Cheese Archives - WestCoastFood



By Alexis Baran

What if cheese wasn’t made from dairy? Would it still be cheese? This cultured snack favourite can be buttery, sweet, herbal, earthy, pungent, bitter, footy, even barnyardy. It’s one of the few foods that people will gladly eat even (or especially) when visibly laced with thick blue mold and it is a staple of modern dining. For centuries it’s been made using cow, goat, sheep and other animals’ milks – but who’s to say milk is the only thing that can create a fantastic cheese?

The assumption that animal milk must be the base for cheese is a notion that Chef Karen McAthy, the founder of Blue Heron Cheese, has been challenging. She’s aiming to change how consumers, as well as the food regulators, think about these wheels of flavour, all from her store and creamery on Vancouver’s Main Street.

A completely plant-based board

Blue Heron Creamery opened in Vancouver in early 2018 to block-long line-ups and a sold-out shop. The nut-based cheeses are so popular that Blue Heron is currently only open one day a week, for five hours. During that time customers often line up for their turn in the tiny storefront, and by the time they’re closed they can pretty much turn off the refrigerator – everything is gone.

When I sat down with McAthy and asked about her cheeses in comparison to “real” cheese, I clearly mis-spoke. “What is real cheese anyways,” questioned McAthy with a challenging grin, “a lot of cheese makers wouldn’t call a lot of what we buy at the grocery store ‘real cheese’.” Peruse the cheese aisle with that in mind and you’ll see what she means. Refrigerators are full of processed spreadable “cheeses” and other products that are made to taste like cheese but have never been fermented or cultured.

“I wanted to make real, non-dairy cheese, and I didn’t love the recipes I found. There was no troubleshooting advice, so I started looking into the methodology of how dairy cheese was made and applied that to cheese made with other proteins.”

Shore cheese by Blue Heron

Dairy cheese is made by culturing the animal fats and proteins found in milk. To make the non-dairy cheese at Blue Heron, McAthy and her small team cultures fats and proteins found in other places, such as coconut milk, walnuts, cashews, almonds and other nuts. The result looks and feels the same as dairy cheese, with its own variety of tastes – some being close in taste to mild diary cheeses such as brie. Others have a flavour all their own, such as Cormorant, a black ash-covered cashew and coconut milk cheese with a sharp taste, sweet coconut notes, and a spreadable chevre-like texture or Shore, a smooth and mild cashew cheese made with caraway and whole pink peppercorn.

Burrata classic cheese by Blue Heron

“If you look at the name of cheeses – some are named for the culture that creates it, not the milk. Camembert, for example, is from the penicillium camemberti culture. I can use that same culture to make a camembert with cashews and coconut” says McAthy. “I’m also using the same culture in a cambazola I’m working on.”

Is there a flavour difference between Blue Heron’s cheese and dairy cheese? Of course, but there’s also flavour differences between the myriad of varieties of dairy cheese as well. Whether you’re looking to replace dairy cheese or you’re interested in cultivating some new flavours into your platters and recipes, plant-based cheese is real, and it’s delicious.

Blue Heron Creamery
2410 Main St.
Vancouver, BC

By Dan Olson, Chef/Owner, Railtown Catering

This creamy, cheesy side dish is the perfect accompaniment to your Easter or Harvest Festival dinner.  Make it yourself, or let the team at Railtown Catering make dinner for you! Place your Easter to-go order by 3pm on Wednesday, March 28 and choose from an entrée choice of honey-glazed bone-in ham or lemon-and-rosemary-crusted leg of lamb and a wide array of homespun seasonal side dishes, salads, rolls and dessert.


Heavy Cream (1 cup)
Milk  (1 cup)
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
Russet potatoes  (4 lbs)
Butter, softened (1 tbsp)
Fresh thyme, chopped (2 sprigs)
Garlic, minced (2 cloves)
Gruyère cheese, grated  (1 cup)


  1. Preheat oven to 350°F.
  2. Brush a baking pan or casserole dish with the softened butter. Sprinkle with minced garlic, chopped fresh thyme, salt and pepper.
  3. Peel potatoes, and slice width wise into 1/4” disks. Shingle layer into baking pan or casserole dish, seasoning each layer with garlic, thyme, salt and pepper.
  4. Cover with cream and milk and sprinkle grated gruyère over top.
  5. Cover with tin foil. Bake until potatoes are completely tender when pierced by the tip of a sharp knife (about 1 hour and 45 minutes).
  6. Remove tin foil and allow to gratiné until golden brown and bubbly. Enjoy.

