What makes artisan cheese different from the mass-produced product? Hand-made and created in smaller batches, sometimes made with raw milk, it demands a great deal of care to bring out the complex flavours you’d be hard-pressed to find in store-bought cheese.
“It requires a lot of patience. You need to give it time, to see the end result,” says Aditya Raghavan, chef and owner of Fleur Jaune Cheese. “And cherishing that complex process in that manner has really opened my eyes… the science behind it is what drew me to cheesemaking.”
The physicist-turned-cheesemaker had a passion for food and cooking for as long as he can remember, and even dabbled in cheese- making on the side while working at the University of Alberta. But he never imagined he’d become an expert in Alberta’s dairy industry, much less outside of it.
For Raghavan, a turning point came in 2013, while he was working as a visiting fellow at the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research in Mumbai. He was so inspired by the deep history of dairy and the potential for artisan cheesemaking in India, he decided to commit to the craft full time. While leaving more than a decade-long career in theoretical physics and mathematics, and his position at the U of A, may have been the scariest decision he’s ever made, Raghavan hasn’t regretted it.
“Being a postdoctoral fellow… I didn’t really enjoy it, it wasn’t a right fit for me,” he says. “I was always interested in food. So, I decided to have fun with it. I’m very happy about the decisions I made.”
Eight years later, his fascination with cheesemaking and passion for food has taken him on a journey around the world. Over the years, he has discovered and made cheeses in the Himalayas and the Savoie region of France, foraged wild fruits in the Indian state Nagaland and co-hosted a food trail in Sikkim, India.
And now, he’s hoping to bring his favourite cheese recipes to Edmonton — that is, once he gets past the strict provincial regulations on raw milk. Inspired by the time he spent in France and northern Italy, where fresh cheeses taste like fresh milk and have very little fermentation, Raghavan hopes to popularize unpasteurized cheese production and consumption in Alberta.
“Trying to work within those laws and create products such as Reblochon and Tomme de Savoie here… you would need issued licences. You have to work with Alberta Milk and get all those Alberta Agriculture people on board.”
Raghavan has introduced new methods of cheese- making to entire regions. Upon returning to Mumbai in 2016, he spent over two years traveling across the country as a consultant, and working with artisan cheese-makers to set up factories and oversee the production, as well as learning about local dairy practices and Indian cuisine.
“I was very enthusiastic about what was happening in India with milk, because it’s one of the largest producers and consumers of milk in the world. But there wasn’t a lot of artisan cheese in India, the way there is in the West. I realized there was a market [for that].”
Raghavan may always be a globetrotter at heart, but when the time came to choose a place to put down roots, he had no doubts about settling in Edmonton.
“All these experiences have matured me a lot and have grounded me… and I feel like travel is the only way you can keep that passion for food going,” he says. “But I also feel like there’s a strong interest within Edmonton, to support small businesses. And that’s what I love about Edmonton… in a bigger city, you can get lost in a hustle.”
Though Raghavan returned to Canada three years ago with the dream of opening an Indian restaurant, the pandemic has put a stop to his plans for the time being. And so he turned to cheesemaking once again. Currently, he produces small-batch cheeses for the Secret Meat Club gourmet boxes at Meuwly’s Artisan Food Market and is teaching several online classes with Get Cooking.
“I wasn’t born here. I have no family in Edmonton. But I choose to make it my own because of this sense of community it has,” says Raghavan, “And if I want to promote using local Alberta milk and dairy to create cheese… If I can create a good product, I think people will respond to it.”
In August 2020, Raghavan finally launched Fleur Jaune Cheese, operating out of the kitchen at Meuwly’s, and sourcing the ingredients locally from Rock Ridge Dairy and Vital Greens Dairy. You can find some of his products, such as Cranberry Chevre, Mozzarella ‘Nduja Roulade and Stracciatella, at the Meuwly’s market and online shop. The soft and creamy texture of his cheeses, made with pasteurized organic milk, makes them great for spreading.
“I’m sticking to my strength and trying to provide food service for people to enjoy at home right now,” he says. “And that’s the main reason why I’m doing this. I wanted to do something pertinent during COVID.”
This article appears in the March 2021 issue of Edify.