Specialty cheese maker wins 2014 BDC Young Entrepreneur Award

As one of five brothers on the family dairy farm, Shep Ysselstein’s dream was to tap into his situs slot online community’s rich history of cheese making and launch his own specialty cheese plant that would use milk from the family farm.

There was only one problem—Ysselstein knew little about cheese. But that didn’t deter him. He left Woodstock, Ontario, and travelled across North America and even to Europe to gain the experience he needed.

Back home, he took advantage of government programs, overcame production setbacks and regulatory challenges, and founded Gunn’s Hill Artisan Cheese.

A big break

A big break came in the spring of 2013, when Gunn’s Hill entered the Canadian Cheese Grand Prix, the nation’s premier event for cheese makers, and took first place in its category. “That, combined with our previous marketing efforts, really catapulted us from a local success to a bigger name of interest across Ontario,” Ysselstein says.

In the months that followed, Gunn’s Hill cheeses came to be in such high demand from specialty shops and grocery chains across the province that Ysselstein’s team couldn’t keep up. It was the classic challenge for a young business—finding the capital to expand manufacturing capacity to better serve a market begging for product.

Gunn’s Hill received a kick‑start for its growth plans, when Ysselstein, 31, claimed the $100,000 grand prize in BDC’s 2014 Young Entrepreneur Award contest.

Expands production

Gunn’s Hill is using the grand prize to build a 2,000‑square‑foot, climate‑controlled curing and aging building for its cheese. This will double annual production to 60 tonnes and allow for new lines of premium aged cheeses that will boost the operation’s profitability.

Doubling production capacity will also double the workforce and set the stage for Gunn’s Hill to obtain regulatory approvals to sell cheese beyond Ontario.

The expansion can’t happen fast enough. “Honestly, I am short on everything right now and can’t make enough cheese in a day,” Ysselstein says.

Gunn’s Hill Artisan Cheese has created employment and new economic activity in Woodstock’s rural economy. It’s not an easy industry. In the past year, for example, there have been concerns raised about increased European imports undercutting the Canadian market.