Sylvan Star Cheese wins three first-place trophies at 2009 Grand Prix

A Sylvan Lake cheese maker continues to solidify its place on the Canadian cheese map.

John Schalkwyk stocks gruyere

A Sylvan Lake cheese maker continues to solidify its place on the Canadian cheese map.

Sylvan Star Cheese captured three first-place trophies at the 2009 Canadian Cheese Grand Prix, with another of its five entries an award finalist. This result matches the business’s performance at the previous Grand Prix, held in 2006.

“Maybe the next time I’ll do more,” said John Schalkwijk, who has been producing cheese with his wife Jannie on their dairy east of Sylvan Lake for the past decade. “You never know.”

Topping the field at this year’s national cheese competition were Sylvan Star’s Gruyère in the Swiss-type Cheese category, its smoked Gouda among Flavoured Cheeses with non-particulate flavouring, and its Old Grizzly Gouda in the Farmhouse Cheese division. The Schalkwijks’ mild Gouda was one of three finalists in the Semi-soft Cheese category.

Sylvan Star’s smoked Gouda and Old Grizzly Gouda were the reigning champions, but its Gruyère was competing at the Grand Prix for the first time.

“I said, ‘OK, why not enter Gruyère?’” said John Schalkwijk. “I have really good Gruyère, and right away it was the champion.”

The process for making Gruyère is different from Gouda, for which Sylvan Star is best known, but Schalkwijk said the key factor is the quality of the milk that goes into his cheese.

Sylvan Star also makes Edam cheese.

Organized by the Dairy Farmers of Canada, the Canadian Cheese Grand Prix awards prizes in 16 categories. Eight of the 2009 winners came from Quebec, with two each from Ontario and Nova Scotia, and one from Prince Edward Island.

A total of 172 cheeses were submitted by 41 Canadian cheese makers this year. To be eligible, entries had to be made in Canada from domestic dairy ingredients.

The judges consisted of a jury of experts from the food, hotel administration and restaurant industries. They gathered in Montreal to consider the entries’ flavour, colour, texture, body, appearance and other characteristics.

Sylvan Star’s success at the Grand Prix has helped generate business, said Schalkwijk.

“You get, right away, orders from all over the place across Canada.”

Many of these are processed through Sylvan Star’s website, although online orders are limited to 20 kg. The business also has a distributor that supplies retailers and restaurants across Western Canada, and locally Sylvan Star cheese is carried by Sobeys and Red Deer Co-op.

Sylvan Star cheese is also sold at the Red Deer Public Market, and is available at a small store on the business’s premises.

In Calgary, it’s sold at shops and farmers’ markets.

Sylvan Star has been producing about 25,000 to 30,000 kg of cheese per year, but this figure is expected to jump to more than 100,000 kg when the business moves into expanded facilities. That changeover could occur next month, said Schalkwijk, and should help address an ongoing problem of lacking enough cheese to satisfy demand.

“I am hoping we’ll be better now.”

The Canadian Cheese Grand Prix has been held every two years since 1998. The 2008 competition was postponed one year.

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