Located north of Fergus, Ontario, Best Baa is a small family run operation that makes cheese, yogurt and ice cream from sheep’s milk. Elisabeth Bzikot is the matriarch and cheese maker at Best Baa. She was a farmer all her life and within the last decade has pursued the art of processing sheep’s milk. Unlike any other supplier I have interviewed for this series, Elisabeth is the only person who comes from generations of farming. Ruth of Monforte and Dan and Kristen of Hooked have chef backgrounds and Elaine of La Ferme Black River and Paul and Grace of 100km Foods come from corporate backgrounds. Although the love of food is ubiquitous among all suppliers, Elisabeth’s appreciation for good food and quality ingredients derives from her hard work as a farmer.
Elisabeth grew up farming in England. Unable to make make ends meet, she and her husband moved to Manitoba in 1974 to take advantage of cheap land. After 14 long years in the prairies she came to Ontario, which she finds a lot more pleasant both socially and climate-wise. Her move to Ontario was provoked by a potential market for sheep’s milk. She formed a co-op called Ewenity (pronounced unity) with a few other sheep farmers in order to provide a sustainable market for its members’ milk. Due to a small and difficult market for sheep’s milk on its own, Elizabeth and another one of the Ewenity members took it upon themselves to begin processing the co-op’s milk into yogurt, cheese and ice cream.
Currently, Ewenity exists as a group of farms that provide milk to Best Baa Dairy. As many of the original members of the co-op left, new members, mostly Amish families joined. They were interested in selling their milk, but unable to participate in processing. Best Baa was formed in 2007 by Elisabeth and her family to process and develop sheep’s milk products. Producers are required to have British Milksheep, a breed Elisabeth and Eric brought to Canada that are known for their high milk yield.
Every November Elisabeth holds a meeting with her milk producers and they discuss how the previous season was, their projected yields for the coming season and what they can expect to be compensated for it. Elisabeth’s experience working on farms has taught her the simple lesson that earning money is hard. She ensures that her producers and their animals have good lives. Her producers are all small family run farms that milk approximately 100-120 ewes. This provides them with enough milk to make a fair income while also maintaining a sustainable workload. Best Baa has high standards to ensure the highest quality products. She offers fair return based on sustainable farming methods and high animal welfare practices.
Caring for animals has taught Elisabeth to recognize the amount of effort necessary to produce quality products. She values each drop of milk that she uses to make her wonderful dairy products. And they are wonderful. Elisabeth has learned the craft of cheese making by studying and apprenticing at different institutions and farms in Canada and in France. She has worked hard experimenting with new recipes to create a variety of products. Her ultimate goal is creating a product that consumers can appreciate; from hard work and good pure sheep’s milk comes additive free, hand crafted cheese, yogurt and ice cream.
Best Baa products can be found at various retailers and farmer’s markets around Toronto.
Browse all of Michelle Rabin’s GFR Suppliers Series here.
Michelle Rabin is a Toronto based recipe tester, writer and server. She loves shopping at farmer’s markets, supporting local and sustainable products and of course eating delicious food. Follow her at@michellerabin and check out her blog The Art of Eating Alone.