Despite multiple entries from large cheese producers such as Saputo and Agropur, Quality Cheese of Vaughan, Ontario, collected the most first-place ribbons—four in all—with Zerto Fresh Mozzarella, Ricotta, Borgonzola and Burrata.
Perhaps as an indication of things to come, a new artisan cheesemaker, Primeridge Pure of Markdale, Ontario, won a second and a third with Grey Rush, a creamy dessert cheese.
The Grand Champion, Aged Lankaaster, is matured to a minimum of 10 months. Margaret Peters-Morris tells CheeseLover.ca. The cheese entered in the competition was made in June, 2010, therefore, it was 16 months mature.
Aged Lankaaster is a firm cheese, traditional rind, characteristic gouda “eyes” present, paste is dark, laden with crystals, with lovely butterscotch, pineapple and lactic notes, the veteran cheesemakers says. This cheese lingers in one’s mouth and is very suitable to use as cheese to make any “gratin” in culinary preparations.
Here are the top three in the variety class of the annual competition:
Thus, it came to pass that we had one champion and five winners spread out before us on Friday, as you can see in the photo. We would have liked more champions but only Oka L’Artisan was available at St. Lawrence Market.
You’ll note the lack of wine glasses. After all, it was a working lunch. Just cheese, with sides of charcuterie, walnuts, grapes, bread, and, in the front right, Bleu d’Auvergne from France for dessert.
Here’s how the three of us informally ranked the award-winning Canadian cheese we tasted:
Outstanding! If this what a cheddar that wasn’t even entered tastes like, we cannot wait to get our hands on Perron’s Doyen, Grand Champion, and 120th Anniverdsary Reserve, Reserve Champion.
Fromagerie Perron definitely will be on our list of cheesemakers to visit when we next travel on the north shore of the St. Lawrence River in Quebec. Fromagerie Perron is located on Lac Saint Jean in the Saguenay region.
It didn’t take us long to consume the entire small wheel of Champfleury. We loved the fruity creaminess of this washed-rind soft cheese but were stunned afterward to read on the label that modified milk ingredients (MMI) are used in making the cheese.
Champfleury is marketed as an “authentic fine cheese” in the Agropur Signature collection. Hmmm . . .
No longer made by Trappist monks but still one of Canada’s most recognizable and noteworthy cheeses. Agropur cheesemakers make the cheese in the former Cistercian abbey. Whether the recipe is the original is arguable.
There’s nothing quite like spending an evening nibbling on cheese and sipping wine with good friends. We invited two couples to join us for a five-course tasting menu last night. Here’s how it went down:
Riopelle de l’Isle:
One of the great cheeses of Canada, it’s made from raw cow’s milk on a small island— Île-aux-Grues—in the middle of the St. Lawrence River about 40 miles down-river from Quebec City. Riopelle de l’Île is named after Quebec’s most famous painter, Jean-Paul Riopelle, who lived on the island for two decades until his death in 2002.
He lent his name to the cheese, and provided the artwork that adorns the packaging, on the condition that one dollar for each wheel sold by Fromageries Île-aux-Grues would be donated to the island youth foundation.
A soft triple-cream cheese with a bloomy rind, Riopelle melts in your mouth and has a wonderful taste of hazelnut, mushroom, a hint of butter and a pinch of salt.
I’m so proud of “my” cheese because the two times I’ve shared it, guests have said it was their favorite. This is the Bonnie & Floyd that I was given in November after spending a day learning how cheese is made at Fifth Town Artisan Cheese in Prince Edward County.
Despite my difficulties in finding a spot in our apartment building to age the cheese at the right temperature and the right humidity, my Bonnie & Floyd turned out to be a real treat. Just like the cheese aged at Fifth Town, mine has a smooth paste with complex yet mild mineral flavours. Barely salty near the rind, and somewhat nutty, it provides almost sweet lactic flavours near the centre.
When I first cut into the wheel, I couldn’t believe how fresh and milky it tasted, a testament to how well the ewes who gave the milk are treated, and the speed with which the milk moves from farm to cheesemaker.
Second course/Warming up
Baked Woolrich Chevrai:
My sister gave us a lovely baking dish for Christmas together with a small log of Woolrich Dairy goat cheese and assorted herbs. After 20 minutes in the oven at 350F, it was a striking addition to the assortment of flavours on our menu.
It was nearing its best-before date, so was well aged, and most of our guests laced it with honey. With a Parisian-style baguette, it was a light and tangy treat.
