Early mornings are necessary to get a good start on cheesemaking at Hilary’s Cheese. Hilary Abbott has been making cheese in the Cowichan Valley since the late 1990’s. His only problem is that his cheese is too popular and he keeps running out. So, most Thursday mornings you will find him in his cheesemaking facility, up to his elbows in curds and whey. When I walked into his warm and steamy cheese room last week, he and an assistant were making cheese curds, a blue cheese and a Camembert-style cheese. One of the blues is called Sacre Bleu, another one Youbou Blue, a somewhat skewed pronunciation play on the North Cowichan community of the same name.
One Camembert-style cheese is called St. Clair, but the inspiration for that name actually came from Sinclair Philip, the owner of Sooke Harbour House, who told Hilary when he started making cheese that he could NOT name any cheese ‘Camembert’ if it was NOT made in the particular region of France where Camembert is traditionally made. So Sinclair ended up with a namesake cheese of sorts, which is still proudly served on the Sooke Harbour House menu.
Hilary got into cheesemaking for a couple of reasons, one of which was seeing beautiful raw milk being wasted on Vancouver Island because of the quota system, and the other was that Hilary was maybe a little tired of being an administrator in the education system. He jokes that a mid-life crisis was solved by investing in cheese instead of a Lamborgini. What he loves about the business is that he is his own boss…which also means he gets to work ALL the time!
Hilary sells all the cheese he can make, so you would think expansion would be very natural progression. But it’s not that easy. The cheesery is in the basement of his house, not that easy to expand the size because of the strict infrastructure requirements for such a facility. His cheesemaking vats are quite small. But there aren’t that many vats the next size up, most are too huge for him to work with. Luckily he has discovered a new pasteurizer that he’s just getting hooked up that will help bulk up production. Another problem is finding employees that will stay with a small company and make the effort to learn the cheesemaking and cheese aging process, which will help production…and he could use some more knowledge himself, it’s been a pretty steep learning curve since his days sitting behind a desk.
That means trips to Italy and France, for example.
If you want to taste Hilary's Cheese in the Cowichan Valley, best place is to go to Cowichan Bay and visit Hilary’s Deli, where Hilary’s wife Patty runs the shop with all their own cheeses, cheeses from around the world and many other goodies including great soups and sandwiches.
In Victoria, Hilary's Cheese is carried by Ottavio's, The Market on Yates, and Peppers. In Nanaimo at McLean's and Mark't Artisans, Whole Foods in West Vancouver and at Famous Foods on Kingsway in Vancouver.