When Horst Boehm and his wife, Birgit “Bibi” Menge, immigrated from Germany on a business visa in 1999, they brought the accumulation of two families’ possessions and business equipment dating back a century.
By the time they unveiled their BoMé Cheese factory and café with a grand opening celebration March 5, they probably felt they had been at it for a century.
“We started the foundation to this home and business 15 to 16 years ago,” said Boehm, who built cheese and food plants around the world before striking out on his own in Canada. “I could save money because I knew the business. But it cost me in years.”
The partners each ran their own businesses in the Hanover region of Northern Germany — Bibi a hotel and restaurant in a converted, 350-year-old farm house; Horst a goat farm and dairy that once boasted as many as 500 goats.
They arrived in Canada with one 40-foot and three 20-foot containers of goods, including most of the furniture from Menge’s hotel and all of Horst’s dairy equipment, some of it dating to the 1960s and featuring brass fittings.
But modern commercial dairy production in Canada no longer allows milk products to come into contact with brass during production. That led Boehm to local machinist Gary Doughty to begin a years-long odyssey of converting much of his equipment.
“Now everything has to be stainless steel,” said Doughty. “Horst had all these parts he brought over from Germany, which was nice, because I was able to fabricate those with stainless steel.
“I would do some parts, then the inspector would have to come back, and it might be a year or two and (Boehm) was putting something else in. Honestly, I didn’t know if it was going to happen, because it was taking so long.”
The couple, along with Menge’s son, cheesemaker Jonas Menge, built nearly the entire facility by themselves, including the tile floor in the spacious café. Menge repurposed curtains from her old hotel for the windows and worked three storeys up in a scissors lift to install ceiling insulation.
The result is a “show” plant, with huge floor-to-ceiling windows offering a view from the attached café to the gleaming stainless-steel vats and equipment below.
Birgit “Bibi” Menge, left, and her husband Horst Boehm stand in the cafe overlooking the cheese-making plant at BoMé Cheese in Coombs. — Image credit: J.R. Rardon/PQB NEWS
The business is located at 1876 Alberni Highway in Coombs, on an 8.3-acre property where Boehm and Menge also built their home, behind a screen of trees at the back of the lot.
The café boasts a range of German-style dishes, most from recipes handed down through Menge’s family, including schnitzel; goulash; savory and cream soups; spatzle, a German pasta; and a variety of homemade bread and other baked goods.
Many of the recipes include their own cheese or the whey and byproducts of the cheese-making process, including BoMé’s “world-famous cheesecake,” according to employee Stephanie Reid.
“Well, it’s not world-famous yet,” she added, suggesting it’s just a matter of time.
Shelves offer a mix of take-out products both locally sourced and imported from Germany and other European countries. They include pickles, sauerkraut and condiments; ready-to-use sourdough and pizza crust mixes; small-batch teas and hot chocolate.
On another set of shelves is an array of German chocolate and sweets.
“I had to start with something, especially in the beginning when we don’t know what customers are going to buy,” said Bibi. “So we got things that we like to eat.”
“If it doesn’t sell, we’ll grab it,” Horst added with a grin. “It won’t be here long enough to get old.”
The heart of the operation, though, are its traditionally aged alpine cheeses, which are available at the front counter as well as at local outlets including Heaven on Earth, Eat Fresh Urban Market, Hilliers Gourmet Foods, Coombs General Store, Old Country Market, Tomm’s Food Village in Bowser and Springford Farm in Nanoose Bay.
BoMé Cheese is open Tuesday through Saturday from 10 a.m.-5 p.m., and will add Sunday openings during the summer tourist season. For more info, visit bomecheese.com.