Chefs compete to make 1,000 grilled-cheese sammies

Chefs Lili Sullivan, Jeff McCourt, Eric Brennan and Norm Airken.
Chefs Lili Sullivan, Jeff McCourt, Eric Brennan and Norm Aitken.

How can we possibly serve grilled-cheese sandwiches to the first 1,000 cheese lovers admitted to The Great Canadian Cheese Festival on Sunday—without it taking forever?

Invite four leading chefs to compete to see who can grill 250 cheese sandwiches the quickest, that’s how. And that’s how Sunday’s Grilled Cheese Chowdown came to be.

CHOWDOWN partner logos smallWith much thanks to Stonemill Bakehouse, Stirling Creamery and these Cheddar & Ale Trail cheese producers:

The four chefs are:

Here’s how the showdown leading the Chowdown will unfold, starting at 12 noon Sunday near The County Pavilion right in the middle of the Cheese Festival.

Picture four support crews doing the prep in the banquet hall and adjacent commercial kitchen, buttering the bread, laying on the cheese slices, getting ready to swing into action. Picture four stations with flat tops set up in the food court area of the Festival.  At the appointed hour, we fire up the propane, bring the flat tops up to heat, the teams bring out the sandwiches.

Four chefs step forward, each at one station. The start signal sounds. The chefs swing into action, seeing who can cook 250 grilled-cheese sandwiches the quickest.

Team members serve the grilled cheese to attendees who find condiments at a dedicated station nearby. Picnic tables are all around for sitting and eating.

The winning chef has $1,000 donated to the charity of his or her choice.

Chefs will be using Prince Edward County Rye produced by Stonemill Bakehouse, pre-sliced at the bakery, and unsalted butter from Stirling Creamery, plus Ontario cheddar, of course.

Admission to the Chowdown is included in the ticket for Sunday’s Artisan Cheese & Fine Food Fair. Vouchers will be issued to the first 1,000 ticket holders admitted which can be turned in for grilled-cheese starting at noon.


2012 Grate Canadian Grilled Cheese Cook-Off

Chef Jason Bangerter, executive chef at O&B Canteen and Luma in Toronto, is the Master of the Melt after winning the 2012 Grate Canadian Grilled Cheese Cook-Off. (CNW Group/Dairy Farmers of Canada (DFC))

Jason Bangerter, executive chef, O&B Canteen and Luma restaurants in Toronto, won the coveted cheese grater trophy for his Niagara Gold Crunch at the 2012 Grate Canadian Grilled Cheese Cook-Off sponsored by Dairy Farmers of Canada.

Jason Bangerter- Niagara Gold Crunch
Niagara Gold Crunch was judged the best grilled-cheese sandwich of 2012 in Canada.

The winning creation was reminiscent of a gourmet grilled ham and cheese, but the chef used shaved prosciutto and baby arugula as a filling between layers of that wonderful Niagara Gold, spread with a thyme, garlic and black pepper mayo and served with pickled grapes. Chef Bangerter wooed the judges’ sense of smell by completing the grilling by sautéing it in a little extra butter, thyme and garlic. Upper Canada’s cheesemaker was on hand to cheer him on.

From L to R, Chefs Michael Howell, Liana Robberecht, Ned Bell, and Jason Bangerter are all smiles after competing in the 2012 Grate Canadian Grilled Cheese Cook-Off in Toronto. (CNW Group/Dairy Farmers of Canada (DFC))

The competing chefs hailed from four provinces of Canada: Ned Bell, executive chef, Four Seasons Hotel Vancouver, British Columbia; Liana Robberecht, executive chef, Calgary Petroleum Club, Calgary, Alberta; Jason Bangerter, executive chef, O&B Canteen & Luma, Toronto, Ontario; and Michael Howell, chef and owner, Tempestous Culinary, Nova Scotia.

Each chef  prepared two different sandwiches to present to the judges. Bangerter’s other entry was a sweet grilled cheese, filled with strawberries, raspberry liqueur, and layered with basil and Canadian Mascarpone. Served with a lavender milk to drink.

