Outstanding cheese bites of 2011

Bliss from Monforte Dairy, an outstanding cheese bite if there ever was one.

We bring the curtain down on 2011 with friends in fromage recalling the memorable cheeses that crossed their palates this year. It’s a tradition at CheeseLover.ca we started last year.

Interestingly, two friends selected the same stand-out:

Lindsay Bandaged Cheddar, Mariposa Dairy:
Lindsay Clothbound was the best new Ontario cheese I tasted this year.  Beautifully balanced flavour, everything you would expect in a great clothbound cheddar in texture and flavour—with a terrific goat bonus at the end.
—Andy Shay, Cheese Buyer, Sobeys Ontario

Lindsay Bandaged Cheddar, Mariposa Dairy:
New to Ontario’s cheese scene and winning awards already, Mariposa’s twist on bandaged cheddar is an aged hard goat’s milk cheese, slightly dry and crumbly, with significant earthy, but distinct “meaty” flavor.
—Vanessa Simmons, Cheese Sommelier, Savvy Company

Vanessa named three other memorable cheeses of 2011:

Jersey du Fjord, Les Bergeries du Fjord:
My memorable cheese this year is definitely the Jersey du Fjord, aged 10 months, a 20-kg English Cheshire-inspired cheese that was one of the 16 Champions at the Canadian Cheese Grand Prix, a first prize and silver medal overall at the Quebec Caseus Awards.
Alain Besré, Fromagerie Atwater and Aux Terroirs

Old World
2011 was my year to celebrate Old World classics. Iconic Spanish cheeses, such as sultry smoky Idiazábal and cool minerally Valdeón were big hits, as were rare treasures from tiny shops in Toronto, including Danish Esrom (Stinky! Umami!) and Portugal’s Serra da Estrela—a tangy, wobbly, grassy wonder.
—Julia Rogers, Cheese Educator, Cheese Culture

Hail to the blues!
At what point do we stop developing our taste buds? For years, I have fought with the blues, only to find it actually works to try something 25 times! I have now come to the other side and crave the blues. No cheese board is complete without them. So what blue converted me? Saint Agur. How can you resist that double creamy, lovely balanced blue served with a beautiful glass of Karlo Estates Van Alstine Port. Hail to the blues! Bring them on in 2012!
—Jackie Armet, Cheese Co-ordinator , The Great Canadian Cheese Festival

Lady Jane, Farm House Natural Cheeses:
I first fell in love with this cheese at The Great Canadian Cheese Festival in Picton when I tried it during one of the pairing sessions.  It looks like the best, most beautiful buttermilk-y cheesecake, with a texture that is such heaven in your mouth. Lady Jane is one of my favourite new finds of 2011.
—Wendy Furtenbacher, Blogger, CurdyGirl

At CheeseLover.ca, the most memorable moment in cheese of 2011 came when we first tasted Laliberté, the triple-cream cheese made with whole organic cow’s milk at Fromagerie du Presbytère. Such rich dairy delight!

Other taste hits of the year just ending:

Bliss, Monforte Dairy:
Cheesemaker Ruth Klahsen never ceases to amaze with her creations. This Brie-style pasteurized sheep’s milk is pure bliss.

Goat Cheese Curds, Monforte Dairy:
Be prepared for bursts of farm flavours when you pop these squeaks into your mouth.

14 Arpents, Fromagerie Médard:
Every time we taste this soft-ripened cheese we get religion and want to make a pilgrimage to the Lac Saint Jean in Quebec where Rose-Alice Boivin Côté and her family work wonders.

—Georgs Kolesnikovs, Cheese-head-in-chief at CheeseLover.ca, wonders what outstanding cheeses he’ll encounter in the New Year.

Making midsummer cheese at midwinter

Brown eggs give Jāņu siers a yellowish look. The cheese is eaten sliced, with butter, never on bread.

The winter solstice today has me in the kitchen, happily making a midsummer cheese, a caraway-speckled fresh cheese called Jāņu siers in Latvian, my native language.

