Debra Amrein-Boyes has earned plenty of awards over the years for the artisan cheeses she’s created at Farm House Natural Cheeses. And most local cheese lovers would drool at the mere thought of a herb and garlic encrusted fromage frais, a smooth goat brie, or a perfectly crumbly feta.
Now the Agassiz cheese maker has done it again, winning two awards at the 2014 Canadian Cheese Awards.
But it was not an overly exotic type of cheese that won the hearts of the judges at the 2014 Canadian Cheese Awards.
Instead, it was something that many people use every day — cheddar cheese.
Amrein-Boyes’ clothbound cheddar won for Best Aged Cheddar category (national), and Best British Columbia Cheese. The awards were conducted by industry professionals, and were the first of what’s expected to be a biennial event. It’s a huge honour, she said, and “confirmation that the way we make cheese and the way we raise milk is good.”
Almost every cheese producer makes a cheddar, meaning Farm House’s offering was competing against a large pool of contenders. But the cheddar they produce is far from what you’ll find in a big box supermarket. Farm House prides itself on creating entirely handmade cheeses, going so far as to raise the goats and cows directly on their own farm.
“Over handling degrades the milk quality,” she said, breaking down the cheese and losing quality (and taste) every step of the way. Instead of leaving the delicate job to machines, Amrein-Boyes and her staff use gentle handling techniques to preserve the quality of the cheese.
And while processed cheeses are aged in vacuum-sealed bags, their cheddar is bandaged with cheesecloth, sealed with lard, and aged for a minimum of 20 months.
It’s that combination of tenderness, skill and knowledge that have earned Amrein-Boyes accolades throughout her 11 years at the helm of Farm House Natural Cheese. But there is something else to the magic of good cheese — the environment.
“People like quality, and the quality of the grass, the earth and the air all come into play,” to create that distinctive Agassiz taste.
Amrein-Boyes attended the 2014 Canadian Cheese Awards in Toronto on April 7, and the accompanying gala that featured cheeses from every corner of the country. After sampling everything from sheep and goat cheese to water buffalo cheese, she still believes Agassiz produces the best cheese in the country.
To learn more about the Canadian Cheese Awards, visit www.cheeseawards.ca. To learn more about Farm House Natural Cheese, visit their shop at 5634 McCallum Road in Agassiz.