Left to right, Chef Bangerter and Chef Bell, with Judge Kevin Durkee.

The judges were Canadian food writers Sue Riedl, Rita DeMontis and Elizabeth Baird, and Kevin Durkee proprietor of CHEESEWERKS restaurant in Toronto.

The competition was fierce, with Chef Robberecht (left) paired with Chef Howell in the first round of the cook-off.

Chef Howell defended his 2011 title with an Apulia Panini and a Crabby Dipper pictured below, made with Canadian Cream Cheese and smoked Canadian Gouda.

Chef Howells Crabby Dipper.
Chef Howell’s Crabby Dipper.

Chef Robberecht’s entries were The Cherry Bomb made with candied cherry tomatoes and rich Triple Cream Brie and thick sizzling bacon, and the Stampede Centennial with Alberta BBQ beef pulled short ribs complemented by Canadian Provolone and Blue cheese.

Chef Bell used local B.C. cheeses such as Island Brie and Courtenay Cheddar served with a homemade fruit chutney in his The Simple and he went from simple to sweet in his entry Ned Bell Pepper Sweet & Spicy  with B.C. Pacific Pepper Spicy Verdelait and Cheddar Red Hot Pepper surrounding tomatoes in the centre.

For recipes and more click here.

—Rebecca Crosgrey is logistics boss of The Great Canadian Cheese Festival


Cheesewerks the Official Grilled Cheese at Cheese Festival

Cheesewerks Original: Aged and double-smoked Balderson cheddars are grilled on cracked-peppercorn sourdough and served with roasted-garlic-red-pepper ketchup.

Cheesewerks has been named Official Grilled Cheese of the second annual Great Canadian Cheese Festival taking place June 1-3 in Picton, in the heart of Prince Edward County, the newest VQA wine region in Canada.

The Toronto grilled-cheese emporium is Canada’s first and only restaurant totally dedicated to placing artisan cheese at the centre of every plate. The Festival is Canada’s only event to showcase Canadian artisan cheese from coast to coast, along with artisan foods, fine wine and craft beer.

“Although we had more than 100 artisan cheeses on hand for sampling and purchase at the inaugural event, our patrons asked for more,” says Georgs Kolesnikovs, the Festival’s founder. “Thus was born the idea for a food court featuring grilled-cheese sandwiches and other eats.”

The Cheese Festival and Cheesewerks share the same mission: promote the best in Canadian cheese.

” We support 100% Canadian cheese, using Canadian artisan products throughout our menu and retail offering,” says Kevin Durkee, co-owner of Cheesewerks. “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.”

Cheesewerks is developing a special menu for the Cheese Festival, but it’s sure to feature some of its more popular offerings such as:

  • Original: Balderson Aged and Double-Smoked Cheddars on Cracked Peppercorn Sourdough
  • Los Angeles: Havarti, Smashed Avacado, Arugula, Citrus Compote on Green Onion Potato Bread

Cheesewerks will be joined in the Festival’s food court by Buddha Dog and Primitive Cuisine during the Artisan Cheese & Fine Food Fair on Saturday and Sunday, June 2 and 3.

Space is limited at historic Crystal Palace and grounds. Save money and avoid disappointment by purchasing tickets online.

Canadian James Kraft churned out a giant, and other cheese news


Canadian James Kraft founded the second largest food conglomerate in the world.

Cheese makes news every day. That’s why we’ve started collecting links to the most interesting news reports of the week on a special page under the News tab at the top of the blog. Check it whenever you visit

Canadian James Kraft churned out a cheese giant

Agropur to make Boursin cheeses in Canada

Far Flung Foods: Cheesemonger to Windsor

A cheesy ad campaign in Portugal

Kraft launches an eBook to promote its Philadelphia cream cheese

An ode to Alberta cheese

Kraft strengthens Mac & Cheese brand with unified packaging

Madame Fromage: Monastic Cheese Board Redux

Natural Pastures Cheese in B.C. gets a loan from Ottawa

Springbank Cheese stars in Taste of Alberta

The secret to great fudge is . . . Kaft Velveeta?

