We bring the curtain down on 2021 with the help of friends in fromage recalling the most memorable cheeses that crossed their palates during the past 12 months. We add our favourites, too.
Check out the tasting notes and make up your shopping list for the next visit to a cheese shop or, better yet, right to the cheesemaker.
Let’s begin with cheese educator and sommelier Vanessa Simmons, our BF in fromage:
My most memorable cheese taste for 2021 was one that brought back a sense of normalcy from years past where I hosted a raclette tasting for a group of scuba diving friends to celebrate an amazing diving season and introduce them to this one-of-a-kind experience. It’s the special moments in time that make memories, and these days, we need to take advantage of those where and as we can. I’ve always found delicious Canadian cheese to be the perfect choice to play a starring role in raclette. I picked Tête à Papineau for it’s ooey gooey meltiness, low oil residue, development of “la religieuse” crusty rind and awesome toasted flavor that brings an umami taste to elevate sweet, salty and pickled accompaniments.
Tête à Papineau is a semi-soft washed-rind pasteurized cow’s milk cheese from Fromagerie Montebello in Québec. Aged for about 60 days, under a thin golden apricot grainy rind its taste profile is a pleasant find. Aromas of sweet cream mix with flavours of butter, cream, and mild nut and then graduate to more prominent toasted nut over time and with heat, making it the perfect melting cheese to spotlight in raclette.
For Debbie Levy, cheese educator and a key player in the organization of the Cheese & Butter Competition at The Royal Agricultural Winter Fair, the cheese experience of the year was delivered by Bois de Grandmont from Fromagerie Médard in the Saguenay-Lac Saint Jean region of Québec.
With its wood band and rustic appearance Bois de Grandmont from Fromagerie Médard was a clear winner for me. The spruce bark imparts a delightful woodsy note. That, combined with the soft buttery paste, left me wanting more!
Cheesemaker Rose-Alice Boivin-Côté represents the sixth generation of the Côté family farming the 100 acres of land granted by authorities in the 19th century to mothers and fathers of 12 or more living children. The objective: clear the forest and develop the region.
Ferme Domaine de la Rivière is located in Saint-Gédéon and now also features a bakery. For cheese production, only milk from a herd of 100 Brown Swiss cows is used.
Jackie Armet is a longtime friend in cheese who has worked with me as cheese co-ordinator at The Great Canadian Cheese Festival and then the Canadian Cheese Awards. In between Covid lockdowns, she has had a chance to visit cheese producers in Québec.
One thing that is quite apparent is that having cheese right from the farm or producer is different then buying it from cheese shops, even having it weeks later at home.
Her two favourites of 2021:
Ashen Bell or Cloche Cendré is a pasteurised goat milk cheese in a pyramid format made by Fromagerie du Vieux Saint-François in Laval near Montréal. Lovely smooth flavour without the sour usually associated with goat’s milk. Vegetable ash coats the rind. Delicious to have anytime during the day and extra special with a fresh bagel. The fromagerie is not federally licensed so its cheese is only sold in Québec where it is well known and considered a staple.
The name Fou du Roy from medieval times evokes a jester whose profession was to entertain the king and lords. Fromagiers de la Table Ronde is located in the Laurentians of Québec. Holstein cows produce the milk for this washed-rind, organic, farmstead cheese. Aged 60 days, it takes on flavours of butter, peanut and hay, with the sandy textured rind adding another dimension.
Our own “Wow!” moment in cheese came on a road trip across Northern Ontario when we visited Nickel City Cheese in Chelmsford, 25 minutes northwest of Sudbury, and ordered deep-fried cheese curds at the Poutinerie stand operated by the son of Nicole Paquin, Nickel City’s owner.
The deep-fried curds were outstanding. Crispy and crunchy on the outside, ooey gooey on the inside. Without a doubt the tastiest fried curds ever!
It doesn’t hurt that the poutine stand is steps from the cheese plant where the curds are made fresh several times each week. Close to 20 different types of curds are available at Nickel City.
That road trip across Northern Ontario delivered two other memorable moments in cheese:
—At Fromagerie Kapuskoise in Kapuskasing we discovered that Cheesemaker François Nadeau has made huge strides in developing French-inspired cheeses in a few short years. We were especially taken by Mattagami, a cow’s milk cheese aged two years, named for a river near the fromagerie and inspired by Cantal, one of the oldest cheeses on the planet. Mattagami presents a rich and creamy texture. When aged over a year, it starts to crystalize, further enhancing the flavour of the cheese. Mattagami pairs well with red wine or dry white wines, and can be used to replace Cheddar in recipes.
—Thunder Oak Cheese Farm outside of Thunder Bay was the first producer of Gouda cheese in Ontario, starting in 1955 after the Schep family arrived from the Netherlands. Today, Walter Schep, son of the founders, is the cheesemaker and does he work wonders with the creamy Dutch cheese! We were especially taken by the 4-year Thunder Oak. At that age, Gouda is no longer sweet and creamy but has developed intensity as it becomes harder. Now, it’s bold, sharp and caramelized, almost candy like. We love it!
Our final memorable cheese of 2021 we discovered only a few weeks ago when we started tasting our way through the Advent calendar featuring Québec cheese developed by Fromages CDA. Although we had enjoyed many of the award-winning cheeses produced by Fritz Kaiser in Noyan, Québec, over the years, we had never tasted Noyan, the first cheese he made way back in 1981 when he was a 23-year-old immigrant and about to become a pioneer in the artisan cheese movement in Quebec and, indeed, Canada.
Noyan has a smooth rind that is pinkish white to coppery orange in colour. The cow’s milk cheese has a cream coloured interior, and is both supple yet flexible. The aroma is reminiscent of fresh mushroom. The taste of milk and nuts becomes ever more robust with time.
Stay safe in the New Year, and enjoy Canadian artisan cheese as much as you can.
Georgs Kolesnikovs, Cheese-Head-in-Chief at CheeseLover.ca, has never met a cheese he didn’t like . . . well, hardly ever. Follow him on YouTube at Strictly Cheese.