Think Simmentals are just a beef breed? Think again
By Brandy Harrison
ASHTON ó Robert Oechsliís alpine cheese is not run-of-the-mill supermarket cheddar. Itís got a bite reminiscent of blue cheese thatís mellowed by a creamy texture and it owes much of that distinct taste to a surprising main ingredient: milk from Oechsliís pasture-raised Simmental cattle.
The full-time Ashton farmer grew up in Switzerlandís Simme Valley, where the dual-purpose breed originated. While itís almost exclusively a beef breed in North America, the Canadian Simmental Association roughly estimates that two to five per cent of Simmental producers also milk them. Oechsli has been milking the cattle he imported from Switzerland in the late 1960s for decades.
"Iíve never looked back. Why would I waste half the system?" says Oechsli, who raises a mixed herd of Simmentals, Jerseys, and Ayrshires, south of Ottawa, for organic beef sold at area farmersí markets. He hand-milks several cows to make cheese, which he ages in the Swiss tradition of air drying in a log cheese house.
Oechsliís Simmentals are an average of 10-years-old and still calve and produce 25 litres of high butter fat milk daily, he says.
Management is also a breeze. The animals are low maintenance and so are the vet bills, he says. Oechsli believes itís only a matter of time until farmers see these advantages and heíll milk his Simmentals until they do.
"Itís a bad habit," he says with a laugh. "I grew up that way and I think it has a future. There is an economy in milking Simmentals."