Last month, Julia and Susan Grace, owners of Moonstruck Organic Cheese Inc., announced that they were hanging up their tools. But before they slipped into Salt Spring Island’s history, I wanted to acknowledge what Julia and Susan had accomplished and to see if they had any words of wisdom to share after 18 years in business.
When Moonstruck began, artisanal cheese making was very young. Courses for small producers were rare. As Julia put it, “In those days, everyone was on their own farms trying to figure it out themselves.”
Instead of taking a course, Julia logged in daily to a chat group with others passionate about artisanal cheese. She also reached out to award-winners of the American Cheese Society. If she thought a cheese was suitable to Moonstruck’s rich milk, she asked for advice: “People were amazingly generous, particularly if I was half way across the continent.” Within 5 years of starting their business, Julia and Susan had settled on their cheeses, and Moonstruck went on to win its own awards.
From the start, Susan and Julia committed to managing their 20- to 25-cow herd organically. That meant good food, no drugs, no chemicals, free access to the outside world, and lots of opportunity to interact with other members of the herd and with Julia and Susan. As organic certification became more stringent, many small producers dropped out, and Moonstruck had to look farther afield for organic feed.
Julia and Susan are known for taking good care of their cows. That care revealed itself in the milk that the cows produced: an exceptionally high protein, buttery milk suitable for French-style cheeses. They remained committed to staying small, working collaboratively with others, and being an important part of the island food community.
The size of the farm itself helped keep operations small. It was a mere 30 acres, a minimum for providing fresh grass to a herd of that size. This limited herd growth and, therefore, the amount of cheese they could produce. Susan employed creative pasture rotation, and they made the farm size work.
Julia and Susan were not only partners in business but also in life. Julia recommends that entrepreneurial couples “divide up the work in very clear ways. . . . Susan was responsible for the cows, and I was responsible for the cheese.” This mitigates squabbles because one person has to trust the other’s knowledge and accept their choices.
Along with Julia and Susan’s retirement, three of their cows have retired in Errington, whereas 21 of them are working on a large farm in Lumby, BC. Julia and Susan visited the three cows in Errington just last week.
And what will Susan and Julia do now? Among the expected, Julia said, “I’m looking forward to getting around and tasting other cheeses. When you have a farm, you don’t leave it often.” I asked whether they would consult, considering all the incredible knowledge they’ve acquired. It has crossed Julia’s mind.
You can still enjoy the flavours of some Moonstruck Cheeses. Country Grocer and NatureWorks have committed to selling its cheeses until they run out, and you can also buy some at Moonstruck’s farm store!