Images by Michele Mateus
Words by Alexis Baran

The heart of local food that brings all the greens, grains, produce, cheese and meats to our plate isn’t often in our urban centres – it’s mainly found in the people and animals who work the fields and farms. There are several places within Metro Vancouver where you can bring the kids to meet the producers and see farm animals, and a scenic place to start is Langley along the Circle Farm Tour.

At Milner Valley, a fifth-generation heritage farm, they specialize in a variety of artisan goat cheese.

There is a whole crew of adorable goats to visit on Milner Valley’s farm, who are milked to create the cheese you can buy in their shop.

All of the ogling, petting, and taking photos of the goats can get exhausting, so cool yourself with hand-made goats milk gelato, served up in the warmer months. For those sensitive to dairy, goats’ milk (and cheese) is generally easier to digest than cows’ milk, since the composition is slightly more similar to human milk. If you have a slight sensitivity with the dairy of cows, it might be worth it to give goats’ milk gelato a try.

Ariya, who works at the shop, is there to help you choose your bring-home bounty.

At Kensington Prairie Farm, the alpacas roam, and if they’re close to the fence you can reach through and give them some pets right on their floofy hairdos.

We were lucky and got to go a bit further in and feed them.

Although their focus is mainly alpacas, Kensington Prairie farm also raises chickens for farm-fresh eggs, as well as cows.

All that Alpaca wool gets made into socks scarves, sweaters, and other cozy clothing. Alpaca wool is super soft, and great for retaining heat – think of all those people in the Andes who’ve relied on alpaca to keep warm for centuries. They certainly know what they’re doing.

There’s also plenty of yarn for your own knit projects.

Also on a Circle Farm Tour, Taves Family Farms has plenty of animals for the whole family to encounter, including seasonal pony rides.

Have a look at the Langley Circle Farm Tour for more stops!

By Nikki Hillman

Every Sunday, when I was younger, my family would take the car for a drive. There was usually a rough idea of where we were going to explore; sometimes it was a new neighborhood with half-finished homes for us to wander through or sometimes it was just a drive through the farm areas of Maple Ridge, Langley or Abbotsford. Now that my children are old enough to be on their own, we’ve also started to take Sunday drives but I like to have a destination, and for this trip I chose Milner Valley Cheese. I’d read about them online and I was intrigued by the idea of goat’s milk gelato. I was also surprised to find out that while goat’s milk contains lactose it doesn’t contain a certain type of protein found in cow’s milk. This protein can be what lactose intolerant people are allergic to and so they can digest the goat’s milk much easier.

Goats roam the farm
Goats roam the farm

After a beautiful drive we turned onto Smith Crescent and were greeted with the serenity of farmland and rolling hills. As we pulled up to the family’s farm house, we could see goats wandering about an open field, watched over by an old donkey and an alpaca, which we were later told are great defenders of the property. We were met by Glenn Smith (he’s the fifth generation to farm the land) who was gracious enough to take some time to chat and show us around the farm.

The Milner Farm has a very long history in Langley. The original 220 acres of land was purchased by Smith’s Great-Grandfather in the 1880’s, from the Hudson Bay Company. In the past, the farm raised chickens and dairy cows but Glenn and his wife Marianne wanted to try something different. As Glenn led us around the outbuildings, he explained how they balance the work on the farm with their two adult sons.

The Milner house
The Milner house

First, we were shown the maternity barn with the female goats and their kids. Glenn believes in keeping the females and bucks (males) separate because the bucks are a dirtier animal but here is where the Smith’s get very scientific with their farm. They try to produce a product which is less “gamey” tasting than the goats cheese you buy in your local grocery store. Glenn believes that the environment he supplies for his goat herd directly impacts the milk or meat produced by the goats. The well ventilated air the goats breathe, the grass and feed they eat, and their clean living environment all contribute to the very blood that courses through the goats, thereby producing a different taste.

Next, Glenn led us over to the milking house. If you’ve seen the milking systems for cows, imagine a mini version. Here they milk 70 goats, twice a week, producing 1500 litres of goat’s milk. Peaking through the windows of the curing room, I could see shelves and shelves full of yellow waxed cheese rounds, reminding me of the curing rooms in Holland.

