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Nickel City Cheese gains fast foothold

Sudbury's first cheese producer enjoys early success with fresh, in-house made product

Even Miss Muffet would approve of Nickel City Cheese.

Sudbury's agriculture scene has gotten a lot more diverse with a cheese factory about 20 kilometres northeast of Sudbury on Regional Road 15 in the suburb of Azilda. The factory has been growing since it opened this past spring, offering made fresh daily cheddar curds and bricks in a variety of flavours.

Owner Nicole Paquin says demand for their fresh cheese has been steady since they first opened, often selling out of their signature flavoured curds.

For her, it's been a long-term goal for her to establish a cheese factory in the region.

Before this, she worked in the office of the Ministry of the Attorney General for 14 years part-time and wanted something more.

“I remembered the fromage des villages from where I grew up in Quebec, and wanted to bring that here,” she said. “We had fresh cheese on a regular basis.”

She left her job and got certification in cheese making from the University of Guelph and began the process of opening her own business.

The facility was built with expansion in mind, but started with one kind of cheese to gain a foothold. It consists of a delivery garage for the milk trucks, the production floor, packaging and the storefront, as well as a back room for employees to enter and exit and dress.

The process to make the cheese starts with fresh raw milk trucked in from dairies in Verner through the Dairy Farmers of Ontario collective. The milk is pasteurized, then cooled to around 32 degrees Celsius. Rennet and cultures are added and the mix is left to form one solid block of fresh cheese in the vat. Once solid, the whey is drained off, blocks are stacked in the vat and left to drain, which is called cheddaring.

Solid fresh cheese is cut into smaller blocks to feed into a curd breaker. Curds are seasoned with salt, then the fresh curds are gathered in bins and flavouring added. From there, some curds are weighed and bagged, while others are pressed into bricks.

The entire process can take up to 11 hours, Paquin said.

They have 200 gram and 400 gram bags of curds available, as well as bricks in 200 gram or 300 gram weights.

Very little goes to waste during production. All whey water is collected and sold to a local farmer for livestock feed.

Some flavours have proven to be popular with customers, which include dill pickle, jalapeno, and garden herbs.

One in particular, barbecue, is a speciality Paquin says is a favourite of hers.
“We found this mix from a shop in Montreal that worked perfectly with the cheese,” she said.

All their cheese is good for 24 hours before it needs to be refrigerated. While their product often sells out fast, Paquin said any unsold cheese curds are donated to the Sudbury Soup Kitchen in Sudbury.

They also prepare catering trays, fundraising packages and gift baskets.

She currently makes only cheddar, but more equipment is on the way to expand their line to include marble, gouda, Havarti, Swiss and mozzarella.

Marble, especially, Paquin explained, needs to have separate equipment due to it being two kinds of cheddar being mashed together. 

In the future, Paquin said she and her sons will be heading to France for a cheese-making course they plan on applying to improve their product.

“It's not just about making cheese, but they teach people how to make a cheese that is unique to the individual,” she said. “It will be something only we can make and sell from the shop.”

Nickel City Cheese is available for sale at the shop and currently Smith's Markets locations in Sudbury.