FOOD AND DRINK
Refugee Worker Got Tired of Being Shot at, Now Makes Halifax's Best Blue Cheese
Blessed are the cheesemakers: Blue Harbour Cheese owner Lyndell Findlay, formerly of the UN, moulded a new career out of pungent cheese
When Lyndell Findlay worked on the border between Myanmar and Bangladesh for the UN’s refugee agency, job stresses included the possibility of being kidnapped or shot.
So in 2011, she sensibly decided it was time to leave her position.
But Findlay wasn’t quite sure what to do next. Searching for answers, she recalled that she had always liked the idea of making cheese, and had bought a few books on the subject years before. Maybe that could be her next career?
“Serendipitously, I met with a cheesemaker in Ohio who was looking for an intern, so I went and worked on his farm for four months making cheese” Findlay says. “I learned a lot, because he was making eight different cheeses, and winning awards for them.”
Upon her return home to Halifax, Findlay considered going to work for another cheesemaker in Nova Scotia, but soon realized that most were small operations that didn’t actually need to employ anyone. “It became clear that if I was going to do it, it had to be from scratch for myself.”
“I’m no longer getting shot at, so I’m finding this really fantastic”
Findlay did two things that wouldn’t be expected for a Nova Scotia dairy: She set up in the city (her plant is located in Halifax’s North End), and she specialized in selling blue cheese, hence the name of her company: Blue Harbour Cheese.
Lola Augustine Brown / Billy
She started production in early 2014, and her cheeses have been enough of a hit to be stocked in Halifax’s biggest cheese sellers (including Pete’s Fine Foods, Local Source Market and major Canadian grocery chain Sobeys,). She was soon picked up by the city’s top chefs, too.
Findlay loves blue cheese, the stronger the better. With few people making it locally, it seemed logical for Findlay to go blue.
She was well aware that blue cheese is polarizing.
“You’ve got to ease people in, because every second person you talk to will say they don’t like blue cheese,” she says. “I tell people that this is my mission, to convert Canadians to blue cheese – starting out with a nice mild one, which I have and people seem to like, and then easing them into something a little stronger, nice blues but not burn-your-throat blues.”
With that in mind Findlay set about creating a delicious blue that would effectively be a gateway drug, mild enough to please those who didn’t think they liked it.
It took nine months for Findlay to turn the premises she had found into Blue Harbour, what with having to meet provincial health and safety regulations. That gave her plenty of time to perfect her cheese. “It took over 40 tries, tweaking and adapting the recipes, waiting two months for the cheese to age,” she says.
Once perfected, her Urban Blue was incredibly well received.
“I have to thank the chefs, they’ve been terrific,” Findlay says. “They’ve used it in mac ‘n’ cheese, put it into panacottas and cheesecakes, salad dressings, on steaks and burgers, so many different things because it’s a very versatile cheese that is really nice to work with.”
Having her cheese on menus across Halifax has definitely helped with brand recognition.
“I didn’t want to use any cutesy farm name. I’m not a cutesy person”
What has also helped is Findlay’s clever marketing. Her packaging is gorgeous and contemporary, and the naming unique. Urban Blue is made of cow’s milk, while Electric Blue is a stronger sheep’s milk blue cheese, and Hip Hop, also made with sheep’s milk, features a rind washed in beer.
“I’m based in the city, so I didn’t want to use any cutesy farm name,” she says. “And I’m not a cutesy person.”
Lola Augustine Brown / Billy
Right now, Findlay is making about 2,000 kilograms (4,400 pounds) of cheese per year, and says she’s reaching saturation point in Nova Scotia when it comes to places to sell it. Interest for her product is high right across Canada, and Findlay is in the process of getting her cheese federally licensed so that she can sell out of province.
So you could well be seeing her distinctive product at a fine cheese store near you before too long – but for the time being, you’d have to visit Nova Scotia to pick up a block.
Findlay’s passion is evident as you speak to her about her work, and she admits to getting a buzz from hearing about how much people love her cheese.
“I enjoy the cheesemaking, and to work directly like this producing something isn’t something I’ve ever done before. My work has always been completely different,” she says. “Plus I’m no longer getting shot at, so I’m finding this really fantastic.”
This article was originally published March 2, 2017.