Cheese curing
Cheese curing

Glenn then handed us over to Marianne who explained the reason behind the goat farm. A little over five years ago, while they were trying to decide which direction to take the farm, Marianne had an epiphany. While waiting in line at her local grocery store, she noticed an issue of Oprah magazine. Leafing through, she found an article dedicated to the top farmstead cheese areas in the United States. This was the catalyst that started Marianne down the path of cheese making, specifically, goat’s cheese. She’s taken many cheese making courses and the production of the cheese at the farm is all done by her during eleven hour shifts! She concentrates on Colby, Jack and Caerphilly and sources her flavorings like peppercorn and sundried tomatoes from Holland. Although she’s been making the cheese for quite awhile, she still sees her work as, “a learning curve with so much more to learn.” She adds, “I just hope people appreciate what goes into it.”

Goat milking stations
Goat milking stations

We followed Marianne into their farm gate shop, built off the back of the farm house. Here you can purchase a cone of gelato, which is rich and creamy with just a small hint of the goat cheese taste you expect, and of course there’s colby, jack, feta, chevre and caerphilly goat cheeses for sale. If you’re lucky you may be able to pick up some eggs as well; the family sells 17 dozens of eggs every week but these are generally snapped up by the locals and neighbours. When I asked Glenn what he hoped his legacy would be he replied that he “want(s) to preserve a heritage which is unique, and to provide a local product on a small scale because we love what we do.”

Our cheeses from Milner Valley
Our cheeses from Milner Valley

As I watched my husband gleefully fill a basket with assorted kinds of goat cheese, I could see the Smith’s were accomplishing exactly what they’ve set out to.

Milner Valley Cheese is located at
21479 Smith Crescent, in Langley, B.C.

By Joanne Sasvari

Head east of Chilliwack and just before you hit the misty Coastal Mountains you’ll run into a little slice of pastoral paradise, where happy cows graze in the meadows and one of North America’s best cheese makers, Debra Amrein-Boyes, is making magic from milk.

The Farm House Natural Cheeses sign on McCallum Road in Agassiz
The Farm House Natural Cheeses sign on McCallum Road in Agassiz. Photo: Joanne Sasvari

Of course, you don’t have to travel all the way to Agassiz to sample her nutty cheddars, savoury blues and creamy bries. That’s because The Farm House Natural Cheeses can be found on just about every fine cheese plate in town. You’ll find it at restaurants that range from Salt Tasting Room to Farmer’s Apprentice to Hawksworth, and in cheese shops including small independents (Benton Brothers, Les Amis du Fromage), farm markets like Lepp Farm Market in Abbotsford and Pomme Natural Market in Coquitlam, and big chains (Whole Foods, Save On Foods, Choices).

Debra Amrein-Boyes, cheese maker and co-owner of The Farm House Natural Cheeses, with her award-winning traditional Clothbound Cheddar
Debra Amrein-Boyes, cheese maker and co-owner of The Farm House Natural Cheeses, with her award-winning traditional Clothbound Cheddar. Photo: Joanne Sasvari

Amrein-Boyes herself is a bit of a legend in cheese circles. She is one of only a handful of North American cheese makers to be inducted into the prestigious French Cheese Guild, the Guilde des Fromagers Confrerie de Saint-Uguzon. Her 2009 book, 200 Easy Homemade Cheese Recipes, was nominated for a World Gourmand Cookbook Award. And her cheeses have scooped up numerous prizes, too, including, most recently, the 2014 Canadian Cheese Awards for Best Aged Cheddar and Best B.C. Cheese for her Clothbound Cheddar.

Not bad for someone who only started making cheese in 2004. Back then, she and her husband George Boyes were running a small family dairy farm in Agassiz and, like so many others, struggling to compete with giant agribusinesses. The solution, she decided, was to offer something of added value. And that something would be cheese.

But it wouldn’t be just any cheese. It would be the best quality cheese possible, made from grass-fed, high-butterfat milk, much of it from heritage Guernsey and Brown Swiss cows, with no additives, preservatives, pesticides, hormones or antibiotics, and as little intervention as possible.

The rich, luscious, triple-crème-brie-like Lady Jane cheese from The Farm House Natural Cheeses
The rich, luscious, triple-crème-brie-like Lady Jane cheese from The Farm House Natural Cheeses. Photo: Joanne Sasvari

“It’s all old-fashioned, natural methods, which is one of the reasons the flavour is so good,” she says.

