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.

Calling all home cheesemakers!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

There is no end to the variety of cheeses made at home by amateurs.

The cheese lovers who organize The Great Canadian Cheese Festival every June are planning to host Canadian Amateur Cheesemaking Awards, the first-ever judging and competition for home cheesemakers.

The mission is to recognize and honour the best in amateur cheesemaking and to provide encouragement and feedback to home cheesemakers.

It’s possible the competition will be expanded to include home cheesemakers in the U.S.

Would you be interested in entering your cheese for judging? You won’t personally have be present to participate as you can safely ship cheese in a cooled box.

Please indicate your interest by emailing Ian Treuer at competition@cheesefestival.ca. Ian is acting as Competition Co-ordinator. He blogs about his adventures as a home cheesemaker at Much To Do About Cheese.

Jackie Armet, the Festival’s Cheese Co-ordinator, who also serves as Cheese Co-ordinator for Canadian Cheese Awards/Le Concours des fromages fins canadiens, will oversee the new competition.

Awards will be presented for best in each cheese category. Judging reports will be issued for each cheese entered. Subject to confirmation when rules are issued, the categories and awards will be as follows:

  • Fresh Cheese
  • Bloomy Rind Cheese
  • Washed Rind Cheese
  • Blue Cheese
  • Firm Cheese
  • Best of Canada
  • Best of U.S.
  • Best of Show.

The first-ever amateur cheesemaking competition takes place this June 6-7 in conjunction with the fifth anniversary Great Canadian Cheese Festival in Picton, Ontario, two hours east of Toronto, three hours north of Syracuse, New York, four hours from Montréal.

If you’re interested in entering your cheese made at home, let us hear from you!

Photos by Ian Treuer/Much To Do About Cheese.

The warm and wonderful aroma of making cheese at home

Brown eggs give Jāņu siers a yellowish look. The cheese is eaten sliced, with butter, never on bread.

Brown eggs give Jāņu siers a yellowish look. The cheese is eaten sliced, with butter.

The sweet smell of dairy in the house that comes from making cheese at home is one of my favourite things at Christmas. Holding milk at 90 to 95C for 15 minutes so curd separates from whey is a sure way to create that warm and wonderful aroma.

Every December, the winter solstice finds me in the kitchen, happily making a midsummer cheese, a caraway-speckled pressed fresh cheese called Jāņu siers in Latvian, my native language.

In Latvia, the cheese is a core ingredient in celebrations marking the summer solstice, a festival called Jāņi. I like the cheese too much to eat it only once a year, thus, the tradition of making it at midwinter and giving small wheels as gifts to family and friends at Christmas.

Here’s what I posted about the cheese on St. John’s Day a few years back:

Jāņu siers, what kind of cheese is that?” you ask. It’s a caraway-speckled fresh cheese that I make at home.

Jāņu siers in Latvian, my native language, is, literally, John’s cheese in English. When I want to sound fancy, I call it Midsummer’s Night.

In Latvia, for more than a thousand years, it has been made at the summer solstice to mark the midsummer festival of Jani. That festival was celebrated last night by Latvians all over the world on the eve of St. John’s Day. For many, it’s the most important holiday of the year.

In Latvia, farms are bedecked with garlands of oak and birch branches and meadow flowers. Nearly everyone leaves the city for the open air so that the shortest night of the year can be spent in the merry company of friends in the country. Bonfires are lit, special songs are sung, dancing is a universal element during the festival. The traditional caraway-seed cheese and lots of beer are on the menu.

Tradition has it that this is the one night of the year that you must never sleep. Girls pick meadow flowers to make wreaths for their hair, while men named Jānis get a bushy crown of oak leaves around their heads. (Jānis is the most popular male name in Latvia and comparable to John.) Eating, singing, drinking and dancing ensue the whole night long. Although the sun sets briefly, it doesn’t get dark in the higher latitude of Latvia and everyone must be awake to greet the rising sun in the morning. A naked romp into the nearest lake or river is a must for men—and the women who cheer them on. Young couples like to go into the forest and search for the legendary fern blossom. Or so they say. And when you greet the morning sun, you have to wash your face in the grass’s morning dew, which on Jāņi morning is said to have particularly beneficial properties.