Third course/Cheddar chowdown
Kraft Cracker Barrel vs 5-year Wilton vs 6-year Black River:
We had purchased the Kraft “aged cheddar” as it was on sale at a ridiculously low price at Wal-Mart but had not yet found a way to eat it; thus, my bright idea of blind-tasting the factory-made cheddar against two artisan cheddars.
It was no contest. Even sitting on the board, it was obvious which was the Kraft, but we proceeded with the blind-tasting anyway as it provided an entertaining twist to the proceedings.
The five-year Wilton is a very nice cheddar. Perhaps because it has rested in our refrigerator for four months, we could spot the occasional crystal developing.
Guernsey Girl is a delightful new cheese that is unique to Canada and deserves its own blog entry (which will come after we have another chance to try frying the cheese. Yes, this cheese is fried or grilled before it is served).
It’s an outstanding creation of Upper Canada Cheese using the rich milk provided by a herd of Guernsey cows on the Comfort family farm near Jordan, a Niagara Peninsula village.
When we think of a rich and powerful cheese at our house, we think Époisses Berthaut from Burgundy in France. It’s a washed-rind unpasteurized cow’s milk cheese with a natural red tint and its own rich and penetrating aroma.
It’s described as an iconic cheese in tasting notes published by Provincial Fine Foods: “Époisses is powerfully scented, soft-to-runny, and can sometimes deter people with its frank, leathery, animal aromas. Once past the lips, Époisses is spicy, earthy, salty and rich, but not nearly as potent as one might expect.”
When Cabrales, the great blue of Spain, is well-aged, it is fully potent—on the verge of overpowering the faint of heart. Our Cabrales was like that, even with a chutney or honey or fig jam, so ripe and so intense.
I had told Geoff, a longtime cheesemonger at Chris’s Cheesemongers in St. Lawrence Market, that we wanted a strongh finish to our evening—and did he deliver! Geoff carved our wedge from a wheel that was obviously fully ripe. Heck, half the piece was dark blue!
Our guests, who were as satiated was we were by evening’s end, barely tasted the Cabrales. Meaning Significant Other and I, over the coming week, must find ways to savour the strongest cheese we’ve ever tasted—or it will simply become too powerful, even for strong cheese lovers like us.
There was a loud groan from our full guests when we presented one additional variation on the evening’s cheese theme—cannoli—but six of the little suckers were devoured within minutes.
For starters, Henry of Pelham Cuvee Catharine Rose Brut and an excellent Pillitteri Gewurtzraminer Reisling. Then, Henry of Pelham Pinot Noir and a delightful Conundrum California White Wine (blend). Concluding with Casa dos Vinhos Madeira and a knockout Cockfighter’s Ghost Shiraz that was a match for our Cabrales.
With plenty of San Benedetto carbonated mineral water to stave off dehydration.
Red pepper jelly, Latvian chutney, Kalamata olives, Ontario honey and fig jam from France. Green grapes and strawberries. Honey dates, dried apricots and walnuts. Kashi crackers, multi-grain flatbreads and plain crackers. Parisian-style baguette and a multi-grain baguette.
We also offered tomato slices drizzled with Spanish olive oil and Modena balsamic vinegar and topped with a fresh basil leaf which worked exceptionally well to counter the buttery richness of Guernsey Girl.
One couple brought us two additions to our menu:
Le 1608 is a relatively new creation of Laiterie Charlevoix. A semi-firm, washed rind cheese, Le 1608 uses milk from Canadienne cows whose ancestors were brought to Canada from France starting in 1608. Most of these hardy animals are unique to the Charlevoix region of Quebec.
As Sue Riedl wrote in The Globe and Mail about a year ago, “Le 1608 develops a pale orange exterior that is washed with brine while ripening. Developing a full, barny aroma, the paste tastes nutty at the rind and has a complex, fruity flavour that emerges from its melt-in-the mouth texture. The pleasant tang of the long finish clinches this cheese’s spot as a new Canadian favourite.”
We couldn’t agree more.
What a mouth-watering, medium-strong, creamy blue cheese made from pasteurized cow’s milk in Auvergne, France!
Saint Agur was the perfect counter-point to our Cabrales. Kind of like a softer and finer Roquefort and, due to its double-cream nature, easy to spread on a plain cracker. (The next day, it tasted even better, leaving an almond-like impression.)
In retrospect, 11 cheeses over five courses were too much of a good thing. Four courses of maybe eight or nine cheeses would have been just fine.
The experts usually say allow for 400 grams of cheese per person when serving cheese as a meal. We provided 485 grams per person. When all was said and done, close to 400 grams were consumed on average per person.
