PICTON - Cheese lovers are once again beating a path to Fifth Town Artisan Cheese, the young company that took the Canadian cheese industry by storm when it opened in 2008, only to fall into receivership just four years later when the then owners divorced. For a year the doors were shuttered on Canada's only LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certified dairy, which had racked up dozens of awards beginning in its first year of production and whose sheep and goat's milk cheeses were much sought after by top restaurateurs and gourmet food retailers.
In March of this year it was announced that Patricia Secord and Hugo Bertozzi had purchased the company in November 2012. The sister and brother are self-described "third generation producers, affineurs and purveyors of artisan cheeses", whose grandfather was a parmigiano producer in Reggio Emilia, Italy, and whose father, Adriano Bertozzi, founded Toronto-based A. Bertozzi Importing Inc. Both Secord and her brother are involved in the family-owned importing business, Bertozzi as a board member and Secord as general manager. Secord divides her time between Toronto and Prince Edward County, where she owns a home.
In an email interview with The AgriNews, Secord explained that the purchase of Fifth Town Artisan Cheese brings the Bertozzi family full circle, the realization of "a dream to return to our roots that were in cheese production".
"Fifth Town has an excellent brand and goodwill built up from its origins in the County, along with its principles of excellence, craftsmanship and a farm-to-table mission," she said.
"Bertozzi already partners with artisan producers and we advocate and support the slow food mentality, as well as the healthfulness of the Mediterranean diet. Artisan cheese represents an important part of what we have always promoted."
But taking ownership of Fifth Town Artisan Cheese, including its cheese recipes, wasn't simply a matter of flipping a switch and starting to roll out the cheeses. The company had to go through the whole process of registering as a new dairy and undertaking some renovations, a process which could take almost a year. In the meantime, as stockpiles of favourites like Lemon Fetish, Nettles aGone Wild, Peta Luna and Cape Vessey dwindle and run out, Secord has commissioned special handmade cheeses from small Italian producers that have been rebranded for Fifth Town with names like Cap Cressey, Fellowship Too and Counting Sheep . . . and Goats and. . .
The small retail shop sells a wide variety of other artisan cheeses, as well as pastas, oils and sauces, fine chocolate, and ice cream with goat milk.
New this year, Fifth Town Cheese has paired with local wineries to offer tutored wine and cheese tastings on Saturdays throughout the summer. On the first weekend in August, Fifth Town hosted the Festival Players Young Company, which brought its children's production of Laura Secord to the cheese company. On the same weekend, it held an artisan market featuring sausage maker Angelo Bean, farm produce, artists and more.
All of this has been initiated to help Fifth Town keep operating during reconstruction and re-registration and to maintain a presence during the busy tourist season in Prince Edward County. So far, it has been working, as visitors continue to drive out from Picton to the less-travelled easternmost tip of the county, past pick-your-own farms and small vineyards, where the occasional "artisan cheese" sign hammered to a post seems to be the only indication that you're on the right road.
Secord acknowledges that Fifth Town Artisan Cheese Company won't be the exact same company when it resumes production later this year, but promises that its selection will be even bigger and better. It has retained cheesemaker Laura Todd and plant manager Todd Burley, both of whom worked at Fifth Town before it closed. It currently has two full-time and three part-time staff, and Secord hopes to have five full-time employees and several more part-timers once full production is reached.
"We will try to build the brand to encompass locally produced condiments, sauces, goat ice cream charcuterie and other bounty from the County," she said. "Hopefully attract tourists to the farther reaches of Prince Edward County for a fine food experience."
What won't change is that Fifth Town "will continue to draw people to the County for wonderful homemade cheese".