Right from the beginning, Amrein-Boyes decided she would produce a big range of cheeses, not just a few like most other artisanal cheese makers. “We wanted to introduce cheeses to the Canadian public that people weren’t familiar with,” she says.

And so she makes cheese from goat’s milk and cow’s milk. She makes fresh cheeses and aged ones, soft cheeses and firm ones, cheeses that are mould ripened, ash ripened and threaded with blue veins. She makes some 20 varieties of cheese, including the luxuriously rich Lady Jane named for her daughter, but also offers butter, yogurt, cheese curds, quark, crème fraîche, milk and buttermilk.

Does she have a favourite? “I love the cheddar,” Amrein-Boyes says, “but sometimes you want a glass of Beaujolais and the camembert.”

Now she’s inspired others farmers, such as Golden Ears Cheesecrafters, to produce artisanal cheese in the Fraser Valley; indeed, one of them is her own daughter, who is planning to take over the business with her husband when Amrein-Boyes eventually retires.

Meanwhile, she has cheese to make, and a hungry clientele to keep deliciously well fed.

The Farm House Natural Cheeses is located at 5634 McCallum Road, Agassiz, 1-604-796-8741

By Nikki Bayley

Canadian cheese is undergoing a quiet revolution with dozens of cheese makers popping up across the country making delicious artisan cheeses, and some of the best are to be found in B.C. We spoke to Vancouver’s queen of cheese, Allison Spurrell at Les Amis du Fromage, who stocks around 190 varieties of Canadian cheeses and between 450-550 other cheeses from around the world:

“Canadian cheeses may not have big names like England with its cheddar or France with its brie, but Oka cheese is certainly famous in North America. It was traditionally made by monks at the monastery in Quebec, and about 20 years ago the cheese making part was bought out. It’s a semi-firm washed rind Trappist-style cheese. I think in B.C. there’s a pretty interesting cheese makers movement developing over the past 15 years, and some great cheese being made locally.


If you’re wondering about where Canadian cheese making can be found, look no further than B.C. Certainly in the Fraser Valley, the land is so beautiful, and when you talk about cheese it comes back to the milk –and that’s whatever the cows eat and how they’re cared for. We have so much beautiful grass and flowers growing here and that’s really great for the cows. We have some really great cheeses made in the Kootenays too, which is a little further away from the Lower Mainland, but so good! Lots of great cheese is made on Vancouver Island, and on Salt Spring Island too, pretty much anywhere that’s conducive to farming and that slower pace of life, you’ll find great cheese.

If you’re staying in the Lower Mainland you can make a day of it and visit one of our great local cheese makers. Golden Ears are in Maple Ridge; they make a wide selection of everyday cooking cheeses like feta and havarti and they also make some soft ripened cheese like brie. They have a great little shop there that you can visit and have afternoon tea there on the weekends. Another place is the Farm House Natural Cheese Company, they’re out by Agassiz and Chilliwack, and they have a really great selection of cheeses from goat and cows milk. Here at Les Amis we stock about 12 of them, you have to try their Lady Jane which is based on Chaource cheese which comes from the Champagne region in France –the centre stays firm and the outside is creamy– it’s very delicious. They’ve just been certified organic, their cheeses are excellent, it’s more of a European style, with more robust flavours. They’re less worried about their cheese being white and perfect and round, and focus instead on them being delicious.


In B.C, the cheese making industry is so young, but I think the firm aged cheeses show best what we can do. I really like Alpindon from Kootenay Meadows, I like that they named it themselves, rather than after some other cheese. Another great cheeses to try while you’re here is Beddis Blue from Moonstruck on Salt Spring Island which comes from all Jersey cows, when that cheese is perfect it’s unbelievable.

I think B.C. cheeses pair with white wine or beer rather than red wine. We make lots of great whites right here, try Joie Noble Blend, which works so well with those robust flavours. There are so many neat craft breweries here too, and beer and cheese is a great match!

Here at Les Amis, we let people try the cheeses if they want to sample them. We have “brown bag Saturday” where we’ll put a mystery selection together and you can try five or six new things for between $12 and $18. Check our website too; we do lots of tastings, I’m doing a Cheese 101 which is an overview of all the different styles of cheese, and I’m doing a Spanish tasting soon with wine, cheese, charcuterie and olive oil, then a Quebec one too with beer, not wine, and tourtière.”

Les Amis du Fromages
1752 W 2nd Ave.
843 E Hastings St.