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Two Alberta cheesemakers in Canadian Cheese Grand Prix finals
April 17, 2013

In the national world of cheese goodness, the Canadian Cheese Grand Prix is a distinguished club. Two Alberta cheesemakers — Sylvan Star Cheese and Latin Foods Inc. — are among the finalists in the prestigious 8th annual competition on Thursday, April 18, in Montreal.

That’s quite a feat considering 225 cheeses in 19 categories were entered, from Prince Edward Island to British Columbia. Add to that the fact Alberta is a relative newcomer to cheesemaking, compared with Quebec, which has a tradition dating back to the 17th century.

With its well-rounded lineup of Gouda cheeses, the Red Deer-based Sylvan Star Cheese has six finalists in four categories. (Grizzly Gouda, two categories; Aged Gouda; Natural Smoked Gouda; Italian Herbs Spiced Gouda; Cayenne & Green Peppercorn.)

This isn’t the first time Sylvan Star has made it to the finals. It’s been competing with the big wheels in the Grand Prix since 2000, winning up to three awards at a time — mainly for its Goudas and Gruyere. (Sylvan also makes Edam and Manchego.)

“It’s always a surprise” when we win, says Jan Schalkwijk, Sylvan Star owner and cheesemaker.

The key to making an award-winning cheese starts with the best feed for his Holstein cows, he says, which then produce excellent quality milk.

From there, the process is part science, part intuition. “You need to have the right feeling in the fingers; then you will make quality cheese,” says Schalkwijk, whose cheesemaking experience goes back 50 years to his homeland in the Netherlands.

Sylvan Star’s repeat winner, Grizzly Gouda, is Schalkwijk’s favourite.

“It’s really flavourful. It’s over two years old, and it’s nice with wine. People love it and (I do) too.”

Calgary-based Latin Foods Inc., the only maker of Latin cheeses in Alberta, is in the running for its fresh unripened product in a new category: Fresh Cheese with Grilling Properties. This is the two-year-old company’s first time as a finalist.

“We’ve been working hard for a good cheese for grilling,” says Rafael Chavez, cheesemaker at Latin Foods Inc.

“We have a big community of Latin Americans,” says Chavez, who is from Venezuela and has been making cheese for 18 years.

Other cultures, such as South Americans and Caribbeans, use this cheese in traditional dishes. He came to Alberta two years ago and, under the tutelage of Sylvan Star’s Schalkwijk, learned to perfect the versatile unripened cheese for the Canadian market. It’s also exported to British Columbia, Quebec and Ontario.

“I am glad to make the secret of this cheese a reality here in Canada,” Chavez says. “I will be very satisfied even that I made it to the finals.”

Meanwhile, Albertans will keep the cheesemakers happy because, according to the Dairy Farmers of Canada’s website, each year Albertans eat eight kilograms per capita — more cheese than other Canadians.

Stay tuned for the winners.

Source: Edmonton Journal



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