Photography - HIRO
Text - MINA
Photography - HIRO
Text - MINA
“We make ethically produced artisan cheese while connecting the farmer and the consumer, making the distance between the folk and the farmer as short and as transparent as possible.”
-Creekside Cheese + Creamery
Creekside Cheese + Creamery
Johannes and Julaine Treurs, owners
Photography - HIRO
Interview - MINA
Where Does Our Food Come From? Today, various farmers provide consumers with an answer to this question, and dairy farmers are no exception. Creekside Cheese and Creamery is a family-owned dairy farm in Agassiz, producing fresh milk and cheese from organically and ethically raised cows. The Treurs family started their journey in dairy farming on this land in 2011, and their venture into crafting unique dairy products began just three years ago. Notably, their cheeses have quickly gained popularity, attracting locals and people from distant places seeking delicious dairy products.
An hour-and-a-half drive from Vancouver, a visit to Agassiz and Creekside Cheese and Creamery will help you understand why. Unlike the stereotypical image of closed-off dairy farming, this place offers a different perspective. A serene setting with a meandering creek, surrounded by beautiful mountains and lush greenery, it is almost like a small piece of paradise. Cows graze peacefully, and there are family pets such as pigs, a donkey, chickens, and even farm dogs and cats. A modern and charming cheese shop in black and white has been added between the farmhouse and the barns, offering not only cheeses and milk produced on-site but also grass-fed beef and various local products. And beneath the shop lies a fully equipped underground cave for aging cheese.
The latte Julaine prepared for us from fresh milk at the shop was tastefully heartwarming! Spending time at Creekside Dairy gives you a sense of being in the Treurs family space rather than a workplace. Probably because you can strongly feel the love for family and animals everywhere. Their love translates into flavourful products, and people keep visiting Creekside Cheese and Creamery for more.
If you are curious about the day-to-day life of dairy farming, check out their social media. They openly and affectionately share their journey in response to the question, "Where Does Our Food Come From?" While their brand has rapidly expanded to supermarkets in the city, seeing is believing. We highly recommend visiting their farm to witness their essence and the happy cows. As you step into this idyllic place, you can truly see the magic of where our food begins.
VOICE (V): What is your history before starting Creekside Cheese and Creamery?
Johannes (JH): My connection to dairy farming has a deep history, spanning six generations in the Netherlands. Some of my ancestors were also involved in cheese production on their farms. However, things took a turn when my father decided to sell our farm and pursue a career as a pastor. In 2002, my family and I immigrated to Canada when my father was called to a church in Chilliwack. Interestingly, it happened to be the family church of Jualine! In August 2003, my two brothers and I purchased a dairy farm in the Fraser Valley. We dedicated ourselves to farming for about five to six years before going our separate ways. Then, in 2011, Julaine and I embarked on our journey, starting Creekside Dairy in Agassiz.
Julaine(J): Dairy farming has also been a part of my family history. My maternal grandparents were dairy farmers, although they sold their farm when I was just a baby, so I remember not much of it. However, I did spend my childhood on a small beef farm in Chilliwack, so the presence of cows was a familiar sight during my upbringing.
During my high school years, I took on a job at a cut flower greenhouse, which happened to be right next to the farm owned by Johannes and his brothers. Johannes also worked at the greenhouse for a few months before he purchased a farm in Agassiz. It was through these work connections and various church events that we got to know each other, and we got married in 2005. I initially worked as a pharmacy technician, and decided to quit my job when our eldest son was born. Along the way, we added four more children.
V: How did the cheese-making business come about?
J: After settling into our dairy farm in Agassiz for a few years, I began sharing our farm life journey on Facebook. I wanted to shed light on what dairy cows eat and how they are treated in order to address misinformation about dairy farmers. I wanted to offer a perspective from the farmer's side, and it quickly became a creative outlet for me to connect with people beyond the farm.
The response was immediate, and our following started to grow. Soon, we began receiving requests for milk and other dairy products directly from our farm, because people appreciated what we were doing and trusted our commitment to our cows. Typically, when you buy milk at a supermarket, it ends up in a blend from various farms.
Before venturing into milk and cheese production, we had some extra beef from a steer. We decided to put up a post inviting people to purchase it. To our surprise, there was an overwhelming response, and it soon became a monthly event where we offered our grass-fed beef for sale. This beef sale began in 2019, just a few months before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, and it opened a door for us to explore creating farm-fresh products.
During this experimental phase, we toured various processing facilities to learn about the cheese and milk production processes. On one visit to a farm on Vancouver Island, we learned about a French-born cheesemaker in Quesnel who was selling his cheese processing equipment. It was all housed in a transportable mobile home trailer, and we saw an opportunity to move everything to our farm and start making cheese. This exciting development took place in early 2020, and the previous owner provided Johannes with hands-on training in his methods and authentic alpine recipes. He continues to check in on us occasionally.
JH: Interestingly, my brother in Ontario had experimented with a little bit of home cheesemaking, and when he visited us for a few weeks, we made cheese together. I had long been interested in the process of transforming milk into cheese and after a few experiments, I was hooked! Making cheese is a truly unique experience, as you are crafting something that's not only alive but bursting with flavor. It's an art with a wide range of varietals and characters to explore. Before receiving training from the previous owner, my experience was primarily on making Gouda cheese, of course!
V: What sets your cheese truly special?
J: Over the past fifteen years, we have been selectively crossbreeding our original Holstein herd with Brown Swiss cows, known for their hardiness, excellent grazing abilities, and high-quality milk. It was a pleasant surprise to discover that their milk is also great for cheese-making!
