The Milk Of Human Fortitude
Photos by Kim Keitner
Jeanita and Rick Rand work hard.
They are the brains and the muscle behind Fox Hill Farm and Cheese House. Their cheese and milk products have been served to the Queen, won awards, and are gobbled up by Nova Scotians on a daily basis. Jeanita found a few moments to sit down and answer a few questions for a Passable Interview.
How did Fox Hill Cheese come about?
Fox Hill Cheese House came about in 2002 when our son decided he wanted to farm. It forced us to look very seriously at our financial picture; our cash flow wasn’t great because of the various infrastructure changes we had made to the farm over the years. My husband is the entrepreneur and always wanted to add value to our milk to make cheese, yogurt and ice cream. Late on a Sunday evening in 2002, an elderly lady knocked on our door and asked if we were the people that wanted to make cheese. She knew of a cheese maker going out of business and connected us. This was the beginning of our journey into cheese making. In 2006 we added natural yogurt to our product base and then in 2007 gelato ice cream. All products are made from Foxhill milk.
What was it like the first few years when you had Fox Hill?
The first few years at Fox Hill were truly exciting years and growing years. We learnt a lot about marketing, quality control, pairing wine and cheese and so much more!
Did you know what you wanted to make upfront?
Our initial plan was to make cheese because that’s what our cheese maker had made. When we saw the demand for natural yogurt was there, we started making small batches testing our quality. We discovered gelato at a food show but we wanted to make it “special” so we use our milk in our own base recipe. Donna Domiano a gelato expert with Italian roots, spent some time with us in developing our “own, unique” base recipe
Why do you make the products you do? I’m thinking of the quark cheese, which was not all that well known among Maritimers.
Quark was a product our cheese maker was making. He had a clientele established so we kept it. We have added value to the quark by making dips and have done a lot of tasting and educating on the product. After six years, consumers are starting to value its attributes as lower fat cheese product that can be used instead of cream cheese in baking or ricotta cheese in lasagna or other pasta dishes.
Is it difficult to maintain quality of milk and milk production?
It has not been too difficult maintaining quality of milk and milk products. My son, Patrick and husband Rick do a great job at the dairy farm. Knowing that we have a quality milk, makes it easier for our daughter, Melissa, to process quality cheese, yogurt and gelato. There is a strict sanitation program that assures that proper food safety guidelines are followed.
What kinds of changes have you seen in the past few years, in regards to how people think of local food?
The Buy Local campaign has really progressed over the last 4 years. With the growing number of food scares, consumers want to know about the food they’re eating. They want to know how cheese is made, about our cows, how they’re kept, what ingredients are used, in general, they want to build relationships with their producers!
You will soon be selling milk. What kind of processes and hoops did you have to jump through to do that?
We applied and received a license to process our own milk and sell it pasteurized and non-homogenized in July of 2008. We then did a market survey which showed us most consumers wanted a glass bottle for our specialty milk. We are now in the last part of completing a new processing facility expansion and expect to have milk to our customers within a few months.