Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Morningstar Farm, Parksville, BC

Have Fun and Enjoy Life

Vancouver Island offers so much variety. After a morning on the beach, we headed inland to Morningstar Farm at 403 Lowry’s Road, Parksville to visit Little Qualicum Cheeseworks and Mooberry Winery.

Lori Palmiere, the wholesale manager and one of Little Qualicum’s first employees, provided an in-depth tour of the farm. The farm was a really fun place to visit. There was food and drink, fresh country air and lots of animals, and goofy signs encouraging visitors to laugh and play.

Farm Animals
The goats are particularly friendly, but you can also tour the barns and meet the young calves and the hogs. In March/April, there is a calving festival when 10-20 calves are born.

Morningstar was the first farm in British Columbia to receive SPCA certification after being inspected to make sure the farm met the SPCA’s standards for animal welfare. They also work with The Land Conservancy to improve the quality of their 68 acres.

You can take a self-guided tour through the fields, along the creek and past the ponds. There’s also a picnic area. And, of course, there’s lots of cheese and fruit wine to sample and enjoy.

Nancy and Clarke Gourlay, the owners of Little Qualicum Cheeseworks, had been working overseas as missionaries. They took a sabbatical in Switzerland and fell for the locally-produced raclette cheese. They were ready for a career change, and the climate in mid- Vancouver Island was similar to the climate in the lower Swiss Alps (particularly in terms of humidity, which is really important for cheesemaking), so they decided to learn all they could about making cheese.

Nancy and Lori became the farm’s first cheesemakers. Lori says that courses and recipes don’t tell you everything. “You have to taste it, feel it, see it,” she says. “It’s the hands-on experience that is how you really learn cheesemaking.”

What the cows eat is key to good cheese. The cows spend their days in the fields and make their own way to the barn twice a day for milking because they know they’ll get a treat of grain (granola) while they are milked. The farm grows hay to produce silage for the winter feeds. Did you know that the bales are wrapped in plastic to "pickle" them?

Summer is high season so the cows are currently producing approximately 1600 litres of milk a day that is immediately turned into cheese. The brie is shaped in molds and left in the brine tank for 24 hours before being turned every day for 10 days until it is ripe. Then it’s packaged and sold almost immediately. The blue cheese has to be kept in a separate room to isolate the blue cheese spores. The hard cheeses are aged for a couple of months.

You can buy the cheese in the Farm Shop or at farmers’ markets on the Island and in Vancouver. Lori explains that the markets are important because they ensure a direct connection with consumers. “People want to know where their food is coming from. They want to see you and talk to you.” There’s a financial advantage as well as selling directly to consumers eliminates the middleman and improves the narrow profit margin on food products.

Mooberry Winery
The farm started making fruit wines two years ago. Phil Charlebois, the winemaker, is new to winemaking and super enthusiastic. He’s developed wines using a wide variety of fruits and berries – from apple and pear to gooseberry and raspberry – and he’s still experimenting. Future plans include strawberry-rhubarb and kiwi grape. And each variety is really different. The apple is dry and crisp, while the cherry is smoky and complex, and the raspberry captures the wonderful aroma of sun-warmed raspberries.

I really enjoyed talking with Phil because he’s not a wine snob. He reminded me that both making and consuming food and drink should be enjoyable. Have fun and enjoy life seems to sum up the Morningstar Farm philosophy – and that makes it a great place to visit.

Truffles in BC?
As we entered Morningstar Farm, I was intrigued to see a sign advertising truffle host trees at the neighbouring farm. A little digging on the internet informed me that Duckett Truffieres are growing organic truffles and truffle host trees. An amazing discovery for someone who really likes truffle oil on her pasta and thought it had to be imported from Europe. Yet another reason for me to come back to Vancouver Island!


Derek said...

Those are GREAT pictures!!! Hilarious animals and signs :-)

Shelley said...

Now there's a wine I'd buy for the label! Mooberry! I love it!