When I was growing up, cheese seemed to come in two varieties: yellow and white. As part of the North American foodie awakening, however, artisan cheeses are suddenly on menus and supermarket shelves everywhere – creamy, farm-fresh goat cheeses, pungent blues, local variations on Camemberts and Goudas. Some of North America’s most creative and coveted cheeses are coming from Canada’s Okanagan region – a rugged mountain valley, dominated by lakes and vineyards, not far from Vancouver. I ate about a lifetime’s worth of Canadian fromage – and met plenty of cheesy characters – on a driving tour for British Columbia Magazine.
Local Culture: There’s something ripening in Canada’s Okanagan Valley
By Remy Scalza for British Columbia Magazine
The Kelowna Farmers’ Market on a sunny August Saturday is a scene of tumult and high drama. Grim-faced older women towing wheeled handcarts slice through the masses, Hell-bent on claiming the juiciest local peaches and freshest carrots. Young couples make guilty beelines for the exit, arms loaded with the week’s last crates of blueberries and organic chard. On a good day, up to 7,000 people throng the labyrinth of 165 stands, making it British Columbia’s largest and – during harvest season, when the whole vegetal bounty of the Okanagan is represented here – liveliest farmers’ market.
And on a recent Saturday morning, the biggest crowds are gathered around neither berries nor heirloom tomatoes nor even those legendary Okanagan peaches but 100-percent, raw-milk gouda. It’s here, at the Triple Island Farm stand, that Johan and Helma Tuijtel – from Cherryville by way of Holland – have assumed the status of, if not quite rock stars, then at least dairy superstars. While Helma slices off samples, Johan expounds from behind a folding table stacked with wedges of mild, medium and spiced goudas.
“Normally, what you buy in the store is pasteurized and homogenized,” he says in a heavy Dutch accent that confers instant cheese credibility. “You lose all the flavor and nutrition.” Johan has a thick mustache, tattooed arms brawny from farm work and is wearing a John Deere ball cap. With Helma and their children, he milks 50 cows on a 74-acre spread in the North Okanagan [CQ interview with Johan Tuijtel]. His life’s passion is cheese. “All the time people come to us sick and tired of the grocery store stuff. It all tastes the same,” he says, waving his hand to symbolically brush these inferior cheeses aside. Meanwhile, Helma plunges into an enormous wheel of pepper-corn gouda with a double-handled cheese knife. A customer asks for their chili-pepper gouda. It sold out hours ago.
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