Balancing the law with cheesemaking

Vernon lawyer has created a second career through artisanal cheesemaking business, Terroir Cheese

  • Apr. 9, 2017 4:30 a.m.

Cara Brady/Morning Star

Leonard Marriott grew up eating Armstrong Cheese sandwiches and dreaming about being a dairy farmer. He went to the one-room school in Deep Creek near his family’s farm.

“When I was older, I realized I didn’t have the money for a dairy farm and would have to do something else,” he said.

Something else was studying economics at the University of Victoria and law at the University of Ottawa, and practising in Ontario and B.C. By the early 1990s, he was able to buy a dairy farm in Deep Creek and was selling milk. Then it was back to Ontario to a bigger dairy farm with his family.

By 2009, it was time to make some decisions.

“I was divorced and decided to reinvent myself as a cheesemaker,” said Marriott. “I took training at the University of Guelph and the University of Vermont. I wanted to learn more about European cheesemaking and studied the science and art of cheesemaking at colleges in France. There are thousands of different kinds of cheese in Europe, and cheese is an important part of life. I found myself getting passionate about it.”

When he came back to Canada, he found there was a growing interest in artisanal cheese and he started to put his knowledge to work.

“At first it was informal — personal-sized batches. I was ecstatic that it turned out — the milk became cheese curd. The first cheese I made was Gruyère. I kept sampling it but I was patient until it was ready.”

That led to a business plan and matured into Terroir Cheese, which specializes in local raw milk, GMO-free cheese.

Marriott runs Terroir while practising law as an associate with Gerry M. Laarakker Law Corp. in Vernon. He finds law and cheesemaking complementary.

“My law training helped me with all the paperwork necessary to start a business and my dairy farming experience helps me understand my agricultural clients’ needs.”

There are a lot of regulations to making artisanal cheese but with that dealt with Marriott is taking care of his herd of 20 French Montbéliard cattle in the Spallumcheen area and concentrates on making Brie-style, French-style Jurassic, Continental Blue and, the best-seller, his first cheese, Gruyère.

The cheesemaking is still hands-on. He rents space at a local plant and starts with a 1,000-litre vat of milk, adding natural rennet and different cultures to the cheese curd. That turns into 100 to 120 kilos of cheese which is aged on wooden shelves with rinds washed regularly.

Marriott has several employees but still does whatever needs to be done as necessary, including milking the cows.

The cheese is sold at area farmers’ markets, retailers and to restaurants.

“People tell us they want local healthy products at fair prices. Growth is constant as all the local cheesemakers work together to make the products more available. The cheese is a wonderful complement to other local products like wine and fruit,” he said.

“It’s very satisfying and I find it a gives me a good balance and variety with my work as a lawyer. I would say to anyone who wants to have a small business that you have to be passionate about it or don’t do it.”

Terroir was named for the European concept that geographical location gives its produce a specific character which can be recognized and appreciated.

“Europeans know that, and I think people are starting to be aware of it here now. I plan to expand the variety of cheese at Terroir and to be in cheesemaking for a long time,” said Marriot.

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