In Latvia, the cheese is a core ingredient in celebrations marking the summer solstice, a festival called Jāņi. I like the cheese too much to eat it only once a year, thus, the tradition of making it at midwinter and giving small wheels as gifts to family and friends at Christmas.

Here’s what I posted about the cheese on June 24, 2010:

“Jāņu siers, what kind of cheese is that?” you ask. It’s a caraway-speckled fresh cheese that I make at home.

Jāņu siers in Latvian, my native language, is, literally, John’s cheese in English. In Latvia, for more than a thousand years, it has been made at the summer solstice to mark the midsummer festival of Jani. That festival was celebrated last night by Latvians all over the world on the eve of St. John’s Day. For many, it’s the most important holiday of the year.

In Latvia, farms are bedecked with garlands of oak and birch branches and meadow flowers. Nearly everyone leaves the city for the open air so that the shortest night of the year can be spent in the merry company of friends in the country. Bonfires are lit, special songs are sung, dancing is a universal element during the festival. The traditional caraway-seed cheese and lots of beer are on the menu.

Tradition has it that this is the one night of the year that you must never sleep. Girls pick meadow flowers to make wreaths for their hair, while men named Jānis get a bushy crown of oak leaves around their heads. (Jānis is the most popular male name in Latvia and comparable to John.) Eating, singing, drinking and dancing ensue the whole night long. Although the sun sets briefly, it doesn’t get dark in the higher latitude of Latvia and everyone must be awake to greet the rising sun in the morning. A naked romp into the nearest lake or river is a must for men—and the women who cheer them on. Young couples like to go into the forest and search for the legendary fern blossom. Or so they say. And when you greet the morning sun, you have to wash your face in the grass’s morning dew, which on Jāņi morning is said to have particularly beneficial properties.

The reality for me this year was that I tried to make more Jāņu siers than before and used a large lobster pot to heat the milk to 90-95C rather than my usual heavy saucepan. Very hard to keep milk near the boiling point for 15 minutes in a thin pot, I discovered to my dismay, without scorching the milk. Thus, three small wheels I made won’t be shared with friends as behind the taste of cream and caraway there is a hint of burnt.

On the bright side, Jāņu siers is always eaten with butter (and never on bread), and I love butter almost as much as cheese. Lay on enough butter and the slight scorched taste dissipates. Consume with enough Zelta, a Latvian lager available in Canada, and the cheese tastes as good as it should.

This midwinter, I went organic–Ooh, la, la!—with all ingredients (milk, pressed cottage cheese, brown eggs and butter) except caraway seeds and salt sourced from Organic Meadows in Guelph, Ontario. And, no, I did not repeat the error of trying to keep milk at 90-95C in a thin lobster pot.

—Georgs Kolesnikovs

Georgs Kolesnikovs, Cheese-Head-in-Chief at CheeseLover.ca, was born in Latvia but has lived in Canada most of his life.

Contest: Most memorable cheese of 2011

What was your most memorable moment in cheese in 2011?

What cheese blew away your taste buds? What was your cheesiest experience in the past year? What cheese did you come to love? Which cheesemonger did you come to cherish? When you think of cheese, what was the highlight of 2011?

It’s a new contest for cheese lovers that starts today!

Click here to submit your memorable moment. Contest closes December 31. Entries will be judged by members of the organizing committee for the 2012 Great Canadian Cheese Festival. Winners will be announced here on January 5 and published soon thereafter.

The first-place prize will be a half-kilo of Époisses Berthaut, courtesy of Glen Echo Fine Foods. Two runners-up each will receive 250 grams of Époisses Berthaut, courtesy of Glen Echo Fine Foods.

The first 25 entries will each receive a complimentary ticket to the Artisan Cheese & Fine Food Fair that takes place on June 2 and 3 during The Great Canadian Cheese Festival in Picton, Prince Edward County, Ontario.

Creamy and powerful, Époisses Berthaut is an extraordinary cheese from Burgundy in France. It’s a washed-rind cow’s milk cheese with a natural red tint and it’s own rich and penetrating aroma to which it owes its renown. The mouth waters at the mere thought . .

