Jeff and Jenna Fenwick (photo below) purchased Back Forty Artisan Cheese from James Keith embarking on a different journey and complete change of lifestyle.
They’re living the dream and loving the balance they’ve achieved between pursuing their passions (for Jeff, cheesemaking, and Jenna, creating hand-illustrated screened textiles at jennarose.ca), farming in Lanark County, North Frontenac and enjoying the great outdoors and peaceful tranquillity of their remote country location.
The Story Behind Back Forty Artisan Cheese
From a cramped 300-square-foot kitchen where the husband and wife team were “living in a cheese factory” with whey buckets, equipment and aging cheeses all around their house… fast forward to late 2015 and early 2016.
Now today’s biggest challenge is increasing production to begin to offset the costs of expansion and investment in a brand new facility. They have to learn how to use the new and upgraded equipment all the while increasing production.
During this learning curve, one of the cheeses refuses to co-operate, giving Jeff a hard time by flattening out rather than keeping its shape (cheese is fickle, especially with the slight change in milk, culture, or feed of the animals).
For consistency and quality Jeff works very closely with his two farm partners whose nearly 300 East Freisan and British Milk Sheep ewes will provide him a planned 4000 litres of milk this year, netting approximately 5,000 to 7,000 kgs of handmade cheese….that is a lot of cheese!
Creating a Back Forty Artisan Cheese Community
More land and space with expanded facilities for production and aging allow Jeff and Jenna to dream even bigger. They’ll be “officially open to the public” on the July long weekend of this year, receiving visitors at their farm for the first time.
The bar for the tasting room is being crafted. A first and second-floor outdoor patio is being designed to be a destination for cheese lovers and nearby cottagers to congregate. Jeff and Jenna hope to develop a new community, partnering with craft breweries, and hosting small group classes and farm-to-table dinners featuring local chefs using ingredients from their own land.
Plans for a rustic guest retreat cabin, hiking and walking trails are also in the works. I’ve thrown in a request for a wood-fired pizza oven.
Coming soon to Back Forty Artisan Cheese!
On the cheese front watch for Jeff’s soon-to-launch (yet unnamed) Munster-style semi-soft, washed-rind sheep’s milk cheese, with a gorgeous pumpkin-hued exterior. As well, a local beer washed cheese is being experimented. There are plans for a hard aged grana style cheese and a few small batch specialty varieties available only at the farm such as fresh curds, a haloumi/paneer style grilling cheese and maybe even fresh ricotta (we should be so lucky!).
While Jeff will add to his roster of cheeses, he’ll continue to be choosy and handpick his distribution and retail locations to ensure there continues to be a strong personal connection from the cheese back to the farm. We are delighted to have the opportunity to bring to you the first cheese of 2016 from the farm to your table.
Back Forty Artisan Cheese Tasting Notes
Flower Station, one of the little-known Back Forty Artisan Cheese, is a Greek-style feta named for a small community in the Lanark Highlands. It’s Jeff’s easiest cheese to craft as it only takes three days from start to finish – making, cutting/salting, and packaging in wedges.
Tasting Notes: At sixty days, Flower Station says spring as a fresh, un-ripened, semi-firm, Mediterranean-style raw sheep’s milk feta. Stored in it’s own whey you’ll find a toothsome slightly crumbly texture. Mild citrus combines with a good balance of salt and fresh milk flavors from these little ivory wedges.
Suggested Pairing: Jenna finds Flower Station the most versatile of their family of cheeses for daily cooking, using it on everything from omelets to pizza. A little will go a long “whey”. We agree!
Back Forty Artisan Cheese sure knows how to make ‘a little slice of heaven on earth’. Hands down the perfect find for the hard-core cheese lover in your life. Rich and luxurious, it reminds of a dense, beautiful piece of cheesecake in both appearance and texture.
Tasting Notes: The triple cream of sheep’s milk cheeses, Madawaska is a semi-soft, surface-ripened raw ewe’s milk cheese. With its thick, white, almost crust like bloomy rind, and creamy, dense paste you will find mushroomy aromas and full, sweet, tangy, milky mildly grassy flavours linger nibble after nibble.
