm in Stratford

As you know from Sunday’s post, I was fortunate enough to spend a day in the company of many fine writers and bloggers in Stratford, Ontario, as a guest of the Stratford Tourism Alliance and Savour Stratford.  The (10 hour) day was too much to fit in one post so over the next few days I will fill in the blanks!

Our first stop for the day was Monforte Dairy.  Owned and operated by Ruth Klahsen, and established in 2004, Monforte believes that “small pleasures keep us sane” and claim that nothing can trump the small pleasure that is the “sheer sensual deliciousness of a well-crafted cheese” (totally agree!).  Using milk from humanely raised animals, Monforte treat their shepherds as collaborators in the cheese-making process and together they strive to build a sustainable sheep dairy industry.

2010 is the year of Monforte’s “rennaissance”.  As Klahsen states on the website, her dream has always been for Monforte to have a home of its own, a dairy of its own. So Monforte is embarking on a renaissance, a rebirth, a remaking of the company.  They have set some very challenging objectives: creating a sustainable micro-producer/dairy, with an apprenticeship program and new products to complement their cheeses.

We were fortunate enough to have a tour of the new facility (which was set to open this week!) and witness Klahsen’s dream being realised before our eyes.

Klahsen, a veteran chef well-known to diners in the Stratford restaurants Rundles and the Old Prune, was a graduate of the inaugural class of 1983 at the Stratford Chefs School.   Ruth was recently honoured at the Stratford Optimism Place 10th Annual Women of the Year Awards and won the 2008 Women in Agriculture Award in recognition of her innovative role as a cheesemaker and entrepreneur.  She certainly is a force to be reckoned with!

If more proof is needed of what an innovator and forward-thinker Klahsen is, you only need to check out the fundraising efforts for the dairy’s rebirth this year.

Klahsen introduced a Community Shared Agriculture (CSA) subscriber programme – people invest in a share of the new dairy, then receive an equivalent amount of cheese once production commences. This business model has helped Monforte with their upfront costs, but it’s not just about raising money.

According to Klahsen, everybody who funds Monforte has the opportunity to share, to be part of what the new dairy means – a secure home not only for Monforte but for the 20-some farms from which we buy our milk; for the local producers who will supply us with the ingredients for new complementary products such as charcuterie, flatbreads and crackers; for the artisans yet to be; the next generation of cheesemakers who want to craft cheeses with an eye to both the future of the cheesemaking art and the deep traditions of the art, all to the highest professional standard. Cheesemaking the way it was meant to be.

The dairy will be open for tours, tastings and cheese making workshops on weekends until October.

We ended our tour with coffee supplied by Balzac’s, granola by Tango Café and sheep’s milk yoghurt. Less pungent and much milder than goat’s milk yoghurt and even some Greek-style yoghurts, this was one of the best yoghurts I have eaten.  On Monday night, we headed to the local farmer’s market (at the end of our street!) to pick some up – we’re lucky that Monforte has a stand there. This will be a staple for my summer breakfasts!

Next we moved onto Soiled Reputation, a certified organic produce farm, growing custom salad mixes, seedlings, and leafy greens year round. Seasonally they grow 50 different gourmet and heirloom vegetables. The farm is run by Antony John, who hosted the Food Network Canada TV show, ‘The Manic Organic’ and his wife Tina VandenHeuval.

Being bloggers and writers, we took notes and photos:

And went a little bit gaga over the cute chicks:

Soiled Reputation practices ecologically sound, certified organic growing techniques that enrich, rather than deplete the soil. Biodiversity is maximized wherever possible, and an ecosystem approach to growing is demonstrated.

Antony put us to work, foraging for some ingredients that would appear in our lunch later that day. Below, Nina and David did a pretty good job…

Below, Bonita, Tonya and Bev get down in the greens:

(really, we’re much better at taking photos of than foraging for food!)


We met some of the lucky animals who call Soiled Reputation home:

And you know, after all that foraging, we were a bit peckish so had to snack on croissants from Rundles…  We would return to the farm for lunch later but we had wild boars to go and feed…

Coming up in the next few days: We feed the wild boars, eat a true farm-to-table barn lunch, experience a tea tasting with a certified tea sommellier, make candy and purchase more pork products than you can believe!!

29 thoughts on “At the dairy and on the farm in Stratford”

  1. What a great day! The farm is where it is at! I don’t care how accomplished a chef is, if he/she doesn’t take pride in their ingredients than their the efforts were wasted. I love your photos. Great collage of wellies/rain boots/gum boots (or however Canadian’s call them)!

  2. This is the kind of fieldtrip that is so important. What an excellent review of your local producers for your readers, Mardi. It is so critical that we support our local producers, eventhough it costs more in the short term. The long term payout is life altering. Literally. We get that cheese here, in our markets, so I really appreciate an inside view as I cannot get there. Both of my grandparents were farmers, so my childhood held many happy days on the farm. Not for our youth today. They are so many generations away from the farm, that most of my students don’t even know what a growing vegetable looks like. I was really surprised to learn what I have learned about how drastic the effects of this are upon the little value my students place on food when they don’t understand the work it takes to produce.
    I will be checking back for the updates on the rest of your day.

  3. It was great to host such an enthusiastic group, and to share our increasingly popular “barn lunches” with you! The full table of appreciative guests, enjoying some of the finest food crafted anywhere, sipping Malivoire wine and listening to Derek Barnes sing beautifully, made for a scene out of a Fellini film. Another day in paradise….

  4. Wow, what a great post. Felt like I was there. But all those shots of hogs created a bit of tension in this reader because I was expecting a bacon tasting at the end. (Although I know these guys have a far better life than whatever piggies gave their life for the bacon in a box I have in my fridge.)


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