Click here and here to read more about Époisses Berthaut.

Époisses Berthaut is distributed by Glen Echo Fine Foods and available at the following Ontario locations while supplies last:

About Cheese
483 Church Street, Toronto

Alan’s Butcher Shop
122 Athol Street, Whitby

Burbs Bistro & Bar
1900 Dixie Road North, Pickering

Caren’s Wine & Cheese Bar
158 Cumberland Street, Toronto

Herma’s Gift Shop
5316 Hwy. 28, R.R. #2, Port Hope

La Salumeria
2021 Yonge Street, Toronto

Nancy’s Cheese
260 Dupont, Toronto

1539 Avenue Road, Toronto

The Art of Cheese
925 Kingston Road, Toronto

The Cheesestore
510 Michigan Avenue, Point Edward

The Milky Whey
118 Ontario Street, Stratford

The Passionate Cooks
68 Brock Street West, Uxbridge

Vincenzo’s Fine Foods
150 Caroline Street South, Waterloo

*Anyone can enter the contest but prizes will be awarded only to residents of Canada.

Toronto’s Cheesewerks opens with free grilled-cheese

Opening-day freebie: Aged and smoked Balderson cheddars are grilled on cracked-peppercorn sourdough and served with roasted-garlic-red-pepper ketchup.

Toronto has more than one steak house, more than one seafood place. Next week, Toronto gets its first cheese house.

Cheesewerks, which bills itself as Canada’s first and only restaurant totally dedicated to placing artisan cheese at the centre of every plate, opens Friday, December 16, at 56 Bathurst Street, at the corner of Bathurst and Wellington.

Free grilled-cheese sandwiches will be served from 12 noon to 2 p.m. on opening day.

Cheesewerks is the brainchild of Kevin Durkee and Tom Douangmixay, partners in life and business.

Kevin and Tom are clearly foodies, with a love for honest, nostalgic comfort food, especially cheese, especially Canadian cheese. Cheesewerks will be a restaurant first but also a retail shop for cheese, charcuterie and other edibles. The restaurant will be licensed, serving Ontario craft beer and wine.

Partners Kevin Durkee (left) and Tom Douangmixay with daughter Taylor.

Here’s a brief Q & A with Kevin who has a background in marketing—which clearly shows in the eye-catching materials and hard-to-miss promotional campaign that have emerged in the run-up to the opening.

Q} What is your philosophy when it comes to food?

A} “Food is all about sharing. Getting someone to try something for the first time. Or reaching across the table to sneak something from a friends’ plate.  Food is what fundamentally connects us all.  The food at Cheesewerks is really about ‘comfort shared.’ Easy to understand, easy to enjoy and incredibility satisfying.”

Q} What role will Canadian cheese play in your operation?

A} “The biggest role. We support 100% Canadian cheese, using Canadian artisan products throughout our menu and retail offering. In fact, we are recognized and endorsed by the Dairy Farmers of Canada. Having the little blue cow as part of our credentials is amazing. The DFC designation is typically offered to producers and retail brands, to showcase their use of 100% Canadian Milk.  I’m not familiar of another “restaurant” that has been awarded this designation. We are very proud of this designation.”

Q} What is your background?

A} “I’m a natural-born foodie. My mother ran a bakery, then a Tea Room in eastern Ontario for over 25 years while I was growing up.  I was her ‘sous-chef’ helping out everywhere could.  It was my after school, summer and part-time job while I was at home.  Leaving for the big city, I entered into the marketing industry but quickly found myself marketing consumer packaged goods and lifestyle brands, many of them food brands.  Over the last few years, the restaurant foodie bug was back and I began to build the Cheesewerks brand.”

Editor’s note: There are two eateries with a cheese-focused mission in the West: The Grilled Cheese Bar located in Janice Beaton Fine Cheese in Calgary and especially outstanding Au Petit Chavignol in Vancouver. If you know of any others, let us know via the comments form below.