When Florian Bergoin moved to Quesnel in 2014, he was impressed by the number of dairy farms in the area, and surprised to learn that there were no local cheese producers.
He had grown up in an alpine village in the Savoie region in southeastern France, an area that’s similar in climate and terrain to the North Cariboo and well known for its dairy cows and variety of cheeses. “Cheese-making is a way of life there,” said Bergoin, owner of La Belle Vallée Fromagerie and winner of Quesnel & District Chamber of Commerce’s New Business of the Year award for 2018. “I grew up watching my grandfather making cheese every day, and it intrigued me. I guess that planted the idea of starting my own cheese business one day.”
During university, he spent the summers as a shepherd on a local farm, taking the dairy herd to graze in the mountains and making cheese from the fresh milk. In 2013, after immigrating to Quebec with his partner, Adeline Dupuis, to finish university – Bergoin has a Master’s degree in Agroforestry from the University of Laval – he further honed his cheese-making skills at La Fromagerie de Ruban Bleu, an artisan cheese maker just outside of Montreal.
Bergoin originally moved to Quesnel for a job in the forest industry, but he never lost his passion for dairy farming and cheese making. The growth of the local food industry, combined with ready access to a supply of fresh, high-quality milk, inspired him to trade his forestry job for cheese making. “I could see there was going to be a big push for more local dairy farming and a demand for local cheese,” he said.
Knowing how to make cheese is one thing; starting a business is something else entirely, and it can be intimidating, particularly in the highly regulated dairy industry. As the only provincially licensed cheese-making facility in Northern British Columbia, La Belle Vallée Fromagerie is one of just a handful of artisan cheese producers outside the Lower Mainland and Vancouver Island.
“The regulations were challenging, and more complex than I expected,” said Bergoin.
One of the keys to Bergoin’s success was a well-developed business plan, which was critical in helping him obtain a licence from the Milk Marketing Board. He credits Community Futures North Cariboo for helping him through the business planning process and focusing his ideas.
“I couldn’t have done it on my own,” he said. “Even the Milk Marketing Board was impressed. The person I dealt with said they don’t usually see a business plan that thorough.”
Business planning is a key component of the self-employment program offered through Community Futures North Cariboo. The program offers support and training to help aspiring entrepreneurs start and run successful small and home-based businesses.
“We’re really proud that one of our graduates has been recognized as an award-winning business,” said Greg Lawrence, general manager of Community Futures North Cariboo. “It’s very rewarding to know that the work we’re doing is helping to start and grow successful businesses in our region. It’s even more satisfying, given that the food sector is one of the areas we’ve targeted as part of our commitment to developing a more diversified and sustainable economy.”
Opened in early 2018, La Belle Vallée Fromagerie specializes in artisan cheeses made in the French Alpine tradition. The 1,000 square foot facility includes a milk receiving room and separate lab for analyzing the milk, a cheese-processing room and a temperature and humidity controlled aging room. Bergoin sources all his milk from Fox Dairy, a neighbouring farm that produces milk well-suited to Alpine cheeses.
The artisan cheese-maker produces four different kinds of cheese – a Mont Blanc Gruyère; a semi-soft Raclette; a Clerment; and a Farmer’s spreadable cheese – as well as fresh cheese curds. More recently, he has expanded his product line to include a Feta cheese, popular for its longer shelf life and tangy flavour. So far, the reviews have been unanimously positive.
“The best part for me is meeting people who have tried my cheese and hearing how much they enjoy it,” said Bergoin.
As for the two years it took to navigate the regulatory process and get his business up and running, he said that he was extremely grateful for the help he received from Community Futures, and urges anyone thinking about starting a business to contact them.
“Having knowledgeable, experienced people to tap into was tremendous,” he said. “Every time I got discouraged, they were always there with new ideas and help to get me back on track. In the end, you have to persevere. And it pays off.”
La Belle Vallée Fromagerie cheeses are currently available at Long Table Grocery’s Wednesday market and the Quesnel Farmer’s Market – open seasonally – or by contacting the factory directly.
Bergoin has also just opened a retail store on site, where customers can browse the full range of La Belle Vallée’s cheeses as well as a variety of other locally produced food products. La Belle Vallée Fromagerie is located at 2941 Shanley Road, Quesnel, B.C., near the Fox Dairy Farm. The retail site is open Monday through Thursday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Call ahead to confirm at 250-316-9595.