Vancouver Island produces a world-champion brie

Comox Brie from Natural Pastures Cheese of Vancouver Island.

It takes a big person to admit a big mistake.  And I’m, um, a big person.  I can’t believe it! I have made a grievous cheese-based error.  I have somehow overlooked the World Championship Cheese Contest gold medalist—even though it’s made in my own backyard.  Forgive me, cheese gods!

I was in my local market in Vancouver the other day, checking out the cheese—as I always do—when something caught my eye on the package of Comox Brie.  That something was a Gold medal. Yikes! A cheese Gold medal.  You see, I purposefully overlooked this cheese BECAUSE it’s always at my local market. I made the mistake of assuming that anything that could be widely purchased was crap, and that’s just foolish snobbery on my part. Do not be trapped into this assumption. I can’t tell you how many “artisan” type handmade cheeses I have tried that were just kind of meh, and how many widely available cheeses I have tried that really rocked.  I know, it seems wrong, but I must speak the cheese truth.

Comox Brie comes from the town of Courtenay, a small town on Vancouver Island with a close connection to my own hometown, Powell River.  I spent many days in my youth wandering the little streets of this town. Comox is an even tinier little town near Courtnenay. Comox Brie takes its name from this town.  Sweet. I feel almost like cousins.

Natural Pastures Cheese Company is a family owned affair.  The Smith family makes only “artisan cheeses,” all hand-made under the guidance of their very own Swiss  Master Cheesemaker Paul Sutter, originally from Switzerland where he received traditional Swiss training and professional accreditation. For the record, I also would like my very own Master Swiss cheesemaker!

Guest blogger and author Willow Yamauchi.

Natural Pastures sources all the milk from its own farm, Beaver Meadow, as well as a handful of other local farms, all on Vancouver Island. Thus the “terroir” of the  coastal valley environment is evident in this cheese—all the milk coming from a single area.  Interestingly, when I was a child we sometimes ate bear.  If the bear had been feastin

g on berries, the meat was sweet and succulent.  If, however, the bear had been feasting on salmon, the meat was, well, fishy.  This is an example of terroir that I just wanted to share with you, because it’s my blog, and I can say whatever I want!  Ha!

I digress.  The Smith family turned to cheesemaking in 2001 and have made a big splash on the cheese world winning 40-plus prestigious national and international awards. How did I miss this?  Scratches head.  Interestingly, the farms they work with, “Heritage Dairy Farms,” are committed to environmental sustainability including natural wildlife habitat. Their  enhanced stream habitats raise thousands of wild Coho Salmon each year which could be eaten by bears causing a unique salmon terroir.  See, full circle logic.

I digress again.  Natural Pastures Cheese Comox Brie earned the pinnacle World Championship Gold Medal in the 27th biennial World Championship Cheese Contest, a technical evaluation of cheese by an international panel of 22 judges, experts in cheese evaluation. Again, I shall volunteer to be a judge at this event.  It saddens me that I have not been called upon to judge cheese, as I am so clearly qualified!

I digress yet again.  As the first World Championship cheese ever produced from Vancouver Island and the first WCC gold medal Brie ever from western Canada, scoring 98.95, Comox Brie edged out Damafro’s double crème from Quebec (which I previously reviewed and ADORED, OMG, so good).   Comox Brie begins with milk from a herd of Ayrshire cattle raised by Guy Sim, a Canada Master Breeder. Wow, this cheese and the cows all have their own pedigree! I’m assuming this is a pasteurized cheese, but I can’t be sure. I’m about 99.99% certain of this, but as the wrapper has disappeared and it doesn’t say on the website, it’s an educated guess at this point.

I have actually had a hard time reviewing Comox Brie, chiefly because everyone in my family kept eating it before I was ready to sample it.  My small wedge—which was much larger before the swarm of locusts known as my family descended upon it—is a typical white-looking brie: penicillium mold on the outside (yup, the white stuff is mold, deal with it) and creamy buttery interior.  I have wisely chosen to taste this one right before the best before date, when the brie is perfect.  Like women, brie really must be aged in order to achieve true greatness.  You can tell a brie is ready if it’s gooey inside. If it’s kind of dry and chalky, you have a young brie. Put it back! This Comox Brie is gorgeous looking, so creamy and succulent, it smells  faintly of ammonia, mushroom and um, adult pleasures . . . shall I leave it at that?

Here goes….

Mmmmm . . . Oh my lord, now this is a great brie. Like, really, really great. It’s perfectly ripened, look at the picture above, see how it’s gooey all the way through, that’s what you want!  It’s making love to my teeth and tongue.  It’s salty and creamy and slightly uric and carnal . . . Oh yes, this is a carnal little cheese. This is actually quite a naughty little cheese. This is the way I always want brie to be but it rarely is.  It’s absolutely divine.  Yes, this is a Gold Medal winner—all the way.  Scrumptious!  Go and get yourself some of this, stat.  Let it ripen up until the best before date and go for it. You’ll thank me later.

—Willow Yamauchi

Guest blog courtesy of Willow Yamauchi, creater of My Blog of Cheese: My 100-day gastronomic journey into fromage—one day at a time—one cheese at a time. Comox Brief was her 113rd cheese in an ongoing quest for pleasure.

Natural Pastures Cheese is a Featured Cheesemaker at the second annual Great Canadian Cheese Festival taking place this weekend in Picton, in Ontario’s Prince Edward County. Doug Smith, one of three brothers operating Natural Pastures, will be featured in the Breakfast of Champions presentation.

Festival tickets are available online. Buy in advance and save money for cheese purchases.

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  1. Hi Willow,
    Thanks for the review of our Comox Brie. I’m happy to see you and your family enjoyed it. This cheese was a Gold Medal winner at the 2008 World Cheese Championship, not at this years competition. I hope you can make it to Vancouver Island some day so you can visit our plant and sample a few more of our cheeses.

  2. Please note this competition is The Wisconsin World (?) Cheese Award and not in any case the World one which include delegation from France, Swiss, Italy, Spain… held in London.

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