If the cheese is in demand, so too is the milk.
Little Qualicum Cheeseworks, established in 2001, is a cheesemaking farm in Parksville, B.C., and they believe they are Canada’s first milk-on-tap dispenser, having launched in 2017.
So what exactly is a milk-on-tap dispenser?
Individuals bring in their reusable bottles (or purchase some from the farm’s store) and fill them with fresh, pasteurized, on-site milk from the cows grazing the farm (called Morningstar Farm).
A litre of milk costs $2.75, less than what you’d find at a grocery store, said Chelsea Enns, who owns the farm with her husband, Albert Gorter.
Their whole milk comes from their grass-fed cows and has a fat content of around 4.4 per cent, providing that “creamy goodness,” said Enns. Their milk’s fat content can slightly fluctuate, though, as they don’t separate the cream from the milk, later adding it back in to hit a desired fat content, as other milk producers might.
Enns and Gorter purchased the Parksville farm in 2021 after the former owner, Nancy Gourlay, retired. Having previously been dairy farmers in Manitoba, the couple dreamt of one day processing their own milk but felt the feat was too much of a “big new world.”
“It was kind of daunting to us, like, how do we get started? What equipment do we need? Where do we set it all up and all these things? We weren’t really sure how to get started.”
In 2020, the couple vacationed on Vancouver Island and visited Little Qualicum Cheeseworks. They tasted cheese and saw the operation firsthand, thinking that the quaint little farm was their dream.
As fate would have it, the farm went up for sale a year later, which they learned about through a mutual farming friend.
“He called my husband, Albert, and said, ‘You’ll never guess what is for sale,’” said Enns, and by September 2021, the couple had purchased the farm.
As is the case for most in the farming industry, it’s a daily commitment with little time off, making seeing their family in Manitoba difficult. Still, the couple often reminds themselves of their story of purchasing the farm and how it’s where they’re supposed to be.
“That is the only thing that I would change. If I could have my parents move out here or my sister,” said Enns, explaining how she loves being tucked between the mountains and the ocean.
The couple’s 600-acre Manitoba farm comprised around 130 cows milked on a parlour system. Now, the couple has approximately 90 acres and milks their 50 cows with a VMS robot (voluntary milking system).
“The robot runs 24-7, and the cows get to choose when they go in to be milked. They voluntarily walk in to be milked and can be milked upwards of six times a day if that’s what they want. Most of them do it about four times a day. It’s nice for them.”
It’s a win-win for both the cows and the farm. Frequent milkings are more natural for the cows, which in turn, causes them to produce more milk, Enns explained.
Little Qualicum Cheeseworks is open to the public six days a week, year-round. Visitors can enjoy self-guided tours, see the fields, watch video footage of the VMS robot system in action, meet the calves in the barn, or enjoy the picnic area. In addition, people can taste cheese at the farm’s cheese shop or fill their clean, reusable bottles with fresh milk.
Along with cheese, milk and other products in their farm shop, the couple is excited to have their ice cream machine up and running this summer, where people can enjoy vanilla, chocolate and twist soft serve ice cream.
You can learn more about Little Qualicum Cheeseworks by visiting their website cheeseworks.ca.