The grassy tang of chevre, the mild nuttiness of Gouda, the briny bite of feta….cheese intrigues our palates like few other foods. Going beyond the industrial chunk of Cheddar or package of paneer that many of us grab on a grocery run, family cheesemaking businesses craft memorable cheeses made with passion. Here are four of our favourite southern Alberta cheesemakers.

Sylvan Star

When John and Janneke Schalkwyk and their son Jeroen moved to Canada from the Netherlands in 1995, they weren’t planning to start a cheesemaking business. Though John had been a prize-winning cheesemaker and teacher in the Netherlands, he wanted to focus on dairy farming in his new home. But then he tried and failed to find good local cheese in Alberta. “I could not find the quality cheese like they make in Holland,” he says, so he decided to try making it himself. “Everyone said, you cannot make cheese here in Alberta. I’m laughing [because] you can make cheese anywhere in the world! What’s really important is what you feed the cows.”

sylvan starFor Sylvan Star cows, that means a blend of alfalfa, grass, barley and corn. The creamy milk is turned into cheeses that are carefully coated and ripened at room temperature. The attention to detail has paid off: Sylvan Star regularly wins awards for its cheeses, and Schalkwyk offers instruction in cheesemaking to visiting European students.

Location: Between Sylvan Lake and Red Deer
Products: Gouda, Edam, and Klondyk Swiss (similar to Gruyere)
Where to find: Community Natural Foods, farmers’ markets in Calgary, Italian Centre Shops

Chinook Cheese

While Tarif Hamad has always loved cheese, his career began in the oilpatch. Originally from Syria, he was working in Dubai when his company transferred him to Calgary. Craving the foods they enjoyed in the Middle East, he and his family searched for Mediterranean-style cheeses, but were disappointed with what they tarif hamadfound. “They were not good quality, not fresh,” says Hamad. “Being a chemical engineer with an analytical mind, I thought, why don’t I try making this here?” He began experimenting, enlisting help from university professors and cheese experts, and training staff in the art of cheesemaking.

Chinook Cheese began selling commercially in 2019, and Hamad immediately noticed the impact on his friends and community. “This was filling a real need for people,” he says. “They couldn’t find good cheese, and I realized that this was something I could do for my community.” He continues to develop new cheese and dairy products, while balancing cheesemaking with his work in the oilpatch. “Like they say,” he laughs, “growth and comfort do not coexist!”

Location: 20, 2015 32nd Ave. N.E.
Products: Haloumi, feta, labneh, Akawi, string cheese, among others
Where to find: Storefront at 32nd Ave. N.E., Calgary Co-op stores, some Sobey’s locations, ethnic grocery stores

Crystal Springs Dairy Company

If their children hadn’t loved farming so much, Evert and Jannie Beyer may never have become cheesemakers. Immigrants from the Netherlands, the Beyers began their life in Canada by raising beef cattle, followed by hogs, and then eventually started a small dairy. As their six children grew up, though, they needed to find ways to expand their farming business. “All of us like farming, so my parents tried to find ways to keep us all involved,” their son Jacco explains, “because there’s only so much one farm can sustain.” They decided to try cheesemaking, and after purchasing a cheese plant from another farmer in 2005, the Beyers began crystal springs cheesethe challenging work of learning to make cheese. “We had no clue,” says Jacco. “If everything went perfectly, it was fine, but we didn’t know how to troubleshoot. There was a lot of learning.”

Over the years, the Beyers have perfected their cheesemaking techniques, and now sell a wide variety of cheese, curds and yogurt, all made from easily digestible A2 milk. Four of their children still work on the farm, carrying on the family passions of farming and cheesemaking.

Location: Near Lethbridge
Products: Havarti, Gouda, Cheddar, cheese curds, feta, and yogurt products under the Bles-Wold label
Where to find: Safeway and Sobey’s locations throughout Calgary

Noble Meadows Farm

Twice a day, 300 goats daintily step into the milking parlour on Carolyn and Harvey Van Driesten’s farm, where they nibble a mixture of fava beans and barley as they’re milked by the Van Driestens’ daughters. It sounds like quite a herd, until you realize that they don’t produce milk on the same scale as their cow cousins. “More like divided by 10,” laughs Carolyn. The milk is piped to the creamery on the farm, where Carolyn turns it into chèvre, feta and yogurt. The Van Driestens have been milking goats since 2005, but it was a shift in the market in 2010 that pushed them to expand into cheesemaking. “I had been making a little bit [of noble meadow cheesecheese] in my kitchen,” says Carolyn, “but we had to learn to do it in a way that was safe for other people.”

They started small, selling in farmers’ markets in Calgary and building a solid customer base for their cheese. While Covid has been difficult for the wholesale side of their business, the Van Driestens’ dedication to making quality goat milk products as naturally as possible has maintained their popularity with retail customers.

Location: Near Nobleford
Products: goat feta, chèvre, goat milk, goat milk yogurt
Where to find: Sunnyside Natural Market, Prairie Farms, and Say Cheese Fromagerie at Crossroads Market