Jeff Nonay likes to kick the tires before committing.
The owner of Lakeside Dairy, about 40 kilometres north of Edmonton, recently took the plunge into cheesemaking—but only after a decade of considering how best to expand beyond his existing business producing beef, potatoes and milk.
“We had some visitors from Montreal at the farm in 2009 or ’10, and they told us about their dad’s cheese story,” Nonay says. “You’ll often hear about cheese in Ontario, Quebec and B.C., but rarely in Alberta. It piqued my interest.”
At the time, Nonay was busy developing a hybrid Wagyu-Holstein beef that has since become much desired by local butchers and restaurants. But he had cheese on the brain all the same, and began visiting dairy farms in Ontario and Quebec, returning with sample cheeses. Though his careful research was interrupted when a fire destroyed one of his barns and many of his cattle in the fall of 2017, Nonay decided to move forward with diversification. In 2019, he built a cheesemaking plant (along with a replacement barn) down the yard from his dairy operation.
“It’s not like I didn’t have enough things on the go,” chuckles the third-generation farmer whose Hungarian grandfather started the family’s first farm in Spruce Grove in the 1950s. “But I love good food and good wine, and appreciate pairing with good cheese. It’s a passion of mine.”
The next step was finding a cheesemaker. Last year, he began working in earnest with Ian Treuer, formerly of Winding Road Artisan Cheese in Smoky Lake. Despite the pandemic and its economic uncertainties, the pair developed a number of new cheeses under the Lakeside Farmstead banner, including a brie, a Jack cheese and a cheddar that’s flavoured with chaga tea. Naturally, they’re all made with milk from Nonay’s dairy farm.
There’s been a learning curve, but he says, “We’re getting the cheese into more stores—and also getting comfortable with the process of how our facility works and the shapes and sizes of molds.”
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Lakeside Dairy has been supplying milk to Albertans for years. Along with other dairy producers in the area, Nonay’s milk is pooled and then taken to a processing plant, where it’s packaged and branded with the Blue Cow logo that adorns all made-in-Canada milk. It’s a good way to identify local producers, but for the moment, Nonay hasn’t put the logo on Lakeside’s cheeses. “We’re open to it,” he notes, “but we’re focused on developing our own brand first.”
Lakeside Farmstead cheeses—including its popular chaga-infused cheddar—can be found at northern Alberta retailers such as D’Arcy’s Meat Market in St. Albert, Meuwly’s in Edmonton and Sobeys in Morinville.
Join AMA’s Backyard BBQ community on Facebook to discover and share great recipes made with Alberta-made ingredients—like Alberta beef burgers topped with your favourite Lakeside cheese. Then get even more farm-fresh ideas on Canada’s Agriculture Day, February 23, 2021, with the social hashtag #CdnAgDay.