It’s no huge surprise that many, many people love cheese, but even Mike Mueller was taken aback by the response he’s received so far to his new Cheese Pusherman Roadhouse, a restaurant and cheesemaking studio set to open next month in Mount Currie.
“The love that I’ve gotten is just insane. It’s like I found a cheese vortex. There’s no other way to explain it. It’s as if people have never had cheese before,” said the Quebec native.
Located in the farmhouse that used to be home to Barn Nork, Mueller’s shop is scheduled to open Oct. 17, and will include a dining and educational component. The restaurant will be open Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, and each and every menu item will be based on one of the cheeses Mueller makes in-house.
“So anything on the menu, whether it be onion soup or raclette or a grilled cheese sandwich or poutine, whatever it may be, there is no ethnic or food-style line to follow other than they all have to have cheese in them, and every cheese used has to be made by me here,” he explained. “All cheese, all the time—including the Saturday morning cheese brunch.”
The workshops, meanwhile, will be split into two: one for soft cheeses, held on Sundays, such as brie, feta, mozzarella, ricotta and cream cheese; and one for hard cheeses, on Mondays, for alpine-style cheeses such as Swiss, gouda, Jarlsberg, and one of Mueller’s favourites, the northern German-style Bergkäse. (For the vegans and lactose-intolerant, have no fear: he is developing a vegan cheese, but said he needs two to three months to perfect it.)
In case you couldn’t tell, Mueller is really serious about cheese, and he has taken to his craft in short order.
“My history in the world of cheese is rather short-lived,” he said.
In fact, it was only after the chef and hotelier was laid up with COVID-19, and like so many of us, was reflecting on the next phase in life, that he happened upon a cheesemaking video on YouTube. He was instantly hooked.
“It turns out that I have an affinity and a knack for it that I didn’t even know I had. It’s like all of a sudden realizing, ‘Damn, I can sing. I have a voice.’ I always just thought I was screaming,” he said.
For those first few months, Mueller said he questioned his newfound passion, but after connecting with an avid cheesemaking community online, he began to learn the ropes. Fast. It wasn’t long before several high-profile cheesemakers saw his potential and began mentoring him.
“For me, it turned out to be a creative passion. Milk for me is my blank canvas,” he mused. “There’s this whole creative, artistic aspect, which is why I call myself a cheese creator and not an entrepreneur or a fromage maker. I create pieces of art that you can eat at the end.”
Although he is no stranger to developing his own unique recipes, you could say Mueller is something of a classicist when it comes to his art. He prefers wooden utensils over stainless steel, has scoured the province for the best milk he can find, and tends to rely on generations-old recipes from across northern Europe.
“Like my brie and my Bergkäse and all these cheeses I make, they have the name that everybody knows, but when you see my brie, it looks totally different than what you buy in the store. It tastes 10 times better. It has the same creaminess, but it’s even creamier. The bloom all of a sudden is intertwined with veins because of the way I turn it and age it on bamboo mats instead of plastic mats, so it gets those little grooves in there,” he said. “All these things go back centuries and centuries. The older the recipe is that I can find, the happier I am.”
A prolific wanderer, Mueller spent much of his life ping-ponging from various locales around the globe. So how did he end up in a sleepy farm town not exactly known for its cheese? Well, it’s kind of a funny story. Mueller and his partner were on their way to Salt Spring Island, very much a haven for B.C. cheese lovers, to look at potential properties. Driving through Mount Currie, Mueller spotted a for-lease sign and realized it was the same location as the old Wicked Wheel he used to frequent more than two decades ago.
“‘I used to hang there all the time. There’s no way that place is available,’” he thought.
Mueller pulled over and called the owner immediately, who was out of town for the week. So Mueller and his partner decided to stick around until the owner returned. Two days later, the shop was his.
“The last time I was in Pemberton was 25 years ago, so there is no way Pemberton was on my radar for cheese eclecticness because back then this was a rough, little town,” said Mueller. “Now all of a sudden it’s full of loving food hippies.”
Learn more at thecheesepusherman.com or follow Mueller on Instagram @thecheesepusherman.