Windsor·Pinto on Food

Not your average chevre — Wyoming, Ont. goat farmers specializing in hard goat cheese

Anthony & Marjorie Sjaarda's goat cheese isn't the typical soft, crumbly kind you commonly associate with chevre.

Jonathan Pinto learns the story behind Lambton County's Great Lakes Goat Dairy

A young goat at the Sjaarda goat farm in Wyoming, Ont. (Jonathan Pinto/CBC)

Anthony & Marj Sjaarda's goat cheese isn't the typical soft, crumbly kind commonly associated with chevre.

This cheese is hard, and comes with names like "Smokin' Goat," "Hot Chili Havarti" and "Bacon Cheddar."

And since it's made with goat milk, it can be enjoyed by many people who can't handle the high lactose levels in cow milk.

Anthony & Marjorie Sjaarda founded the Great Lakes Goat Dairy, which now uses milk from five goat farms, including their own. (Jonathan Pinto/CBC)

Fifteen years, ago, the Sjaardas purchased a 100 acre farm from Marj's parents and decided to raise goats. For a decade, the couple sold their milk through a broker, where — like most Canadian goat milk — it became soft cheese.

Five years ago, the couple ran into a problem.

"There was a surplus of milk at the time," Marj explained. "So the option was either you put your milk down the drain and waste it, or you do something with it and look at it as an opportunity ... and that's when we made our first batch of cheese."

The Great Lakes Goat Dairy currently produces around 15 varieties of cheese, all produced with southwestern Ontario goat milk. (Jonathan Pinto/CBC)

But the Sjaardas weren't content to follow the rest of the market.

"Everybody knows of soft goat cheeses," Anthony explained. "Why not come up with a cheddar, or a havarti — or a mozzarella?"

Instead of investing in their own cheese-making equipment, and the paperwork and licensing that would entail, the Sjaardas work with three Ontario-based cheese producers to actually manufacture their product.

Young goats playing

4 years ago
Duration 0:44
Young goats playing at the Sjaarda dairy goat farm in Wyoming, Ont. When these goats are old enough to produce milk, it will end up in the hard cheeses sold by Great Lakes Goat Dairy.

While goat milk is relatively easy to substitute for cow's milk, Marj say there are some differences that have to be factored in during production.

"You have to treat it more sensitively — less cultures, less heat," she explained. "You have to be gentle with it."

The Sjaardas acknowledge that while goat milk does have a different flavour — more "tangy" — than cow milk, Marj says the "off" flavour some associate with it does not exist in their cheeses. That's primarily due to the diet given to their animals, which is about 60 per cent hay.

These goats are a mere one day old. (Jonathan Pinto/CBC)

"We like to have a clean, fresh taste," she explained. "[Customers say] 'wow, I'd never know it was goat cheese!'"

Demand has increased so much that the couple have agreements with four other dairy goat farms to provide milk exclusively to the company.

In addition to their online store, Great Lakes Goat Dairy cheese can be found in more than 400 stores across Canada, including major retailers such as Sobeys, Foodland and Overwaitea Foods, with the western Canadian market being their largest. 

Online orders are packaged and shipped from the Sjaarda farm in Wyoming, Ont. (Jonathan Pinto/CBC)

Tap on the player to hear Jonathan tell the story to Afternoon Drive host Chris dela Torre.

CBC Windsor reporter Jonathan Pinto travels across southwestern Ontario as Afternoon Drive's "food dude." Know of a place you think he should check out? Email him at jonathan.pinto@cbc.ca or on Twitter @jonathan_pinto.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jonathan Pinto is the host of Up North, CBC Radio One's regional afternoon show for Northern Ontario and is based in Sudbury. He was formerly a reporter/editor and an associate producer at CBC Windsor. Email jonathan.pinto@cbc.ca.

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