Walter Schep's family "cheese tree" branches back to Holland, where his grandmother won the World Champion Cheese Contest for her gouda in 1975.
In 1981, Mr. Schep's parents, Jacob and Margaret, immigrated to Ontario and opened a dairy farm south of Thunder Bay in Scoble Township. The Scheps created the Thunder Oak Cheese Farm 13 years ago after demand for their handmade Gouda grew beyond the family dinner table and into the community.
Mr. Schep and his wife use the same traditional recipes to make their award-winning Thunder Oak Gouda that his aunts and uncle still use on family farms in Holland and Belgium.
This is a true "farmstead" cheese - not only is the business family-run, but the fresh milk used to create the cheese comes solely from their own dairy farm, which is run by Mr. Schep's brother.
The proper pronunciation of gouda is "how-dah." The cheese was originally named after a small city in South Holland. Gouda, which is not a protected name, is now made around the world on both industrial and artisanal scales.
Most familiar are factory-produced goudas wrapped in different colours of paraffin wax, each signifying a particular age or flavour of the cheese. Artisanal versions are usually allowed to develop a natural rind. With Thunder Oak Gouda, a thin layer of breathable plastic protects the exterior as the cheese is ripened.
Younger goudas have a supple texture and mild and delicate taste, but the hand-made wheels of Thunder Oak show a much broader range of flavour that is richer and fruitier.
The Scheps make a number of flavoured cheeses, but the Thunder Oak Fenugreek Gouda stands out as unique. Native to Eurasia, fenugreek, also used as a medicinal herb, is a popular spice in Indian cuisine. Its seed carries hints of maple syrup in the nose and offers a lingering taste of fresh celery. The combination of the sweet seed and the creamy, nutty cheese provides a delicious flavour balance.
With demand high for these cheeses, the aged Thunder Oak Gouda is harder to find. Mr. Schep says the company's two-year-old cheese has more of a crumbly texture and a pronounced nutty, caramel flavour. Cheese Boutique in Toronto has a reserve supply it has aged in-house for four years.
A tradition in Holland is to serve gouda with homemade bread-and-butter pickles and good ale. With cherry season upon us, avoid the hassle of pitting fruit for a pie and just serve them fresh and sweet with a few slices of Fenugreek gouda to nibble on.
Sue Riedl studied at the Cordon Bleu in London.
On the block
Cheese Thunder Oak Fenugreek Gouda
Origin Thunder Bay, Ont.
Producer Thunder Oak Cheese Farm
Owners Walter and Joanne Schep
Cheese maker Walter Schep
Milk Pasteurized cow, Holstein
Type Farmstead, firm, pressed cheese, flavoured with Fenugreek seeds
Shape 10-kilogram wheel
Notes 2002 Dairy Farmers of Canada Grand Prix award for Best Firm Cheese
Food Matches Seasonal cherries provide a refreshing match
Distributor Provincial Fine Foods (Ontario)
Ordering within Canada
The cheeses arrive by mail within a few days and are vacuum packed to ensure a long storage life. CheeseFarm.ca
Thunder Oak Gouda is available in retail stores in Ontario only.
Kingston: Pan Chancho Bakery
Niagara Falls: The Cheese Truckle
Dundas: Mickey McGuire's Cheese Shop
Toronto: Nancy's Cheese (Harbord Bakery), All the Best Fine Foods, Cheese Boutique, Whole Foods