Have you tasted artisan cheese made from the milk of cows that are right there in front of you, frolicking in their fresh pasture?
Well, I just have. It was at Little Qualicum Cheeseworks at Morningstar Farm on Vancouver Island, just outside the lovely seaside town of Qualicum Beach. It’s a short jaunt to the cheeseworks from the main Island Highway and resorts of Parksville, and if you are anywhere near the area you must make the effort to get here. Their cheeses are really that good.
We pulled up to Morningstar Farms on a rainy fall morning, the kind with low fog and constant drizzle here on the east side of Vancouver Island that keeps absolutely no one indoors except for rain-weary tourists, which we were determined not to be. Donning our parkas and wellies, we set out on a self-guided tour of this family-owned, real working farm.
The farm is home to pigs, goats, many cows and their calves, a fat rabbit and a rather cranky-looking llama – all in their farm-fresh glory. Animals are loved and well-cared for here (Morningstar is proud to exceed the high standards set by BC’s Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals). I recommend you say hello to the goats and cows first thing upon your arrival, and thank them profusely on your way out with your arms full of their dairy goodness. The cheese will taste even better that way.
Cheese and wine tasting are in the gift shop. Next door, you can watch the cheesemakers in action if you’re lucky, and across the courtyard is where they make their fruit-filled wines.
On the cool, drizzly day of our visit, we had the tasting room to ourselves. We reached first for the Olde Farmer cheese, thinking we’d opt for a standard for a first taste. Little explosions of flavor bounced around our mouths. More toothpick-stabbed chunks of cheese followed–the Caraway Gouda, Bleu Claire, Froumage Frais, Raclette, Tipsy Jill. Every single variety of hard and soft cheese we tried knocked our socks off. Into our shopping basket went the Olde Farmer, a brick of Feta, and round of Island Bries.
Little Qualicum Cheeseworks proudly espouses that grass-grazing, open pasture cows give the best milk. They clearly know their cheesemaking. Little Qualicum Cheeseworks opened about ten years back when Clarke and Nancy Gourlay put their dream into action–to bring the art and practice of European-style cheese making to rural Vancouver Island. Within a few years, they’d established their vision at Morningstar Farm, nestled in the cool, moist shadow of Mt. Arrowsmith. The climate was good to ripen their washed-rind cheeses. The location, a stone’s throw from Parksville and Qualicum Beach, was optimal for public visits to this real working farm.
A few years back, the Gourlays added fruit wines to their production under the MooBerry label. The list of wines reads like a fruit stand sign–pear, peach, apple, cherry, gooseberry, blackberry. You can taste them along with their cheeses, and the wine lists suggests pairing with cheeses and meat dishes. Blackberry is probably their most popular of their wines. We picked up a bottle to try alongside the Island Bries, and a bottle of granny smith apple to pair with feta.
Mooberry’s attention to detail extends to their wine corks, which are printed with a fun cow pattern.
Learn about Little Qualicum Cheeseworks and how they make their cheese on their blog.