Frank Talarico has five children – three girls, a boy and Alberta Cheese. They’re all grown up now, but Frank still wakes up in the middle of the night to check on one of them.
“He works so hard,” daughter Franca says. “He’s 73 years old and he comes in to work at 2 a.m.” Frank’s been working that hard since opening Alberta Cheese in 1976. Born in Italy, he moved to Ontario as a boy and grew up watching his dad make cheese there.
Inspired by the booming city, Frank decided to move his family to Calgary after attending university. They bought some land at Glenmore Trail and Shepard Road and watched the city develop around them.
“We grew up in this place,” says Franca. So did her sisters and brother, and they all work there now. Loriann is usually at the front counter, Sarah upstairs in the office, Franca meeting with customers and Mike on the production floor, although they all lend a hand where it’s needed.
“We work well together as a family because that’s what our father taught us,” says Franca. He also taught them how to make some darn fine cheese. Like ricotta that keeps a small army of regulars coming by every Thursday when the cheese is fresh off the line, or pizza-perfect mozzarella used by many of your favourite restaurants from Victoria to Winnipeg.
And the cheese we use in the Sunterra kitchens? Franco’s. We get to observe this delicious cheese making first-hand with a tour of the 30,000-odd square foot facility. But not before strapping on red hairnets, blue booties and matching blue lab coats. Franca explains that health and safety is a priority at the federally inspected facility. It’s well worth getting all dolled up anyways, just for one whiff of the production room. That smell! Not overpowering but distinctively cheesy – a scent you could bathe in. The shiny new 19,000 litre vats are being cleaned when we arrive, having already produced whole fat curds for mozzarella that are now spread out on a gigantic curd table.
The curds have been salted and are now resting until the pH level goes down. While we wander around the floor we are introduced to what seems like all 30 employees at Alberta Cheese. There are husband and wife teams, people who have been there for decades and Minh, who has worked there for 30 years. In the hallway we run into head cheesemaker Niklaus and in the milk receiving bay we spot Frank himself, wearing black rimmed glasses, a hairnet and a smile.
“It’s the pleasure of owning your own business,” says Frank of the long hours and odd jobs. “But being a family business in Calgary is quite special.”