Brothers in cheese

Calgary sibling ditch engineering careers for slice of artisanal life

There's a new big cheese in town. Actually, there are two. Jonah and Andrew Benton have opened three Benton Brothers Fine Cheese stores in Vancouver in the last five years, including one in Cambie Village.

Originally from Calgary, the brothers attended engineering school at Queens University in Kingston, Ont. and graduated at the same time. But life had other plans for them.

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When Jonah finished engineering school, he took some time off and sought casual work. His father noticed a cheese shop in Calgary was looking for help. Thinking that he might be able to get a cheese discount if his son worked there, he mentioned the vacancy to Jonah.

This serendipitous decision changed the future of both brothers.

Jonah ended up working in the shop, taking a shine to cheese and retail. He spent the next 10 years learning the craft and business of cheese and never ended up working in engineering.

Meanwhile, his older brother Andrew had landed an engineering job at a plastic piping company.

"I was hating it, going to work everyday and sitting at a computer - I just thought, what do I like? I like food and wine," said Andrew, who's 35 years old and 18 months older than his 34-year-old brother.

Andrew left engineering and enrolled in cooking school, eventually working for Jonah at the cheese shop in Calgary, and moving into wholesale.

Five years ago while on a trip to Vancouver, Jonah saw that the Forrester's Fine Cheese in Kerrisdale was up for sale. He phoned his brother and said, "What are you doing? Do you want to move to Vancouver?"

The rest is history. The two brothers joined retail and wholesale forces and opened the first Benton Brothers store. Two years ago, they opened a larger store on Cambie. They moved in just after the completion of the Canada Line and have been embraced by the community, with many regulars. Business has been great.

"As long as he listens to what I say, it's all good," explains Jonah.

"Hey, I was just going to say that," Andrew concurs.

The Cambie storefront houses their office,

a large walk-in fridge and the kitchen where they turn out sandwiches and smoke their own house-made pastrami, smoked pork loin and meatloaf.

But the focus is on cheese, specifically small-scale, artisanal products from around the world. If you can get it at a supermarket, you probably won't find it at Benton Brothers. They have a strong Canadian selection, but won't carry a cheese simply because it's Canadian. Taste is the key, they say, with Benton Brothers carrying more than 150 cheeses at any given time.

Andrew's current favourite in the shop is Blossom's Blue, an organic blue cheese made from raw cow's milk by Saltspring Island's Moonstruck Cheese. Jonah loves the Ossau Iraty, an ancient raw sheep's milk cheese made in the French Pyrenees in two neighbouring provinces - the Ossau Valley in the Bearn and the forests of Iraty in the French Basque country.

I sampled both and must concur with the Bentons: these are fantastic cheeses.

Food columnist Willow Yamauchi tried 100 cheeses over the course of 100 days and lived to write about it. Follow more of her cheesy exploits at myblogofcheese.wordpress.com or contact her at willow72@telus.net or twitter. com/willow72.

BENTON BROTHERS FINE CHEESE

3432 Cambie St. Ph. 604-873-9439 bentoncheese.com

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