The Cheesiry Perfecting Artisan Cheese in Alberta

Rhonda Zuk Headon had a self-imposed a deadline, if her career path was unclear by her 30th birthday she would force the issue. She did exactly that with a trip to Tuscany and her first taste of Italian pecorino.

The Cheesiry #Alberta #Sheep #Cheese @TheCheesiry

Back in Alberta, Rhonda is now handcrafting artisan sheep cheese, utilizing techniques that she acquired during her Italian sojourn.

Her love for farming is deep-rooted with parents who grew up in small-town Vegreville and Holden, Alberta. Rhonda’s agricultural passions were fueled by holidays spent picking and preserving fruit with her grandparents. This led her towards a degree and work as a Crop Advisor/Agronomist.

The Cheesiry #Alberta #Sheep #Cheese @TheCheesiryRhonda she was 27-years old when she decided that she did not want to be caught-up in what “life was supposed to be.” According to Rhonda, she came to the conclusion that “I have the rest of my life to work at a job – I think now is the perfect time for a break.”

The Cheesiry #Alberta #Sheep #Cheese @TheCheesiryRhonda found herself working on a farm in the in the rolling, sun-drenched, grape-laden hills of Tuscany – a dream break for anyone. The surprising part is that she returned to Alberta after a month spent at the bucolic Podere il Casale an agritourism operation near Pienza. This family-operated farm is in the Val d’Orcia – an area so beautiful it has a UNESCO World Heritage designation.

The Cheesiry #Alberta #Sheep #Cheese @TheCheesiryIt was at Podere il Casale where Rhonda learned the process of making cheese from sheep’s milk. It is work that she describes as fairly simple despite early mornings.

  • 6:15am the sheep have been milked
  • The fresh milk is warmed to 30C
  • Culture is added
  • Rennet is added (once the culture begins to grow); this turns the mixture into a jelly consistency known as curd
  • The curd is cut into pieces, heated and drained into moulds
  • By 10am there the wheels of cheese are forming
  • After 48-hours, the cheese has begun the aging process

The Cheesiry #Alberta #Sheep #Cheese @TheCheesiryOutside of Edmonton, between Kitscoty and Lloydminster Rhonda and her family (she is now married and has twins) tend to a herd of 120 East-Friesian sheep. The milk from the herd produces about 4000 kilograms of cheese per year.

The Cheesiry #Alberta #Sheep #Cheese @TheCheesiry

This is how Rhonda describes the Cheesiry “Our product lineup includes Pecorino (Tuscan style which is served younger), Fresco (like cream cheese/chevre), La Bianca (camembert style of cheese).  Feta and Yoghurt are available in the summer.”

The Cheesiry #Alberta #Sheep #Cheese @TheCheesiry

What’s next? Dreams of a future B&B, pizza oven – a taste of Tuscany in Alberta.

NOTE: Currently, lucky Albertan’s can get products from The Cheesiry directly at their boutique or at these retailers. Small quantities of Pecorino are shipped outside of the province.

Image Credits: photos are from The Cheesiry Facebook page with approval.

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