Penticton company’s cheese stands alone

Upper Bench Winery and Creamery cheese maker will take part in artisan incubator

Cheese maker Shana Miller says they have experienced strong support from the community since opening the Upper Bench Winery and Creamery last year.

Cheese maker Shana Miller says they have experienced strong support from the community since opening the Upper Bench Winery and Creamery last year.

One of Penticton’s many artisans has been chosen to participate in a special showcase this summer, part of an elite group chosen from across Canada.

Cheese maker Shana Miller of  the Upper Bench Winery and Creamery is one of 20 culinary artisans who will travel to Toronto in June to take part in the first artisan incubator, sponsored by artisan bread makers ACE Bakery.

“When we looked at Upper Bench Winery and Creamery as a company and tasted their delicious Okanagan Sun2 Washed Rind Cheese, it was clear this artisan is driven by a true love of their craft and has all the elements required to excel in today’s culinary industry,” said Anita Stewart, chair of the tastemaker committee.  “Our hope is that by participating in the artisan incubator, Upper Bench Winery and Creamery will gain national exposure and some business insights that will help them grow as a company and achieve the success they desire.”

Miller makes a selection of brie, bleu and rind-washed cheeses, but it was the Okanagan Sun2 (Sun Squared) cheese that really caught the judges’ eyes, or rather, noses.

“The judges could smell the Upper Bench cheeses before we even brought them into the room and they certainly delivered on their bold introduction once the tasting began,” reads the ACE Bakery release. Along with the Sun Squared that caught the judges’ taste-buds, Miller will be taking her King Cole blue cheese to the incubator.

“It really is a labour of love. I do everything hands on. I want to see every step and I really believe in food safety and quality and I am kind of a traditionalist,” said Miller, who was cheese maker for Poplar Grove Winery from 2002-2006. “It’s just the way I am and I think it makes for a really different product, I think it really comes through in the taste.”

Besides Miller and her cheeses, B.C. will be represented by a Vancouver gelato maker along with a balsamic vinegar maker and a sea salt manufacturer, from Cobble Hill and Vancouver Island.

From June 20 to 22, Miller and her fellow artisans will attend a seminar covering branding, marketing and business planning to help them develop their artisan business.   This seminar will feature a variety of industry experts including representatives from BMO Financial Group, lead sponsor of the artisan incubator, who will provide insights into small business financing and management.  The artisans will also host public workshops, network amongst themselves and other industry members and have the chance to be one of two artisans selected for further business development.

“We are going  to be put through workshops, finances, things you need to grow to take it to the next level, to go national,” said Miller. “We are certified to sell our products nationally, we’re just not there yet. Baby steps, we want to do everything right.”

Each of the 20 artisans will be working with their own toastmaster. In Miller’s case, that will be Robert McCullough, an award-winning lifestyle and food publisher, now editor of Random House’s new publication, Appetite.

“We have been talking on the phone, to develop some recipes and then when we go to Toronto, we are going to do some workshops. Then two out of the 20 get selected by these guys to further develop their business plan,” said Miller. “That’s why I did it. I could use some advice on where to go from here.”

The 20 artisans will be recognized at a showcase, given national exposure and have the opportunity to share in the industry insights ACE Bakery has gained over the last 20 years.

Linda Haynes, co-founder of ACE Bakery, said that sponsoring the artisan incubator is a way of giving back.

“When my husband and I started the journey of creating ACE Bakery 20 years ago, we were very lucky to have a mentor who owned his own artisan bakery in New York,” said  Haynes.  “He believed in what we were trying to do, especially around our community investment, so he went as far as to train some of our bakers, help us find used equipment and he even shared some of his recipes with us.  Now it’s ACE’s turn to pay it forward and help other talented Canadian artisans in a similar way.”

The artisan incubator will run from June 20 – 22, 2013.  For more information about the artisans, visit Miller’s cheeses are available at Upper Bench Winery and Creamery,170 Upper Bench Road South, Penticton.