For me, the Gulf Islands lend themselves to superlative language: idyllic, pastoral, utopian. Nestled between Canada’s mainland and Vancouver Island, these islands extend north from Washington State’s San Juans. Sparsely inhabited, rural and peaceful, this area is a ferry ride away from Anacortes (in Washington) or Tsawwssen (in British Columbia) and are a great place to spend a summer’s vacation imagining living there full time. Salt Spring Island, the largest and most inhabited island of the Gulf Islands chain, has around ten thousand residents and by far the highest concentration of farms, artists and businesses than the other islands; it even has its own currency, used in addition to regular Canadian currency. More to the point for cheese lovers, Salt Spring boasts not just one but two cheesemakers, Moonstruck Organic Cheese Co. (see my prior post on Moonstruck here) and Salt Spring Island Cheese Company, making this particular island something of a cheese tourism destination.
As recounted here, David Wood left a successful gourmet food shop, the eponymous David Wood Food Shop in Toronto, for rural British Columbia and a slower, simpler lifestyle in the early 1990s. Wood’s first foray into cheesemaking came soon after, when he and wife Nancy began exploring making cheese with sheep’s milk. But the Woods' cheesemaking operation really hit its stride when they switched to making more profitable goat’s milk cheeses, and commercial production began in earnest around 1997. In addition, the purchase of cheeesemaking equipment from a defunct operation on nearby Gabriola Island gave Wood the functional capacity needed to expand his operation. Since then, Salt Spring Island Cheese Company has consistently grown in popularity – so much so that Wood has recently renovated the cheesemaking facilities again with an eye on expanding his sales reach beyond British Columbia and into other Canadian provinces.
Salt Spring Island Cheese Company is located in the southeast part of the island near Ruckle Park. Over the past few years, the facility has become something of a tourist draw, so much so that last summer when I was there the Woods were in the process of paving the entrance driveway to their farm and creating a small visitor parking lot. An assortment of friendly dogs, cats and chickens will welcome you and lead you a few steps to the cheese shop, a nearby building with a sign proclaiming “fromages.” The staff (in my experience, usually a Wood family member) is friendly and helpful and liberal with the samples. Behind the counter, you can see through a window to the cheese being made as you taste it.
SSI's cheese is available in British Columbia wherever good cheese is sold (try Les Amis du Fromage if you're in Vancouver), but if you're visiting it’s worth sticking around on a Saturday to drop by the Salt Spring Island Saturday Market. However, be warned that the SSI cheese booth at the market is very popular and squeezing in to look, taste or buy can be a challenge. One summer afternoon when I was there, a Japanese television camera crew aggressively prevented innocent people from buying cheese…but the crowds and attention are a testament to the quality of the cheese that the Woods are making. You can always spend your time ogling the beautiful produce, bread, jams and art in other areas of the market while you're waiting to get at the cheese. Also, be sure to look for SSI's colorful flavored chevre packaging, which stands out no matter what market you're at or what refrigerated case you're looking in. Designed by Thea Wood (daughter of David and Nancy), these fresh chevres are deliciously flavored with tasty herbs and spices such as basil, chiles, pansies and sage. Particulary good is SSI's outstanding goat/sheep’s milk aged cheese called Montaña, in my estimation one of British Columbia’s best artisan cheeses. Unfortunately, for now Salt Spring Island Cheese Company products are not available in the United States.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * Salt Spring Island Cheese Company David and Nancy Wood 285 Reynolds Rd. Salt Spring Island, BC V8K 1Y2 250-653-2300