Suggested Pairing: This is one time for the cheese to stand alone. Or, link with the lightest of white wines (Sauvignon Blanc because of similarities in grassy notes), so as not to overpower.
My earliest and fondest tasting memories years ago, as a then-unripened-cheese enthusiast, is Jeff Fenwick’s Bonnechere, a one-of-a-kind, semi-firm, cooked, and double-hand pressed raw sheep milk cheese. Bonnechere is especially unique inside and out, named for the rugged Bonnechere River and mysterious cave landmarks in the area. Normally aged for about three months before being sold, Jeff prefers this cheese aged for six months…guess what…you are getting the premium wedge of this cheese as the wheels of this 6 month aged cheese was chosen especially by Jeff just for YOU.
Tasting Notes: A beautiful, chestnut patterned toasted rind covers the interior smooth ivory paste. Torching by hand gives Bonnechere smoky aromas with very distinct caramel flavor. With age, these characteristics amplify the tangy, sweet, and fruity body of the cheese. Sour milk lingers with a slight amount of acidity. It’s produced in very small quantities in two to three kilograms wheels with seasonal milk from the smaller of Jeff’s two farm partners.
Suggested Pairing: With its fruit forward flavour profile, enjoy with hard cider or fruit flavoured craft beer. Thick slices, a quarter or half wheel melted and toasted as Raclette are a sure fire party pleaser. Also popular on fig-bread with caramelized onions and grilled.
This is Back Forty’s most popular creation! Named after local Lanark Highlands, it is considered to be one of Canada’s most distinctive artisan blue cheeses. Its artistry was recognized and awarded with a medal at the Royal Ontario Winter Fair. This cheese is a labor of love as Jeff’s favorite to make requiring the most work, including piercing by hand 120-130 times per wheel to promote bacterial growth. Even if you are not a fan of blue cheese…a bite of Highland Blue will probably convert you.
Tasting Notes: Highland Blue wheels are tall, regal and rustic. As a semi-firm unpasteurized sheep’s milk blue cheese, it has a dense, antique ivory to golden paste with prominent vertical teal-blue colored veining throughout, and a mottled natural rind. Notice a distinct sharpness, salty richness and earthy flavor with a bit of a kick in the piquant finish.
Suggested Pairing: Traditionally, this cheese pairs perfectly with a local ice wine, Late Harvest Vidal, or Port. For a different twist, try an Iced Cider from Quebec, with dried apricots as garnish to bring out extra flavor pop.
Recipes Made with Back Forty Artisan Cheese
With Back Forty Artisan Cheese’s Flower Station…
Recipe & Photo: Ricardocuisine.com
2 yellow beets
2 red beets
1 ¼ cups (310 ml) unbleached all-purpose flour
Pinch of salt
1/2 cup (125 ml) cold unsalted butter, cubed
2 Tbsp 30 ml) ice water, approximately
1 ¼ cups (310 ml) Flower Station feta cheese, diced
1 ¼ cups (310 ml) 15% cream OR milk
2 eggs, lightly beaten
2 Tbsp (30 ml) chopped fresh chives
Salt and pepper – to taste
- With the rack in the middle position, preheat the oven to 200 °C (400 °F).
- Wrap the beets individually in aluminum foil. Bake for about 1 hour and 15 minutes or until tender. Let cool. Peel and cut into ½-cm (1/4-inch) thick slices. Set aside.
- In the bowl of a food processor, combine the flour and salt. Add the butter and pulse for a few seconds at a time, until the butter is the size of peas. Add the water. Pulse again until the dough just begins to form. Add water, if needed. Remove the dough from the food processor and form into a disk with your hands.
- On a floured work surface, roll out the dough. Line a 25-cm (10-inch) quiche plate with a removable bottom. Refrigerate for 30 minutes.
- Place the rack in the lowest position of the oven.
