Mira Schenkel is now a big cheese – when it comes to cheese making.
Schenkel’s Clover cheese, was recently awarded Best in Show at the 2015 Canadian Amateur Cheesemaking Awards.
The washed rind variety, which is made from milk produced by the family’s four cows on there Silver Creek farm and a secret blend of herbs (including clover), wowed the judges at the Great Canadian Cheese Festival in Picton, Ontario.
She also picked up a second-place finish for a Swiss-style Gruyere.
Schenkel, who is originally from Switzerland, was motivated to create her own varieties, after missing the fine cheeses available in her homeland.
“Originally it was my husband Uli who was the cheese maker in our family, but as the demands of the farm increased and his time was limited, he convinced me to take it on,” she says. “I just wasn’t able to find the cheeses that I loved, so I decided we needed to try it ourselves.”
With his guidance, a few recipes from the Swiss cheese maker and a cheese making book – 200 Easy Homemade Cheese Recipes by Debra Amrein-Boyes, Schenkel made her first cheese only four years ago. Her first try at a Swiss Mountain-style variety was a great success and she has never looked back.
She won’t spill them all, but she credits her husband for his care and feeding of the family’s four cows, two Jerseys, Amber and Peekaboo, and two crossbreds, Belle and Brittney, who provide the fresh unpasteurized milk from which the cheese is made.
“To make good cheese, you need to have happy cows making good milk.”
Since her first foray, Schenkel has created a variety of cheeses including Gouda, Maasdammer, Clover and Camembert, always aged for a minimum of 60 days due to the use of unpasteurized milk.
“I enjoy experimenting and the unique flavour of my award-winning Clover cheese features clover and herbs which I bring in from Switzerland,” she says.
“While mostly self-taught, I am truly grateful to my dear and hard-working husband for encouraging me to become a cheese maker…”
Schenkel decided to enter her cheese in the competition after meeting with a lady form Enderby who teaches cheese making at Okanagan College in Vernon.
“She wanted to look at my ripening room and sampled some cheese. A short while later, she emailed me and said I should enter this contest.”
Unable to attend the event due to the demands of the family farm, Schenkel lined up a cooler, some ice packs and a willing courier.
“It was nerve-racking. I was glad to hear it made it all right.”
When she heard the news that her cheese took top prize in the amateur show, beating out all the other entries from all the different categories, Schenkel was amazed.
“I am very thrilled and excited to have my cheese recognized at the cheese festival and I’m already looking forward to next year!”
But while she’s already planning her entries, Schenkel has no plans to move into the pro ranks.
“It’s a lot of work, but it’s my hobby and I enjoy it,” she says.
“And I have a whole new circle of friends who I have met because of my cheese. There’s always a new friend who wants to come and have a try.”