New Brunswick

Goat cheese makers upset over health order

Two goat cheese makers are trying to get around a Department of Health order to stop selling their products by issuing shares for their animals instead.

Goat cheese controversy

12 years ago
Duration 2:25
Two goat cheese makers are upset at the provincial government forcing them to meet specific rules

Two goat cheese makers are trying to get around a Department of Health order to stop selling their products by issuing shares for their animals instead.

Mike and Sheryl Vallee, who live near Memramcook, make small batches of goat cheese that they sell at farmers' markets in Shediac, Sackville and Dieppe.

The couple pasteurize their goat milk in their kitchen using stainless steel pots and heating it to the right temperature.

Their small business of selling goat cheese became jeopardized when they received a letter from the provincial government last week.

The Department of Health informed them they would need a piece of equipment that Mike Vallee said would cost him $20,000, far more than the cheese from their small farm brings in.

"I'm confident that [the process is] good. So if they want to test it, and as long as there's no problems with quality, then I think we should be allowed to continue what we're doing," he said.

The Vallees say they do meet the requirements and do plan to serve their customers.

Sheryl Vallee said she's frustrated the provincial government didn't even check their process before sending them the letter.

"The fact that they come in here and tell me that I can't do it, and they haven't even tested anything," she said.

"They don't know that things are done clean. They don't know that it's done in stainless steel. They've never even looked at our kitchen."

Denis Allard, the deputy chief medical officer of health, said the provincial government still requires farmers to obey health laws.

He said outbreaks of E. coli or staph infections are among some of the illness people can get from dairy products not properly pasteurized.

Allard said the proper pasteurization method requires equipment that makes it "almost impossible" for people to meet the requirements from their home kitchens.

"If it's done through a machine that is well standardized, everything is outside of human error. Then it gets a certain degree of certainty that the process is working," Allard said.

Selling shares of goats

The Vallees say that adhering to the province's rules would make it very difficult for the small farm to survive.

So the couple is planning to sell shares of their goats to their customers at a cost of roughly $5. That way, as shareholders, the customers can approve how their milk is processed and the Vallees can avoid buying the expensive equipment.

The fee covers husbandry fees, and also means customers own a percentage of what the goat produces, such as its milk.

Mike Vallee said his clients at the Sackville, Riverview and Shediac markets are  willing to pay the share.

By selling the shares, Vallee said, he also avoids having to buy a $450 commercial licence to produce and sell their cheese.

All the money they make goes directly back to feeding the animals, he said.

"We do maximum 16-litre batches. We don't make enough to warrant paying that type of a licence to the government just to be able to make nothing," Sheryl Vallee said.