Jeff McCourt brings Glasgow Glen Farm back after disheartening fire in November 2017

It only takes a few moments of chatting with cheesemaker Jeff McCourt to sense his passion for both his Gouda cheese business and the local food movement that continues to gain momentum in PEI.

Now in his fourth year of business in New Glasgow, the Glasgow Glen Farm has expanded beyond just a few cheese choices, to include a restaurant and bakery that serves wood-fired pizzas, fresh cinnamon rolls, sourdough bread, and other delicious treats. On a rainy Thursday morning, it’s starting to bustle with customers dropping in, and the kitchen crew gearing up for the lunch rush. McCourt has already been up since the crack of dawn, getting bread in the ovens and prepping for the day ahead.

As an artisinal cheese maker, McCourt took a long route to get to where he is today. After a few decades of working in the restaurant scene, a teaching stint at the Culinary Institute of Canada, writing a cookbook, and generally accomplishing much in the Island culinary scene, he decided to take on the world of cheese. A rumour in 2011 that Martina TerBeek, owner and cheese maker of The Cheeselady was contemplating retirement sparked McCourt’s interest further, but TerBeek was not yet ready to hand over the reins to a new owner.

It was late 2012 when TerBeek said yes to retirement and McCourt began the process of acquiring the business from her. By the spring of 2013, he began his apprenticeship with TerBeek, learning the art of Gouda making and all her secrets. Using a unique form of crowdsourcing, he sold cheese futures for $1000 each and Glasgow Glen Farm was born. “It was a great way to get this building financed and my start,” McCourt said. “You get two shipments every year [for five years], one in the spring and one in the fall, six kilograms each time.”

He is contemplating another round of futures, “We’d like to get our federal licence, and it’s about building production. The cheese business, it’s tough. It’s like whiskey, you’re sitting on inventory for a long time and you’re sitting on that money at the same time.” A federal licence would allow the cheese to be sold across Canada to commercial outlets—currently his cheese can be purchased online and shipped for personal use only.

McCourt has taken the original cheese recipes from TerBeek and expanded on her base to create 15 cheeses that include Peppercorn Gouda, Red Chili Pepper Gouda, Pizza, Fenugreek, Herb and Garlic, and a Bluda, which is described as having the “sweet nuttiness of a traditional Gouda with a creamy, acidic finish of blue cheese.”

The milk used to create the Gouda is from a dairy farm up the road, owned by Abe and Elaine Butterman. “Being a small farm, they can control the components of the milk, which is nice, and do a good job of delivering a consistent, as consistent as possible, milk for me,” McCourt said. He acknowledges that the protein and fat content of the milk varies from season to season, but he doesn’t modify the cheese recipes to match. “That’s what I feel is being artisanal. In a factory, they have a recipe, ok, the milk starts at a certain butterfat and a certain amount of protein.”

Life as an entrepreneur does not come without its challenges. “We had a fire there back in November, it was really challenging since that. We lost our momentum, we closed from November, December.” The fire started in the roof of the wood-fired pizza oven and although there was no damage to the production facility or the product in storage, the water damage meant a loss of production.

“In the business, we were four years in and building momentum and then that seemed to kick the s*%t out of me,” McCourt said, with a refreshingly honest answer about what the fire’s effect was on him. “It was probably the worst winter of my life…as someone said, it just adds to your story, but I could do without that addition, I think.”

Born in Summerside, and a proud Islander, McCourt has been a fixture in Island culinary circles for decades. He chaired the Culinary Alliance (now Food Island Partnership), and has promoted PEI farmers, fishers, and their products for as long as he’s been working as a chef. After graduating from the Culinary Institute in 1991, he served as Sous Chef to Chef Michael Smith for five years prior to becoming Chef at The Inn at Bay Fortune for nine years. He has also worked at The Mountain Lodge and Spa at Delphi, in Ireland, Confederation Centre of The Arts, Red Shores Racetrack and Casino in Charlottetown.

He’s featured on the PEI Tourism webpage’s feature of “Ask a Local”, and was recently named as a Local Food Advocate for the Fall Flavours Festival. It’s a natural fit for him, “My biggest job is to get people out of Charlottetown, including locals and the tourists because that’s where everyone is. So as a local, if I am part of the reason why they come to New Glasgow…I don’t care if they spend money, I don’t care if they don’t spend a dime in here, I just want them out in this area. We have a lot to offer out here.”

“For me, September, I try to get involved as much as I can because it’s an opportunity to get in front of people’s faces, and they can get cheese in their mouths, and it directly correlates, I see them in the shop two days later,” McCourt said of his participation in a variety of Fall Flavours events. This year, along with his role as a local food advocate, he will be assisting Chef Chuck Hughes with both the Harbour Feast, and the Chuck and Friends event. He’s also on tap to lend a hand to Chef Irwin MacKinnon during Feast and Frolic at the PEI International Shellfish Festival, and will be part of The Great Island Grilled Cheese Challenge, Taste of North Rustico, and to top off the month, he and his cheese will be part of Farm Day in the City.

McCourt is content with his busy supporting role, knowing that he’s put in years of hard work promoting PEI’s food. As he has been known to joke, “It’s all Gouda.”

About Cheryl Young

A “Jill of all trades” describes Cheryl to a T. From operating her own handyperson company, to selling luxury cars, to working as a film and TV crew member, her resume is diverse. But her dream as a kid was to be a journalist and she started down that path many years ago at CBC Charlottetown. Returning to her journalism roots, she’s excited to be editing Salty’s content and occasionally writing herself.

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