Jāņu siers is always eaten with unsalted butter and never on bread. For the full effect, consume with Zelta, a Latvian lager available in Canada.

This midwinter, I went organic with all ingredients (full-strength milk, pressed cottage cheese, brown eggs and butter) except caraway seeds and salt sourced from Organic Meadows in Guelph, Ontario.

—Georgs Kolesnikovs

Georgs Kolesnikovs, Cheese-Head-in-Chief at CheeseLover.ca, was born in Latvia but has lived in Canada most of his life, in Ontario, Québec and the Northwest Territories.

Support Ella and discover the joy of making cheese at home

You did it, cheese lovers, your support helped Ella over the top! But if you haven’t become a backer with a pre-order yet, click here to learn how by December 12.

Cheese entrepreneur Ella Kinloch of Calgary has turned to a crowd-funding platform to launch her business of producing cheesemaking kits for the home. She has five days to raise an additional $2,000 toward her goal of $30,000. As of this morning, 503 backers have already pledged $28,218.

We have made our pledge—in effect, a pre-order for a cheesemaking kit. We urge you to make yours.

Once you check out her lovely website, Make Cheese: Find your inner cheesemaker, and read her funding pitch at Kickstarter, we’re certain you’ll want to help Ella over the top. Mainly because she looks to have developed an excellent product and has found an innovative way to reach out to cheese lovers. As she explains:

When we began just over a year ago, our focus was on handcrafted, handmade vintage-style packaging.  While very well received by our customers, it has meant a great deal of time is spent on creating the packaging, and less time available to spread learning material to our growing cheese community!  To reach our growth objectives, we need to refocus our time to meet the needs of a growing business.  Translation: time for package outsourcing!

We will use the capital raised (via Kickstarter) to invest in professional packaging design and outsourced production that is ready for a wider retail market, while still serving our core online business.

With the time we save in efficient package production, we can move our time and attention to creating video tutorials that will take some of the mystery out of cheese making for our devotees, and spread the message of good cheese to all the good people out there!

How does crowd-funding on Kickstarter work?

Kickstarter is a funding platform for creative projects of types. Everything from films, games, and music to art, design, and technology. Kickstarter is full of ambitious, innovative, and imaginative projects that are brought to life through the direct support of others. Since its launch in 2009, more than $350 million has been pledged by more than 2.5 million people, funding more than 30,000 creative projects.

Every project creator sets their project’s funding goal and deadline. If people like the project, they can pledge money to make it happen. If the project succeeds in reaching its funding goal, all backers’ credit cards are charged when time expires. If the project falls short, no one is charged. Funding on Kickstarter is all-or-nothing.

Click here for more information and to make your pledge by pre-ordering a cheesemaking kit from Ella at Make Cheese Inc. in Calgary. Then discover the joy of making cheese in your own home. It can be challenging but it’s the next best thing to eating cheese.

—Georgs Kolesnikovs

Making midsummer cheese at midwinter

Brown eggs give Jāņu siers a yellowish look. The cheese is eaten sliced, with butter, never on bread.

The winter solstice today has me in the kitchen, happily making a midsummer cheese, a caraway-speckled fresh cheese called Jāņu siers in Latvian, my native language.

In Latvia, the cheese is a core ingredient in celebrations marking the summer solstice, a festival called Jāņi. I like the cheese too much to eat it only once a year, thus, the tradition of making it at midwinter and giving small wheels as gifts to family and friends at Christmas.

Here’s what I posted about the cheese on June 24, 2010:

“Jāņu siers, what kind of cheese is that?” you ask. It’s a caraway-speckled fresh cheese that I make at home.

Jāņu siers in Latvian, my native language, is, literally, John’s cheese in English. In Latvia, for more than a thousand years, it has been made at the summer solstice to mark the midsummer festival of Jani. That festival was celebrated last night by Latvians all over the world on the eve of St. John’s Day. For many, it’s the most important holiday of the year.

In Latvia, farms are bedecked with garlands of oak and birch branches and meadow flowers. Nearly everyone leaves the city for the open air so that the shortest night of the year can be spent in the merry company of friends in the country. Bonfires are lit, special songs are sung, dancing is a universal element during the festival. The traditional caraway-seed cheese and lots of beer are on the menu.

