VIDEO: Oak Bay cheese kit business feeds Do It Yourself culture

Co-founder Alexis Cobham in the Cheese Maker office set in a historic Oak Bay home – the one where she grew up. (Christine van Reeuwyk/News Staff)Co-founder Alexis Cobham in the Cheese Maker office set in a historic Oak Bay home – the one where she grew up. (Christine van Reeuwyk/News Staff)
Co-founder Alexis Cobham in the Cheese Maker office set in a historic Oak Bay home – the one where she grew up. (Christine van Reeuwyk/News Staff)Co-founder Alexis Cobham in the Cheese Maker office set in a historic Oak Bay home – the one where she grew up. (Christine van Reeuwyk/News Staff)

Alexis Cobham hones her business in the historic Oak Bay home where she grew up, a stone’s throw from Willows elementary.

In a wood-panelled room built in 1919, she and husband Jeremy Bossio create, assemble and label cheese-making kits before sending them out across the continent. The mail-out method is a recent COVID-19 update to the ever-growing business that sort of started while Cobham was in culinary school.

Cobham attended Northwest Culinary Academy of Vancouver, where she notably did not learn to make cheese.

Upon completion, she moved into catering, but the interest lingered and so, Cobham embarked on internet research, courses and classes in her quest to master cheese. Then she started teaching seminars. After class, students would ask if they could purchase items through her to continue the craft at home.

She started building small packages that would eventually become her thriving business, Cheese Maker – kits that feed into the robust do-it-yourself culture.

Fresh cheeses are popular DIY projects because they can be simple and done in 30 minutes to a day. Cobham started with ricotta and mozzarella kits, and an ultra-Canadian poutine cheese and a vegan product are the most recent additions. The vegan kit came from years of hearing people at markets ask about lactose-free options.

“So much growth and learning happens from interacting with people,” Cobham said.

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Neither knew the December 2019 craft fair would be their last in-person show for nearly two years. However, Cobham had already been dabbling with an online platform. The pivot was challenging, but made slightly simpler by the website she already had in place.

“The whole DIY culture has exploded,” Cobham said of life during COVID-19.

Cheese Maker went fully online, mailing out kits and adding live virtual team-bonding sessions for businesses, from local to international. Cheese Maker sends out kits to each team member, they all log in and participate together, but apart.

“In one hour everyone’s eating their own mozzarella cheese,” Bossio said with a laugh.

In March, he started seeking out small farms for partnerships. Now Cheese Maker works with about 30 cow milk companies across North America that carry the kits, a relationship that simultaneously supports two small businesses.

Both seem to be looking toward growth.

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Bossio crafted a research project through a Venture for Canada program where companies create projects which are then assigned to teams of students who do the research and report back.

Cobham eventually went back to that culinary school in Vancouver and taught a cheese-making course. The school recorded it and added it to the curriculum. That spurred her next creative idea – building a cheese-making education program seems a logical future step.

“It always excites me to think about how you can grow a business,” Cobham said.

Cheese Maker’s only planned winter market appearance locally this year is in the Lower Mainland.

Find the full lineup online at Cheesemaker.ca.


 

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