Georgs Kolesnikovs is Cheese-Head-in-Chief at CheeseLover.ca.
I’ve been mothering a wheel of Bonnie & Floyd for three months now, and I can tell you that aging cheese properly during a Canadian winter isn’t easy, especially when one lives in a high-rise apartment building.
I received the wheel of my favorite Ontario sheep’s-milk cheese at the conclusion of a Cheesemaker for a Day program at Fifth Town Artisan Cheese in Prince Edward County in late November. Instructions from the caveman at Fifth Town, affineur Phil Collman, were simple: Age the cheese at a temperature of 12 to 15 degrees Celsius, with humidity between 80 and 90 percent, and wash it weekly with a mild brine.
Easier said than done in an apartment building when outside temps drop to below -10 for weeks on end. Every corner of our apartment is of course too warm. Even our storage cage in the basement is too warm. And every corner of the underground garage is freezing or close to it. I finally found an unused, cluttered utility room where the temps at least were in the 5 to 10-degree range. By storing the cheese in a large plastic container with wet paper towels I could maintain the humidity at close to ideal, but there was little I could do about the cold. I’ve been able to average only 8.3 degrees over the 13 weeks so far.
In the purpose-built cave at Fifth Town, Phil Collman ages Bonnie & Floyd for three months. When I informed him of the conditions here, Phil suggested I take four months, noting that the humidity was more important than the temperature. So, I’ve been visiting the cheese twice a week to keep the paper towels wet—and the humidity holding at 80 percent.
Four months passed a few days ago since the wheel was made. I’m giving the cheese another two weeks until a special gathering of our extended family. I’ll be on tenterhooks when the tasting begins.
Georgs Kolesnikovs is Cheese-Head-in-Chief at CheeseLover.ca.
After I wrote about the Twelve Cheeses of Christmas, it dawned on me we may never ever again be as cheese rich as we are right now at our house. In addition to the delightful dozen, here’s what’s resting at 4C and high humidity in our fridge:
People who know their cheese often say Parmigiano-Reggiano delle Vacche Rosse is the best Parmigiano-Reggiano there is.
Parmigiano-Reggiano from Red Cows, in English translation, is made from the exceptionally rich and creamy milk of the original milk source for Parmigiano-Reggiano, the Pezzata Rossa, a breed almost extinct by the by the late 1980s, writes Stephanie Zonis in The Nibble, an excellent online food magazine. Like the Jersey cow, its milk has a higher butterfat content and more milk proteins, but it isn’t a high-yielding cow. After the Second World War, as the old artisan ways began to succumb to efficiency, it was replaced by the higher-yielding Friesian. The result: a less-rich Parmigiano. The other result: The breed began to die out, since only a few committed farmers would keep less profitable herds. Over the last 25 years, some herds have been reestablished, thanks in part to the Slow Food Movement, and are now being used to produce small quantities of this high-end Parmigiano-Reggiano.
The combination of higher butterfat and more proteins allows for the production of a cheese that is better suited for a longer period of aging, producing a 30-month-old cheese instead of the 24-month aging period of most other Parmigianos. The extra aging yields a cheese that is uniquely nutty, fruity and grassy, with a flavor that is richer than most Parmigianos. The texture is more creamy, even though the cheese is aged for a much longer time (The rule of thumb is, the longer the cheese is aged, the drier the paste). This is a special-occasion cheese: Serve it as the cheese course, in chunks, drizzled with 25-year-old (or older) balsamic vinegar, The Nibble writer recommends.
We haven’t taken our first nibble yet, as other cheeses needed to be eaten first, but I’ll provide tasting notes when we do.
Where we live out in the boonies, the nearest cheesemonger is 45 minutes away. When the urge for cheese strikes, sometimes I’ll cruise Loblaws or Metro. That’s how I must have ended up with this Agropur product. Obviously, the urge was not that great as the Camembert is still with us, two weeks beyond its best-before date.
So, why are we not eating any sheep’s milk cheese and have inventoried only one goat cheese?
Quite frankly, after I spent a day at Fifth Town Artisan Cheese in November, I brought home so much sheep and goat that by the holidays we had exceeded our quota. In other words, we over-ate.
But the best is still to come. As a bonus for learning to be a cheesemaker for the day, each participant in the program was allowed to pick a 2-kilogram wheel of any Fifth Town cheese to take home. As Bonnie & Floyd is a favorite of mine, my choice was easy. As a result, I’m doing my best, despite the cold in all storage spaces in our condo building, to age my wheel for a Valentine’s Day treat.