It’s a perfect Okanagan Valley autumn day – sun high and hot; nights cooling; mornings misted. The pickers have begun the grape harvest; roadside stands are filled with apples, late pears, pumpkins, quince, an unusual fruit for much of Canada and walnuts.
It’s deceptive though. As I follow the hillside, all is clearly not as it should be, in spite of the stunning panorama of Lake Okanagan. Stiff-charred sentinels remain as testament to a forest fire that raged mercilessly for weeks over the summer. Yet there is green now amongst the devastation and a small goat cheesemaking business which is flourishing by virtue of the tenacity of its owners.
This is a typical Canadian story. Forever it seems that Canada has welcomed immigrants who have come from war-or famine-ravaged lands. My own ancestors were on the verge of starvation in Ireland.
In 2003, Ofri and Ofra Barmor sold their home and business in Israel and began afresh in Canada. They feared that their country was no longer safe and they wanted to start a new life in a nation perennially at peace. They built their dairy and cheesemaking facility in a forest by Lake Okanagan.
It was as idyllic as any setting could ever be, with their property rolling down the hillside towards to deep, cerulean blue lake. But then a massive disaster intervened. In mid-August a forest fire broke out in Okanagan Mountain Park. A natural phenomenon, forest fires can be devastating when near a populated area, in this case the city of Kelowna.
Mass evacuations preceded the destruction of dozens of home. At its peak 650 fire fighters, 20 helicopters, 200 piece of heavy equipment were working the fire along with air tanker support were enlisted.
The inferno was so strong that witnesses have said it seemed that lightening bolts tore through the flames. When it was finally contained on September 20 at 8.21am, the size was determined by Global Positioning System to be 25,912 hectares with a perimeter of 197 kilometres. Along with the 283 homes, Carmelis Alpine Goat Cheese Artisan Inc. had also been consumed.
For the Barmors, like leaving the violence in the Middle East, this was just another obstacle to hurdle. They re-built and today their dairy is perched on the same hillside open wide to the valley air. Their herd of 100 goats move freely in and out of their shelter trotting and gallivanting up and down the slopes. The cheesemaking facility has a wonderful smell of fresh milk and, below it, the aging rooms are lined with a variety of golden wheels ripening to perfection.
The Barmors’ goats’ milk cheese is sold to the region’s top chefs and gourmands. One of their most popular is the aged Lior, named after their daughter. In Hebrew is means ‘my light’. From the Horizon, with its layer of ash and pungent Goatgonzola to the strikingly beautiful Vintage, a hard cheese soaked in wine from their neighbouring vineyard, Carmelis Cheeses are more than just perfectly fermented milk, they are a chronicle of great resolve and courage – a real Canadian success story.
Carmelis Alpine Goat Cheese Artisan
170 Timberline Road,
Tel: 250 764 9033
(Images of the fire can be found on their site)
An archival site of the Okanagan Mountain Fire can be found at:
For an extraordinary look at the fire log onto: http://www.kelownafiretour.com/
In their own words:
‘On August 16th 2003 at 2 am an early morning lightning storm sparked a fire on Rattle Snake Island, a few kilometers southwest of Kelowna B.C., following a long period with no rain. The fire spread very fast through Okanagan Mountain Park towards Kelowna .
‘On the 16th of August 2003 at 8pm the authorities announced on evacuation alert to the south end of Lakeshore Road, Timberline Road , Rimrock Road and Swick Road in Kelowna. By midnight we had evacuated all of our goats to Sumaq Valley Alpacas in southeast Kelowna .
‘On August 17 th we received an evacuation order and left our house. The fire was spreading very fast through Okanagan Mountain Park .
‘On August 21st Timberline Road was on fire and our goat cheese farm that was being built and almost completed completely burnt down to ashes and our house was damaged.
‘We came back to our house on September 5th 2003 , almost three weeks after we were evacuated.
‘In early October we started to rebuild our goat cheese farm. On February 21st 2004 our first batch of cheese was ready.’
Rind cheese, Camembert type, wrapped with blue- greyish mold with rich flavour.
Rind cheese, small disc shape, Saint Marcellin Type, slightly sharp flavour that gets stronger as time goes by.
Rind cheese, Brie type with walnuts. Half a circle shape and mild flavour
Rind cheese, Brie type, half a circle shape, creamy texture and rich flavour
Rind cheese, heart shape wrapped with vegetable ash. Mild flavour, soft and creamy texture
Hard cheese made from raw goat milk. Italian type, produced in small wheels of 400 grams each. Aged for 3 months
Hard cheese made from raw goat milk. Wrapped with white-greyish mold, Italian type
Semi-hard blue cheese, beautiful creamy flavour with a gentle sharpness
Hard cheese made of raw goat milk. Swiss Emmental type. Produced in big wheels of 12 kg each
Hard cheese, made from raw goat milk. Mild flavour with a horizontal black vein of vegetable ash. Aged for at least 4 month
Grape Leaf Lute:
Rind cheese, log shape, wrapped with grape leaf. Piquant flavour and soft to runny texture
Fresh goat cheese wrapped with a special mixture of herb du province like thyme, tarragon, lavender, and rosemary. Very smooth and creamy texture
Hard cheese made from raw goat milk. The cheese is soaked in red wine for a few days after it has been aged for 4-5 months, which gives it a rich yeasty flavour. Aged for at least 5 months
Gastronomer Anita Stewart is the Founder of Cuisine Canada and a Member of The Jury for the Slow Food Award for the Protection of Biodiversity