Tradition has it that this is the one night of the year that you must never sleep. Girls pick meadow flowers to make wreaths for their hair, while men named Jānis get a bushy crown of oak leaves around their heads. (Jānis is the most popular male name in Latvia and comparable to John.) Eating, singing, drinking and dancing ensue the whole night long. Although the sun sets briefly, it doesn’t get dark in the higher latitude of Latvia and everyone must be awake to greet the rising sun in the morning. A naked romp into the nearest lake or river is a must for men—and the women who cheer them on. Young couples like to go into the forest and search for the legendary fern blossom. Or so they say. And when you greet the morning sun, you have to wash your face in the grass’s morning dew, which on Jāņi morning is said to have particularly beneficial properties.

The reality for me this year was that I tried to make more Jāņu siers than before and used a large lobster pot to heat the milk to 90-95C rather than my usual heavy saucepan. Very hard to keep milk near the boiling point for 15 minutes in a thin pot, I discovered to my dismay, without scorching the milk. Thus, three small wheels I made won’t be shared with friends as behind the taste of cream and caraway there is a hint of burnt.

On the bright side, Jāņu siers is always eaten with butter (and never on bread), and I love butter almost as much as cheese. Lay on enough butter and the slight scorched taste dissipates. Consume with enough Zelta, a Latvian lager available in Canada, and the cheese tastes as good as it should.

This midwinter, I went organic–Ooh, la, la!—with all ingredients (milk, pressed cottage cheese, brown eggs and butter) except caraway seeds and salt sourced from Organic Meadows in Guelph, Ontario. And, no, I did not repeat the error of trying to keep milk at 90-95C in a thin lobster pot.

—Georgs Kolesnikovs

Georgs Kolesnikovs, Cheese-Head-in-Chief at CheeseLover.ca, was born in Latvia but has lived in Canada most of his life.

Celebrating midsummer with Jāņu siers, a Latvian cheese

Jāņu siers is the traditional midsummer cheese enjoyed by Latvians the world over.

“Jāņu siers, what kind of cheese is that?” you ask. It’s a caraway-speckled fresh cheese that I make at home.

Jāņu siers in Latvian, my native language, is, literally, John’s cheese in English. In Latvia, for more than a thousand years, it has been made at the summer solstice to mark the midsummer festival of Jani. That festival was celebrated last night by Latvians all over the world on the eve of St. John’s Day. For many, it’s the most important holiday of the year.

In Latvia, farms are bedecked with garlands of oak and birch branches and meadow flowers. Nearly everyone leaves the city for the open air so that the shortest night of the year can be spent in the merry company of friends in the country. Bonfires are lit, special songs are sung, dancing is a universal element during the festival. The traditional caraway-seed cheese and lots of beer are on the menu.

Tradition has it that this is the one night of the year that you must never sleep. Girls pick meadow flowers to make wreaths for their hair, while men named Jānis get a bushy crown of oak leaves around their heads. (Jānis is the most popular male name in Latvia and comparable to John.) Eating, singing, drinking and dancing ensue the whole night long. Although the sun sets briefly, it doesn’t get dark in the higher latitude of Latvia and everyone must be awake to greet the rising sun in the morning. A naked romp into the nearest lake or river is a must for men—and the women who cheer them on. Young couples like to go into the forest and search for the legendary fern blossom. Or so they say. And when you greet the morning sun, you have to wash your face in the grass’s morning dew, which on Jāņi morning is said to have particularly beneficial properties.

The reality for me this year was that I tried to make more Jāņu siers than before and used a large lobster pot to heat the milk to 90-95C rather than my usual heavy saucepan. Very hard to keep milk near the boiling point for 15 minutes in a thin pot, I discovered to my dismay, without scorching the milk. Thus, three small wheels I made won’t be shared with friends as behind the taste of cream and caraway there is a hint of burnt.

On the bright side, Jāņu siers is always eaten with butter (and never on bread), and I love butter almost as much as cheese. Lay on enough butter and the slight scorched taste dissipates. Consume with enough Zelta, a Latvian lager available in Canada, and the cheese tastes as good as it should.

—Georgs Kolesnikovs

Georgs Kolesnikovs, Cheese-Head-in-Chief at CheeseLover.ca, was born in Latvia but has lived in Canada most of his life.