Mira Schenkel: Best home cheesemaker in Canada

Clover, made by Mira Schenkel, Best of Show at the first Canadian Amateur Cheesemaking Awards.

Clover, made by Mira Schenkel, Best of Show and Best Washed Rind Cheese at the first Canadian Amateur Cheesemaking Awards.

Eighteen years ago, Mira Schenkel emigrated from Switzerland with her husband, Uli, to farm and raise a family in British Columbia. Today, she’s the best home cheesemaker in Canada.

Initially, it was Uli who was the cheesemaker in the family but as the demands of the farm in Salmon Arm, B.C., increased and his time for making cheese became limited, Uli convinced Mira to try her hand at it. Four years ago, she made her first cheese.

Mira Schenkel in her aging room.

Mira Schenkel in her aging room.

On the first weekend of June, her wonderful cheese called Clover captured Best of Show honours and won the washed-rind category in the inaugural Canadian Amateur Cheesemaking Awards held in conjunction with The Great Canadian Cheese Festival in Picton, Ontario.

“While mostly self-taught, I am truly grateful to my dear and hardworking husband for encouraging me to become a cheesemaker and also for his great care and milking of our cows to provide the highest quality milk which makes the cheese special,” Mira wrote in an email. She also credits 200 Easy Homemade Cheese Recipes by Debra Amrein-Boyes, an award-winning cheesemaker at The Farm House Natural Cheeses in Agassiz, B.C.

Along with many other animals the farm, the Schenkels have four family cows, two Jerseys (Amber and Peekaboo) and two crossbreds (Belle and Brittney) that provide the fresh unpasteurized milk from which Mira make her cheese.

Mira Schenkel with Brittney, one of her four dairy cows on the farm in Salmon Arm, B.C.

Mira Schenkel with Brittney, one of four dairy cows on the family farm in Salmon Arm, B.C.

Since making her first mountain cheese four years ago, Mira says she has enjoyed making a variety of cheeses including Gouda, Maasdammer, Camembert and, of course, Clover—all always aged for a minimum of 60 days due to the use of unpasteurized milk.

“The unique flavour of my award-winning Clover cheese features clover and herbs which I bring in from Switzerland,” Mira explains.

The judges loved Clover:

“This raw-milk Alpine cheese has a wonderful clover and grass aroma that comes from the Swiss Clover wash used on the rind. The wonderful golden hue of the paste is dotted with occasional small eyes which developed during ripening that complement the make-up of the cheese. The cheese has a nice clover flavour with hints of honey and finishes with a nuttiness that hints of hazelnuts or roasted almonds. The texture of this cheese is as complex as the flavor. It starts firm but, as you taste it, the cheese breaks down to an almost-fudge like finish.”

Click here for the complete results of the first-ever Amateur Cheesemaking competition.

The second annual Canadian Amateur Cheesemaking Awards will be held June 4-5, 2016, again in conjunction with the biggest artisan cheese show in Canada.

Home cheesemaking showcased in first-ever competition

From left: Ian Treuer, Judge; ​Elis Ziegler, Best Fresh Cheese; Doreen and Pete Sullivan, Best Bloomy Rind Cheese; and Suzanne Lavoie, Best Blue Cheese. Missing John Michael Symmonds, Best Firm Cheese, and Mira Schenkel, Best Washed Rind Cheese and Best of Show. All photos by Jane Churchill. Click on any image for an enlarged view.

From left: Ian Treuer, Judge; ​Elis Ziegler, Best Fresh Cheese; Doreen and Pete Sullivan, Best Bloomy Rind Cheese; and Suzanne Lavoie, Best Blue Cheese. Missing John Michael Symmonds, Best Firm Cheese, and Mira Schenkel, Best Washed Rind Cheese and Best of Show. All photos by Jane Churchill. Click on any image for an enlarged view.

The eye-opener at the inaugural Canadian Amateur Cheesemaking Awards—and the palate-shocker—was the high quality of cheese made in homes across Canada.

In appearance, aroma, texture and flavour, many of the entries were the equal of commercially made cheese. None so more than Clover, the entry that captured Best of Show honours and won the washed-rind category in the competition held in conjunction with The Great Canadian Cheese Festival in Picton, Ontario, on the first weekend of June.

Made by Mira Schenkel of Salmon Arm, British Columbia, Clover was the clear favourite of anyone lucky enough to taste it.

Judges Ian Treuer and Stephanie Diamant.

Judges Ian Treuer and Stephanie Diamant.

There were 25 entries from three provinces accepted in five judging categories. The best in each category were judged a second time to determine Best in Show. Award-winning cheesemaker Stephanie Diamant, formerly of Fifth Town Artisan Cheese, now at Black River Cheese in Prince Edward Country, and Ian Treuer of Edmonton, longtime home cheesemaker and a popular blogger at Much To Do About Cheese, served as judges.

Category winners with tasting notes by Ian Treuer:

Best Fresh Cheese: Curious Goat Chèvre

—Elis Ziegler of Toronto and Jess Posgate of Milton, Ontario, hope to start a farmstead cheese business one day with this wonderful, light cream cheese, a classic example of what a Chèvre should be. Perfect salt with hints of citrus round out the mild goat flavour.

Best Bloomy Rind Cheese: Camembert Type Cheese

—Doreen and Pete Sullivan of Niagara Falls, Ontario, are retired educators who offer home cheesemaking instruction. They created this bloomy rind gem where a lovely white exterior gives way to a fudgy and creamy paste.

Best Blue Cheese: Feu

—Suzanne Lavoie of Plantagenet, Ontario, was given a Jersey heifer called Yoga for her birthday. Curiosity and love of cheese led her to cheesemaking. Feu, a creamy blue cheese that is perfectly balanced, was a close contender for Best In Show.

Best Firm Cheese: Smoked Caciocavallo

—John Michael Symmonds of Vancouver is a sous chef at West restaurant in Vancouver. He started his love affair with cheese and cheesemaking after a trip to Neil’s Yard Dairy in London, England. His Smoked Caciocavallo has a great balance of smoke and cheese, the smoke serving to accent the local B.C. milk used to make the cheese.

Best Washed Rind Cheese: Clover

—Mira Schenkel of Salmon Arm, British Columbia, was born in Switzerland and immigrated with her husband, Uli, to Canada 18 years ago to farm and to raise a family.   Click here to read more about Mira and her Best of Show cheese.

Entries in the inaugural Canadian Amateur Cheesemaking Awards presented for sampling by the public.

Entries in the inaugural Canadian Amateur Cheesemaking Awards presented for sampling by the public.

Competition co-ordinators were Ian Treuer and Jackie Armet, cheese co-ordinator of the annual Great Canadian Cheese Festival and the biennial Canadian Cheese Awards/Le Concours des fromages fins canadiens.

Fytozimus Bio Tech is Founding Sponsor of the Canadian Amateur Cheesemaking Awards.

The mission of Canadian Amateur Cheesemaking Awards is to provide encouragement to home cheesemakers, to offer expert feedback to all amateur cheesemakers, and to recognize the best in amateur cheesemaking in Canada.

The venue and logistical support were provided by Cheese Lover Productions, producers of the Cheese Festival and Cheese Awards/Le Concours.

The second annual Canadian Amateur Cheesemaking Awards will be held June 4-5, 2016, again in conjunction with the biggest artisan cheese show in Canada.