Galina Beilis was an avid cheese eater long before she started making and selling her own tasty creations in the Manitoba market.
"One day we just woke up in the morning and suddenly we're thinking, 'let's try to do it,'" she said. "You can't find [these cheeses] in the stores."
Beilis is from Belarus but lives in Winnipeg. A little over three years ago, she became inspired to resurrect forgotten cheeses created by her Belarusian ancestors.
"All of us, we forgot about cheese that our grandmas made at home many, many years ago," she said. "They didn't know anything about [putting] colour in the cheese or other chemicals that make shelf life longer."
Tvorog, the main product Beilis has been selling and working on, is one of those cheeses. It's a soft, mild cheese with a slightly sour flavour traditionally made in Eastern Europe.
"These cheese are like bread for us," Beilis said. "We ate [them] every day."
'A lot of work'
While she attests that her recipes produce delicious cheeses, Beilis said she is still perfecting the formula. It takes about six hours and "a lot of work" to develop Tvorog, which she makes at the University of Manitoba's dairy plant facility.
Plan manager John Thoroski said Beilis got in touch with facility management through the Dairy Farmers of Manitoba.
"Sometimes they'll send dairy entrepreneurs to us to scale up some production and look at the possibility to see if it can reach commercial potential," he said.
"Galina came to us with the idea to make this old style Eastern European cheese, Tvorog, scaling it up to make it in bigger batches."
Small-scale dairy businesses like Beilis's pay for access to the plant's pasteurizers, cheese-making vats and other machines. The production plant is meant to help entrepreneurs avoid the overhead cost on industrial equipment necessary to produce cheese on a commercial scale.
"We took her recipe and tried to scale it up in our dairy, speeding it up in the process, because the old way to make it takes a bit longer — we can do it quicker and more [economically]," Thoroski said.
The cheese is manufactured under strict standards in line with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency's guidelines.
What goes into Tvorog
In terms of what goes into Tvorog, Beilis's has a no-frills approach to her creations.
"It's just milk and culture, nothing more," she said.
What makes Tvorog special in particular comes down to its simplicity and a special culture used in the making of the cheese, Beilis said.
"It's a very simple cheese…. It's very healthy, no preservatives — it's clean," she said.
A plain block of 250-gram Tvorog goes for about $6. The flavoured stuff — infused with olives and chili flakes, or dill and garlic, to name a few options — costs about $7.
Beilis's dream is to see her cheeses start to get picked up by more local restaurants and grocers. Three or four restaurants, including Black Rabbit and Nick's on Broadway, currently have Beilis's cheese on the menu.
It can also be found at select farmers' markets, Food Fares and other spots around Winnipeg.