Having discovered unexpected changes at two of my favourite local food spots yesterday (one closed and one having been purchased by a larger company) I wandered out to visit Fifth Town Cheese in Waupoos, where I hadn’t been for a few years.
The road there hugs the lake, winding by estates and new vineyards, grand Victorian farm houses (not so much the modest variety of yesterday) and acres of orchards and farmed fields.
There are little road-side stands, blueberry farms, a local pub and a large shop carrying local products and food. As I was leaving the area, a tour bus arrived. Waupoos, like the rest of the County, has become a destination for the “food and wine” crowd. Today, I am one of them.
Fifth Town is all about goat and buffalo cheese, although they now make a small selection of cow cheese. The goats, they all live in Harrowsmith, about an hour up the way. The cows and buffalo are close too, but I forget their postal codes.
The company is privately owned and operated. They age their cheese on-site in underground caves. They’ve won a lot of awards internationally and are recognized for their energy efficient and environmentally conscious business practices.
I spent longer watching the cheese-man do cheese-making things than I needed to, mostly because the array of cheese-nibbles available made it impossible to leave the window.
When I did finally pull myself away, I had a goat-milk maple cream cheese and a Buffalo Gouda with truffle in hand. Without a doubt, I now have: Too. Much. Cheese. In. Van. And that’s not all I have too much of. I’m suffering from too much food in general!
The thing is, I am in the heart of food and wine country, and it’s almost impossible to avoid. But if I don’t get off the tourist trail soon, I’m going to find myself broke and over-treated with all the specialty food products typically marketed to travellers who have come for a little taste of something “special.” Who could eat like this everyday!?
Still, I sunk into the experience, and enjoyed a day of food tourism. Which feels distinctly different than visiting a farmer’s market. Most of these products are “value added” products and have marketing behind them. Not bad by any stretch, just different.
I enjoyed visiting a site where food “happens” although I was hoping to meet the sheep. I want them to be happy sheep. If I had met happy sheep, I would have thanked them for their work, and their cheese. Which is delicious and beautiful. If I had met unhappy sheep, I might not be eating their cheese. Not today anyway. While it was fresh in my mind. Which makes me a bit squirmy.
In the process of writing this, I called Black River Cheese. I needed to know if they are making cheese on site anymore. I assumed, when I was there yesterday, that they still do. I spoke with a lovely woman who explained they were bought by a dairy co-operative, and not a corporation, and that if it were not for their purchase of their recipes and brand, Black River Cheese would no longer exist. But no, the cheese was no longer made on site.
I don’t think I imagined the sadness in needing to relay this information, but think I also detected gratitude for a change that allowed them to continue in a different form and keep the retail store. Still, I was sad. And struck by the power of my assumptions. A big change happened, but it was hard to detect. If one doesn’t ask questions, it’s easy to “know” only what we want to “know.”
There is a lot that goes on behind our food. Even when it’s “local.” Animals we don’t see. Regulations that must be met. Marketing to be sorted through. Money that must be invested. Jobs that are made, or lost.
It’s a lot to swallow.
This must be part of the “food is complicated” thing…