- In a bowl, combine 1 cup (250 mL) of Flower Station feta cheese with the cream, eggs, and chives. Season with salt and pepper. Pour into the crust. Place the beets in a rosette shape, alternating colors. Sprinkle with the remaining cheese.
- Bake for about 45 minutes. Let stand about for 10 minutes before serving.
- Delicious hot or warm. Freezes well.
With Back Forty Artisan Cheese’s Bonnechere and Madawaska…
FoodNetwork.ca Great Canadian Cookbook
Courtesy of Alexander McNaughton, Tofino, British Columbia
Good-sized handful of onions or 2 to 3 large leeks, finely sliced
2 – 3 large shallots, minced
Butter for sautéing
Salt and pepper to taste
⅓ cup fresh thyme, destemmed
1 cup (approx) white or red wine, sherry or stock
2 – 3 lbs. (900 g to 1.35 kg) wild mushrooms, such as chanterelles, morels, hedgehogs or angel wings, cleaned and shredded finely by hand (you can substitute store-bought mushrooms)
3 – 5 egg yolks, depending on tart size
1 ½ cup (approx) cheese, such as a Parmesan, manchego or Asiago (Vanessa’s recommendation: substitute Bonnechere for the mushroom mixture & thin slices of Madawaska for the top )
- Roll out pastry and chill in tart pan in fridge for up to 30 minutes. (One of Vanessa’s tricks is to make the pastry bigger than I need and fold the crust tightly into a roll, creating a flaky layered crust that’s sure to impress.) Roll out dough approximately 2 inches (5 cm) bigger than your pie shell.
- While pastry chills, thinly slice onions and shallots; caramelize with butter in a pan. Add salt, pepper and thyme. Add about a cup of wine, just as the onions/leeks release their sugar and begin to stick for rich, sweet flavor. Once liquid has evaporated, remove onions and shallots; set aside.
- Increase heat to high and add small amount of oil and butter; sauté mushrooms until they release liquid and edges are crispy. Mushrooms should be seared hot so they caramelize nicely; remove from heat before they go watery or limp. Once filling components have cooled, combine with 3 to 5 egg yolks (depending on tart size) and generous amount of cheese (Bonnechere – about 1 cup) to bind tart. Top with about ½ cup cheese (slices of Madawaska).
- Bake in 400°F (200°C) oven for up to 40 minutes. Be sure that the cheese has bubbled and is crisp before removing the pie from oven.
With Back Forty Artisan Cheese’s Highland Blue…
Recipe & photo credit: Bite – NZ’s home of Food
Blue cheese and venison is one of Jeff’s favourite pairings. A sprinkle of Highland Blue to finish this salad will punch up its WOW factor.
olive oil to drizzle
8 medallions of venison
1 eggplant, sliced 1cm thick
2 red peppers cut into 2 cm thick wedges
1 bunch asparagus, trimmed
1 red onion, peeled and cut into 1cm thick wedges
2 corn cobs, husk removed, cooked in boiling water for 2 minutes
1 basket cherry tomatoes, halved
4 handfuls baby rocket, watercress or mesclun leaves
Raspberry Balsamic Dressing
½ cup raspberries, fresh, or thawed from frozen
¼ cup balsamic vinegar
3 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp honey
75 grams of Highland Blue cheese (Vanessa’s addition!)
- Heat barbecue on medium to high heat. Rub oil over venison and season with salt. Drizzle eggplant, red pepper, asparagus, corn and red onion with olive oil. Cook venison for 2-3 minutes on each side for medium (do not cook more than medium).
- Set meat aside to rest before slicing. Cook eggplant, pepper, asparagus, corn and red onion for 5-10 minutes on barbecue until cooked through.
- To make the dressing, shake all ingredients together in a screw-top jar until well combined.
- When cool enough to handle, cut corn kernels off the cob using a sharp knife.
- To serve, toss salad leaves and cherry tomatoes with barbecued vegetables and venison. Divide between plates and drizzle with raspberry balsamic dressing. Top with crumbled Highland Blue.