You’re either a goat person or you’re not, according to Patrick Farrell, who is of the latter persuasion.
Regardless of his views on the animals, the Whistler Road Cheese Company owner has a lot to thank them for.
The same mischievous creatures that wrought havoc on his farm were responsible for setting off a chain of events that led him and his wife Lorie to start an artisanal cheese-making business that launched earlier this year.
Farrell and his wife moved to Smithers seven years ago to work in the mining industry and, within six months of arriving, they purchased a property on Whistler Road.
The couple built a house and set about starting a small farm to achieve their dreams of becoming more self-sufficient.
That’s where the goats come in.
“We had originally bought some goats and had milk and I make beer and that kind of stuff so I thought … ‘why not try making some cheese?’ because we had goat milk and I couldn’t drink it because it was gross, but cheese is good,” Farrell said.
A six year stint in the Vancouver restaurant industry had given Farrell a taste for experimentation, and experiment he did.
Using the goat’s milk, he continued to try to refine the product, despite some failures. He admits his first cheeses were “horrible.”
“We would lie to ourselves and say they were delicious at the time because of the amount of labour that went into them,” he said.
There were other issues, too.
“Couldn’t stand [the] goats,” he said.
“You either like them or you don’t like them and we were in the don’t like category.
“I always say, you could nail a goat into a plywood box and the next day it would be running around on the lawn eating your apple trees.”
Having played their part in the Farrell’s cheese-making future, the goats were traded in and replaced with a less manic, well-mannered cow.
With more milk to play with, the Farrells started to refine their technique. For a seven-month period Patrick made cheese every second day.
“Every year I just got significantly better and found more online resources on how to do it, talking to other cheese-makers,” he said.
“I realized we were probably pumping out more cheese than a lot of people do [and] we were eating it.”
Friends suggested they consider starting a business but, at the time, the Farrells thought it would be difficult to produce enough cheese for more than their own family.
It was a downturn in the mining industry that prompted them to reconsider.
About two years ago, the idea of starting a cheese factory stopped being a joke and became a reality.
“We thought, ‘we have some savings and there’s no work so why not’?” he said.
“We’ll never do it when we’re making lots of money.
“So we started figuring out how to go about it.”
Figuring out how to build a cheese factory was no easy task. Guidelines online were complicated and there was nobody in the area to ask for advice.
With a little help from a Vancouver Island cheese-maker who Patrick knew of from his time in the restaurant industry, he negotiated the guidelines, built the factory and passed the strict health inspections.
Their cheese has been available locally since August, when they sold their first wedges at the Bulkley Valley Farmers’ Market.
Using raw milk from the Robin Creek Dairy near Round Lake, the Farrells make four varieties which are sold at locations in Prince Rupert, Burns Lake and Smithers.
The Veneto, Salute, Iberian and Telkwa are all mountain-style cheeses, chosen for distribution because they were the Farrells’ favourites.
“They are all my own recipes that I just adapt,” he said.
“It’s the kind of cheese that they made in the mountainous regions of these different countries, that’s what I always liked, because we live in a mountainous region so I thought maybe it would translate.”
Farrell said he would like to keep the cheese exclusive to northern B.C.
“There should be more smaller cheese plants I think so I would prefer to stick in the north,” he said.
“I don’t want to start suddenly selling in Vancouver or something because that doesn’t make sense to me.
“There are cheese-makers down there … and there’s none in the north so we can keep it up here and it’s kind of our little thing.”
Whistler Road Cheese Company products are available at the Smithers Sausage Factory.