Time Space Equation

Making History at “The Cheeze”

Leonard Lea Frazer


 A large stainless steel vat at the Cheese Factory.
A large stainless steel vat at the Cheese Factory.
On a “walk down memory lane” driving tour in Vancouver, BC in 1991, my father and I rediscovered old neighbourhoods and buildings from his past. Like the red brick schoolhouse where my dad went to school as a boy while living with his family at Point Gray. He had a paper route back then but his first real job was out at the University of British Columbia not far from his home.

From 1937 – 1939 he was employed at the old Cheese Factory where specialty cheese was being manufactured and sold locally in Vancouver. During the active years, there was fulltime work of several workers and, as long as there was a supply of milk, a night shift would also run. My father used to ride his motorcycle to work at the Cheese Factory.

We had arranged to meet Bill Richardson, an Engineering Student at U.B.C., at the “Cheeze Factory” building, which was now a fully renovated and a well used student facility. The structure was also used by Engineering Alumni for meetings and reunions. Mr. Richardson explained the history behind the 30’ x 50’ building.

“The Cheeze Factory is one of the original buildings of the university, built in 1919. It was constructed under the ‘Soldiers’ Civil Re-establishment Program’, a vocational training program for returning World War I Veterans, at a cost of $2,000. It was originally named the ‘Dairy Building,’ and was under the control of the department of Dairy of the school of agriculture. From 1932 – 1939 two graduate students helped run the factory and produce quantities of gourmet cheese here.

The exterior of the Cheese Factory and Leagh Frazer’s motorbike.
The exterior of the Cheese Factory and Leagh Frazer’s motorbike.
As the years went by newer facilities were constructed for dairy products. The old dilapidated Cheese Factory was then used for storage and research on rabbits and chickens.

In 1980 the Engineering Undergraduate Society obtained permission to occupy and renovate the building. At a cost of $30,000, the newly Christened ‘Cheeze Factory’ received new wiring, walls and a concrete floor. Washrooms were added in 1983 and on May 23, 1985 the old building was officially dedicated as a Centre for Engineering students and alumni activities. Both have gained a greater appreciation for the rich heritage of their faulty and their university.”

As we walked around the inside and outside of the building my father related where the old entrance doors had been, where the water tower used to stand and the former location of all the cheese-making apparatus. Mr. Richardson was grateful for the tidbits of historical information as we completed the tour of ‘The Cheeze.’

How to make cheese – by Leagh Frazer, written in 1947

The old water tower at the Cheese Factory.
The old water tower at the Cheese Factory.
In Biblical times cheese was made by placing milk in a recently detached stomach of a sheep, and hanging this natural container in the sun. The changes involved in this process were brought about by action of the animal's digestive juices, and the heat of the sun. Fundamentally this process is the same today as it was then, two thousand years ago.

The novice who is about to observe cheese making first hand in a modern plant usually has vague thoughts as he approaches the cheese factory. Perhaps he visualizes intricate machinery with milk entering one end and cheese emerging from the other, or, if he has a sensitive nose, he expects that the strong odour of cheese will greet him at the door. These thoughts are dismissed as he enters the factory; no intricate machinery, and strangely enough, no cheese odours. However, there is an odour peculiar to cheese factories. This odour lies somewhere between immature cheese and sour milk. The cheese maker is naturally immune to it, but the outsider, de-pending on his sensitivity, is quite conscious of it.

On the floor of the cheese making room there is a large stainless steel vat, twenty feet long, four feet wide, and at a workable table height. This container is for holding what is delivered to the factory. Around the edges of the vat is a jacket, comparable to the vacuum around a Thermos bottle, except the vacuum is broken by a steam pipe entering the jacket.

The milk arrives and the process begins. As each hundred pound can of milk is taken from the truck, it is tasted to de-tect any off flavour. It takes only a small amount of milk to spoil a large batch of cheese. While the milk is being poured into the vat, steam is circulated throughout the jacket, and a mechanical agitator stirs the milk. When the desired temperature of eighty-six degrees has been reached, the steam valve is closed and a substance called "starter" is added. Starter is lactic acid ferment, incubated in milk to form a "mother culture". Starter and the so-called buttermilk bought at any milk bar is one and the same thing. The purpose of starter in cheese making is to promote the growth of acid-producing bacteria. Herein lies the secret of cheese making. The control of this acid growth, which is in the hands of the cheese maker, determines the quality of the cheese,

Specialty cheese.
Specialty cheese.
It must be understood that the cheese maker is dealing with a very flexible raw product, namely milk, and not a stable ingredient that a housewife uses in baking. Milk changes from day to day, depending on the cow's diet, the season of the year, and other factors, all of which influence the acidity of the milk. Throughout the entire process, the cheese maker checks the acidity by a simple mechanical means, which gives percentage reading.

The milk is now at eighty-six degrees and the starter has been added. The next step is to add artificial coloring: a harmless artificial vegetable material void of all nutritional value, but demanded by a conventional public. Occasionally a cheese maker forgets to add the magic color, and he is faced with the problem of selling a perfectly good product to a consumer, who insists that the pale cheese has an unnatural appearance and therefore must be inferior.

Solidifying the milk is our next procedure. This is accomplished by the addition of a small quantity of Rennet, which is a digestive age enzyme, extracted from a calf's stomach and sold commercially under the trade name Rennet. The familiar Junket Tablets used in making milk desserts is rennet in powder form. The vat is now left undisturbed for approximately twenty minutes, in which time the milk becomes a soft firm consistency.

If the reader can recall the appearance of sour milk, the following step will be more understandable. If sour milk has been standing for sometime, and is disturbed or broken up, it will be noticed that a watery green liquid separates from the solid sour milk. This is precisely what the next step does; it converts the solid milk into two phases, one solid called curd, and the liquid, called whey.

In cutting the curd, a series of horizontal knives in a frame are pulled lengthwise and across the vat. This operation is re-peated with a vertical curd knife. The vat now holds a mass of soft curds, each about the size of a sugar cube, and watery whey. Next, the steam is turned on, and the "cooking" stage, the object of which is to shrink and harden the curd, begins. Occasionally the cheese maker checks the acidity of the whey to determine whether to hurry or retard the cooking. About two hours after the desired temperature has been reached, the whey, which constitutes ninety percent of the original milk, is drained off. Left in the bottom of the vat is a solid mass of curds about three Inches thick. The vat is tipped to allow maximum drainage.

Fifteen minutes later the curd is cut into strips approx-imately six inches wide by eighteen inches long, and each piece or slab is turned over and left to drain. The cheese curd now resembles rubber in texture and appearance. These "slabs of rubber” are turned over and piled one on top of the other every ten minutes until the whey, which is now a mere trickle, has reached a certain acidity. At this point the curd is put through a mill, a device resembling a lawnmower with a sawdust hopper over the blades. The mill reduces the rubbery curd to the size of potato chips. Salt is now mixed with the curd to retard the acidity and the cheese is ready for the press.

Six hours have elapsed since the milk was placed and the final stage is at hand. The curd is shovelled into metal, bucket-like containers lined with cheese cloth. These cheese moulds are shaped in a manner that allows telescoping when placed one with-in the other. When all the moulds are filled, they are placed in a long horizontal press and pressure is applied by means of a jackscrew at one end. The cheese is left in the press over night; the following morning they are removed and placed on shelves to mature.

The length of maturity depends on the type of cheese demanded. In three weeks to a month the cheese is sold as mild cheese, in two to four months as medium, and in approximately six months as strong cheese.