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Getting into the whey: A new cheese maker sets up shop

Ask Pedro Campayo where he keeps his cheese recipes and he’ll point to his father, Jose Campayo.

“He is the expert, he knows cheeses,” he says.

Pedro Campayo comes from a cheese-making family who split their time between Spain and Venezuela before moving to Canada about a decade ago.

Now the new Canadian citizen has brought his expertise to Winnipeg, where he has opened Whiteshell Dairy Foods Ltd., due to produce its first cheese at the end of this month.

“Finding customers has been the easy part,” Campayo said. “We are going to be making cheeses you can’t find here.”

Edam, Gouda, Parmesan, several kinds of mozzarella, pecorino, manchego, feta, Provolone and queso blanco will all be produced in the Dufferin Ave. facility, some of which is manufactured nowhere else in Canada.

Although there have been many bumps in the road, like convincing inspectors copper vessels are needed to make Parmesan and explaining specialized equipment imported from Europe, Campayo said the dairy processor is now on the home stretch.

But the road to opening the processor wasn’t a short one.

Trained as an electrical engineer, Campayo didn’t intend to enter the cheese business, but after working in the Venezuelan oilfields and running a Fiat plant in Spain, the entrepreneur decided it was time to try something new.

“I wanted to go somewhere cold, and when I asked people, they said go to Winnipeg,” he said, adding instability and crime in Venezuela was also a factor in the decision to move.

However, getting work in his field proved difficult in Canada and after a brief return to Spain he took a job as a technician in the food science department at the University of Manitoba. It was that job that allowed him to hone his cheese-making skills and eventually teach certificate courses in pasteurization and cheese making.

In 2006, he started planning for Whiteshell Dairy.

“Milk is milk around the world. The only difference between a Canadian cow and a cow in Italy, is that the cow in Italy knows Italian… maybe,” Campayo said, laughing. “So why can’t we make a very good product here, especially when we have all of the knowledge and all the equipment?”

Campayo’s family owned cheese companies for 40 years in Venezuela, controlling about 25 per cent of the market. It was in those factories that the entrepreneur learned the cheese business.

“I went to school for engineering, but your family’s work can be very strong, and I went that way instead,” he said.

His family’s backing has also helped him finance Whiteshell Dairy Foods, which has required an investment of more than $5 million to get off the ground. Campayo said as a new immigrant financial backing from traditional institutions could not be secured.

But the Manitoba booster has not been deterred, but has instead remained steadfast in the knowledge he is offering a unique product.

Unlike cheeses that are shipped across the Atlantic Ocean to get to grocery shelves, Campayo points out his cheeses can be on your plate in 24 hours, cheeses like the un-aged and fresh queso blanco.

He plans to have a small retail store at the processing plant, and will also sell to retailers and restaurants across Canada.

“Winnipeg is right in the centre, and that is very good,” he said, adding regional cheese makers tend to focus on cheddar, so there will be little direct competition for his products locally.

David Wiens, chairman of the Dairy Farmers of Manitoba (DFM), said having a new dairy processor open in the province is a real positive.

“It’s very good to have another cheese processor located in Manitoba, and it will definitely boost Manitoba’s profile when it comes to cheese makers,” he said. “Especially as they are making some really unique cheeses there.”

Wiens and other DFM members toured the plant early this year.

The 34,000-square-foot facility will have about 25 employees once it’s running at full capacity and can process up to 7,500 litres of milk a day.

About the author

Reporter

Shannon VanRaes is a journalist and photojournalist at the Manitoba Co-operator. She also writes a weekly urban affairs column for Metro Winnipeg, and has previously reported for the Winnipeg Sun, Outwords Magazine and the Portage Daily Graphic.

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