By Andy Shay www.andyshay.com
Writing from Toronto about BC cheese is difficult in that it is almost impossible to find examples here. Since the listeria scare last fall the flow of illegal provincially inspected cheeses (from other provinces) has virtually ceased. What you do find are the beautiful Salt Spring Island cheeses, the occasional Natural Pastures gouda style cheese from Vancouver Island and sometimes Poplar Grove's Tiger Blue from the Okanagan.
But what about some of the other cheeses or are there other cheeses? Of course there are, but the only real way to try them is to go to BC. With that in mind, I have put together a plan for a leisurely day of exploring some of the Okanagan’s cheeses, and if you need a pairing, there is plenty of wine to sample too.
There are two maps that go with this article, the first from Okanagan.com is a map with links to the wineries of the Okanagan region (click here). The second is a Google map I made to get you to the cheesemakers (click here). If you compare them side by side, you will see that there is lots of opportunity to compose various combinations of wine and cheese. If the cheese map is not pointing to the Okanagan region when you open it, simply click on one of the cheesemakers on the left side and the map will automatically re-align itself. If you were to drive straight from Carmelis to Happy Days the route would take about 2 hours, throw in visits to four cheesemakers and a few wineries, perhaps a farmers lunch picnic by one of the lakes and you have an enjoyably full day!
One of the reasons I like looking at Google maps is that you can switch to satellite or topography, zoom in and see the farms and their surroundings and start to get a feel for the land. It leads to a further understanding of the cheese and some of the inputs for its terroir.
Carmelis Goat Cheese
A great website by the way! Carmelis Goat cheese is a farmhouse (they produce their own milk and cheese) producer of an amazing 22 varieties of cheese. That takes an incredible amount of organization. One of the reasons for the large selection of cheeses is that different recipes have been developed for different times of the year to take advantage of the changing seasonal qualities of the milk. What a great idea! Through the spring, summer and fall the onsite store is open daily. The farm is located right at the gates of the mountain park, so if you arrive too early, head out for a quick hike and enjoy the views.
Several years ago, I "imported" some of their Lior, a hard aged cheese for my former cheese company, Shay Cheese. Here is the tasting note.
Cheesemaker: Carmelis Goat Cheese Artisan
Location: Kelowna, BC
Milk: Raw goat milk
History: While Carmelis cheeses are quite new to Canada, three years, the Barmor who makes them are not new the cheese business. Before moving to Canada the Baramors produced similar cheeses in Israel for many years. The family moved to Canada to pursue a better life are doing just that for themselves and their herd of goats. Their belief is that the good care of the goats leads to excellent milk and therefore excellent cheese. The family is dedicated to producing European, artisan style cheeses and to that end have conducted many research trips to France and Italy.
Characteristics: This is clearly a compact, firm cheese with a beautiful caramel brown colour. It has an interesting rumpled surface and the interior an occasional eye. There is a nutty mild goat aroma. Once inside the mouth, the cheese is very dry to the tongue, it crumbles, but hidden amongst these bits are glorious crystals, a pleasure to the tooth. At first the flavour is delicate but quickly builds with a peck on the tip of the tongue. Then a measure of numbness descends on the tongue and leaves the mouth with a hot pepper finish that lingers at the sides. There are notes of caramel and a very subtle goaty aroma in the nasal passages.
Rind Notes: There is an invisible way rind on the outside of this cheese. Break off a small wedge from the inside, the was will stick and stretch, and pull backwards around the cheese.
Poplar Grove winery and cheese is actually on just the other side of the park, but you have to drive around the lake, back through Kelowna to get there. Poplar Grove makes that delicious Tiger Blue cheese mentioned earlier – but they also make three others, a soft ripened , bloomy rind cheese called Double cream camembert (note to producer, should find a different name) a washed rind cheese, Harvest Moon and another blue cheese, Naramata Bench.
Poplar Grove is also a pretty well known winery – I bet there are some good pairings there!
Tiger Blue is a supple, full bodied blue cheese with distinctive horizontal blue streaks. This is a cheese to seek out!
Farmstead Artisan Cheese
The next stop takes you a ways north, traveling along side Wood and Kalamalka lakes (perhaps a good place for that picnic) and onto Armstrong to the Farmstead Artisan Cheese and Ice cream store. Now I will be honest, I have not tried these cheeses, but how could you not be curious! In addition producing a range of traditional aged cheddar cheeses they have a selection of 15 varieties of flavoured cheddar. Even if you don’t want a huge piece, how could you pass up trying Cointreau, Gewurztaminer, Maple or Wild Salmon flavoured Cheddar!
Happy Days Goat Dairy
To the west lies Happy Days Goat Dairy who makes some of the most delicious marinated goat cheese balls that I have ever tasted. I used to carry them at my store Shay Gourmet, and there was nothing like them added to a salad – or on their own for that matter. Happy Days makes other cheeses as well, which might be very good, but the goat cheese balls are worth a trip all on their own! The cheese is produced by a cooperative of three goat farmers.
And these four are only the tip of the iceberg of "unknown" BC cheeses. If you are in the Okanagan and you try this route, be sure to add your own markers, notes and pictures to the map. Happy eating and travels!