Cows Creamery has done it again.
The Extra Old Cheddar made by the P.E.I. cheese producer was honoured as Grand Champion Cheddar in the 2022 Canadian Cheese & Butter Competition presented by Dairy Farmers of Ontario at the 100th Anniversary Royal Agricultural Winter Fair.
The victory in the oldest and biggest cheese and butter competition in Canada represents the latest in a long list of awards garnered by a remarkable cheddar whose recipe hails from the Orkney Islands north of mainland Scotland.
In 2004, Cows Creamery owner Scott Linkletter visited the Orkney Islands where his family has roots. He fell in love with the taste of the local cheese and returned with a recipe for traditional English cheddar and a dream to make cheese with local milk in P.E.I.
Linkletter enlisted the help of Armand Bernard, who had already been working at Cows as an ice-cream maker for 10 years, meaning Bernard was no stranger to transforming P.E.I. milk into something extraordinary.
They developed Avonlea Clothbound Cheddar and the wonderful aged cheddar that in 2014 was selected as the World’s Best Aged Cheddar and last week at The Royal as Canada’s best cheddar—for, it seems, the umpteenth time.
The recipe for all cheddars made by Cows Creamery is essentially the same—except for the aging process and length of time in affinage.
Bernard, the lead cheesemaker at Cows since 2006, is known for his meticulous attention to detail. Andrea White, wholesale manager at Cows, says his consistency is part of the reason Cows Creamery products are a cut above the rest: “Armand leads a team of professionals that never waiver on the quality and precision of their work. Every day is different; from cloth-binding fresh wheels of cheddar, to flipping and vacuuming the cheeses as they age in their caves, ensuring uniformity in their aging—consistency is always part of the job”.
Bernard believes high-quality P.E.I. milk plays a key role in their success. Cows Creamery works with a local dairy co-op that supports 160 small, family-run farms on the island. The average herd size is a mere 65 Holstein cattle and care is taken by each farmer to maintain clean farming practices. Throughout the year, the cows graze on clay- and iron-rich pasture and eat a mixed diet of hay, grain, and silage. Sea salt and minerals are naturally occurring in the environment, too, which gives the cheeses unique earthy notes.
No point on the island is more than 30 kilometres or so from the sea.
The Extra Old Cheddar is aged for at least 18 months. It’s made with vegetable rennet, all natural, with no colour added. The cheese is made with unpasteurized milk: The milk is gently heated, which preserves the micro-organisms and enzymes in raw milk that give cheddar its characteristic flavour.
Like wine, cheese has a terroir, says Bernard. “The area it’s produced in—whether it’s the nutrients in the soil or the air the cows breathe—has certain things that can’t be replicated. On the island, we’re surrounded by water. We have the red soil. I don’t believe I could take the same recipe to central or western Canada and create the same product.”
For Cows Creamery, Bernard says, the trick to making “absolutely delicious” cheese is the aging process.
“The real flavour comes with time as the cheese ages,” he says. “Some cheese will get sharper, ours becomes more flavourful, with more depth of character.”
Bernard grew up on a small farm near Tignish, about 150 kilometres northwest of Charlottetown where Cows Creamery is based.
“We were a small farm, milked 24 cows. I had six brothers and sisters. It was all hands on deck. We had chores in the barn before we went to school and helped with the milking at night. Summers were spent at home working the fields. It was an awesome way to grow up.”
Did your family make anything with the milk?
“No, but we drank two gallons a day when everybody was home. It was delicious. In the summertime, you’d have the cream rise to the top, and you’d have it on strawberry shortcake. I got to know milk well.”
Culture magazine, the leading publication about cheese in the English-speaking world, had this to say about the taste of Cows Creamery Extra Old Cheddar:
“Although on first glance the texture of this cheese is semi-firm and crumbly, on the palate it’s unexpectedly creamy and smooth, melting in the mouth. Its great taste hits you immediately, with a notable tang and sourness that interplays with a mild sharpness. An initial hint of sweetness can be detected, as well as rich, full toasted nut and buttery cashew aromas and notes of pineapple, chive and sweet cream.”
COWS Ice Cream has been a family tradition on Prince Edward Island since 1983. From a small kiosk on the famous Cavendish Boardwalk in Charlottetown, the COWS brand now has seven locations across P.E.I, four in Nova Scotia, and one each is Whistler, Banff, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Quebec City and Beijing, China. The COWS brand has expanded over the years with cheese and butter lines, as well as the popular COWS-themed merchandise.
Raspberry Point Oyster Co. is a sister company shipping choice oysters throughout Canada, U.S.A., Europe and Asia. The company started as a bit of a hobby for Scott Linkletter and his father who harvested oysters near the family summer home in New London Bay.
In the 2022 Cheese & Butter Competition at The Royal, there were 195 entries submitted by producers across Canada. Judging took place June 10. Complete results are posted at https://www.assistexpo.ca/results/rawf/5/
Support for the competition was provided by the Presenting Partner, Dairy Farmers of Ontario, which has made over $30,000 in prize money available, as well as Metro which supports the competition and presents the Champions Showcase during The Fair.
The Royal Agricultural Winter Fair celebrates 100 years of world-class equine and agricultural excellence on November 4-13, 2022, at Exhibition Place in Toronto. It is the world’s largest combined indoor agricultural and equestrian show.
The Royal draws more than 300,000 visitors to Toronto annually to see thousands of unique entries from elite Canadian and international breeders, growers and exhibitors, more than 4,500 large and small animals, shows, activities, shopping, dining and—of course—The Royal Horse Show.
Come and experience The Royal, there’s truly something for the entire family. Click here for information and tickets.