Our grazing practices are equally important. We use a mob grazing technique where our cows enjoy a fresh pasture everyday. This approach minimizes waste and ensures they always have access to fresh grass. We stick to perennial pastures to protect against erosion and continuously enrich the soil with nutrients.
All of these practices deeply influence our products, especially our cheese. Cheese is like a condensed form of milk, capturing the rich flavor profiles of grass species and micronutrients in our pastures. Our cheese reflects the unique taste of our farm, much like wine does for its vineyard. It's a taste of our place and commitment to quality.
JH: We make our cheeses using time-honored methods and gentle handling techniques to showcase the true and natural flavors of the milk and our farm's unique terroir. Our plain cheeses have a simple recipe, consisting of milk, salt, beneficial bacteria cultures, and rennet, with no artificial ingredients, colors, or preservatives.
Our cheeses have two types of rinds: natural rind, a protective layer of natural molds that develop on the cheese, and washed rind, created by regularly brushing the cheese with a solution containing bacteria cultures. This process enhances the flavor thanks to these cultures.
Our cheese selection includes around 13 varieties, featuring three types of Gouda, different Alpine-style cheeses, spreadable options, and cheese curds.
V: Can you tell us about Creekside Dairy and how it stands out from other dairy farms?
J: Our mission is to provide our local community with ethically produced, healthy products. We are Certified Organic since 2015, and were the sole Certified Humane dairy farm in Canada by BCSPCA. Even though the program ended, we stay committed to these humane standards, going above and beyond. Our practices, much like Certified Organic, include installing cow brushes in the barns for “cow massages’, ensuring hours of daily pasture grazing, maintaining low stocking densities in our barns, and feeding calves with whole milk for at least four months.
What truly sets us apart from many other dairy farms is our transparency. Our doors are open to the public on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays, allowing people to visit and see our animals. We also offer guided farm tours once a month, except during the busy summer months. We celebrate the joy of spring when our cows head out to pasture after spending October to April indoors. It is a fun event we call "Moo Let The Cows Out?". Last year, around 500 people joined us to witness the excitement.
V: What is a typical day at Creekside Dairy?
J: At Creekside Dairy, we follow a pretty structured routine. Each day begins early, at 4:30AM, with the first milking session. By 7AM, we complete milking, and it's time for breakfast. Around midday, roughly between 12:30 and 1PM, our herd comes back from their morning pasture grazing and takes a break under the shelter. This is when we have our lunch break. Then, at 4:30PM, we have the second milking session. This structured routine ensures that our cows are milked twice a day, a vital part of our dairy farming operations. Between these milking sessions, there's always plenty to do around the farm from tending to the animals to handling various tasks.
JH: With approximately 180 cows in our herd, milking is a significant part of our daily routine and keeps us occupied. Two days a week, I dedicate my time to cheese-making, while the rest of the week is devoted to farming activities. Currently, we don't process all of our milk on the farm, but our long-term goal is to eventually handle the entire milk processing right here on our farm.
V: Where can we purchase your products?
J: Our milk is available through a self-serve milk dispenser at the Creamery. The only process it undergoes is pasteurization; we don't remove or add anything, keeping it pure and fresh for up to two weeks. Additionally, our beef is stocked in the freezer at our store.
You can find our cheese in various independent stores, and we're thrilled to have recently partnered with Whole Foods and Sobeys Inc., which includes Safeway and Thrifty's. Despite our expanded distribution, we're humbled to see loyal customers from Metro Vancouver making the journey to our farm.
In addition to our store, we also participate in local markets at the Falls Creek market on Thursday afternoons (ends in October), and we have applied to join the Riley Park market during the winter months. Throughout the summer, you can also find us at the Abbotsford market.
V: What is your all-time favorite cheese?
JH: I like La Belle Vallee; it's our take on a Gruyere-style cheese. Cheese has its own time and place, depending on what you eat. Our Garlic Belper, for example, is a fantastic shaving cheese that adds depth to salads and soups, bringing all the flavors together. Each cheese has its unique charm and purpose in enhancing different dishes.
J: My cheese preferences tend to change with the seasons. Right now, I enjoy Petite Savoie, which has that creamy quality similar to Brie. When winter rolls around, I find myself drawn to La Belle Vallee. It's fascinating how cheese can be so closely tied to the time of year, offering distinct tastes and experiences as the seasons shift.
V: How do you see your role in the community?
J: We connect our community with our farms and the food they enjoy. It is pleasant to see people make those connections, understanding where their food comes from and how it is produced. We are always open and straightforward about our practices, explaining the reasons behind our choices. Social media plays a crucial role, allowing us to show behind-the-scenes glimpses and share our faces, which helps bridge the gap between farmers and food. Especially for customers who purchase our products in grocery stores, it links them back to the farm.
JH: At our farm, we are always welcoming and helpful. We take the time to listen to our customers, building relationships along the way. We have developed such a close bond with many of our customers that we know each other by name and have become friends.
V: What is your greatest joy of being a dairy farmer?
JH: Although our days are busy and never seem to end, we always work together as a family. Farming and cheese-making are not just occupations for us; they are our way of life. The whole aspect of the farming is joyful. I want to be a dairy farmer for the rest of my life, and the same goes with cheese making.
J: There is a saying, "You have found your true profession you love when you would do it for free", and I think that holds for Johannes. My biggest satisfaction is meeting people and feeling that genuine connection between us and our customers. However, my greatest joy still comes from those moments when I can sit out in the field, surrounded by grazing cows.