Coursework: cheese making short course gets better with age

From Bonnie Depew’s dairy farm in western Pennsylvania, it’s only about two hours’ drive to the Penn State campus where the university offers a short course in cheese making. So why did she come all the way to the University of Guelph to learn to make artisanal cheese?

Depew figured a more diverse student group at U of G would help her learn more as she prepares to start making cheese on her farm. Guelph’s weeklong short course in cheese making technology also offers more hands-on learning.

Those ideas resonate with food science professor and longtime cheese making instructor Art Hill. Standing in the pilot plant in the Food Science Building where students in white lab coats and hairnets cluster around stainless steel vats containing the makings for cheddar, provolone and Colby cheeses, he says the course has “a good blend of theory and hands-on. The idea is to get your hands in the vat, and they love it.”

Next year will mark the 60th anniversary of Guelph’s cheese making technology course, the only one of its kind in Canada. The five-day session draws 20 to 25 people from Ontario and around the world; students work in various fields, including retail, production, regulatory affairs, quality assurance and academia.

They learn the basics of the craft, including how to make about 20 kinds of cheese. That’s a tiny fraction of the roughly 4,000 kinds of cheese made worldwide, says Hill, who has judged at international cheese competitions for about a decade. Whether it’s crumbly feta or Camembert so creamy it practically runs off the plate, he says, “Cheese makers never stop learning these little tips and tricks that give you different functionality.” – ANDREW VOWLES