Feds help New Brunswick dairy farmers explore specialty cheese

Brits introduce Blue Brew made with Stilton whey

Sue Riedl: Become a chairman of the (cheese) board

Video: Making mozzarella on an industrial scale

How an ex-policeman became a cheese man

U.S. cheesemakers may face more onerous safety regulations

Eating cheese helps combat dental problems

Video: How to build the perfect cheese board

Asian demand for cream cheese skyrockets

Grilled cheese: Slices of childhood, melted and mobile

Shrimp and grilled-cheese sandwiches make great gourmet fare for Grey Cup

Oka and chicken thighs: a winning pair

Voila! A grilled-cheese sandwich made with Oka and dark chicken. And butter of course.

Significant Other knows I love Oka. She knows I love dark chicken. And she knows I’m crazy about well-buttered grilled-cheese sandwiches. Yes, you guessed it! She combined all three in a surprise lunch that was outstanding.

Although I’ve been in love with Oka for almost 50 years, I’ve never ever had it in a grilled sandwich. Now, it will be part of the reportoire. It melts so easily, turns so gooey, and tastes so wonderful.

The chunks of chicken thighs in the warm cheese reminded me of a fine chicken Parmigiano. The caraway seeds in the light rye were popping with flavour. Sliced cucumbers and grape tomatoes made the perfect side.

—Georgs Kolesnikovs

Georgs Kolesnikovs, Cheese-head-in-chief at, has never met a grilled-cheese sandwich he didn’t like.

Grilled-cheese sandwiches taste better afloat

A grilled-cheese sandwich—with fine cheese, good bread and lots of butter—is great eating just about any time, but when you’re aboard your boat, cruising around Lake Ontario’s Golden Horseshoe for two weeks, it’s golden.

We tried grilling a sandwich using a light rye with caraway with, for the first time, German Limburger cheese (above) and it turned out sharp yet delicious. Later that day, when I talked with Julia Rogers on the phone about The Great Canadian Cheese Festival, I mentioned the Limburger variation and she suggested we sometime try Pont-l’Évêque, the pungent cheese of Normandy. Which we will do.

Another delicious sandwich resulted from the use of St. Albert Extra Old Cheddar. Cheddar is such a natural on toasted bread, but we did expect Extra Old Cheddar to have more oomph. On the other hand, as I believe it’s aged only 22 months, our expectations were unreasonable.

But, combine the St. Albert with a supermarket Blue such as the Danish Rosenborg, and it immediately became our favourite of the cruise. The Blue gives the Cheddar the zing that we love. (We almost always have Rosenborg Castello in the cheese bin. Not so much for snacking or eating as for use in salads. It’s inexpensive and readily available in supermarkets.)

Our all-time favourite grilled-cheese was the Camembert and Blue combination we enjoyed maybe 15 years ago, also on a boat, this time in Southwest Florida. The sharp Blue was the perfect counterpoint to the creaminess of the Camembert, all of it oozing out of crusty French bread, well-buttered, of course!

—Georgs Kolesnikovs

Georgs Kolesnikovs, Cheese-Head-in-Chief at, loves boating as much as he enjoys cheese.

Nova Scotia chef wins Canadian grilled-cheese throw-down

Chefs who fried and fought: Lucas Castle of Holt's Cafe (left), Melissa Craig of The Bearfoot Bistro, Paul Rogalski of Rouge Restaurant and winner Michael Howell of Tempest Restaurant.

Canada’s favourite comfort food received the gourmet treatment at the Dairy Farmer’s of Canada’s first-ever Grate Canadian Grilled Cheese Cook-off today.

Four acclaimed Canadian chefs fried and fought for the title of grilled-cheese champion. They were Melissa Craig, head chef at The Bearfoot Bistro in Whistler, British Columbia; Paul Rogalski of Rouge Restaurant in Calgary; Corbin Tomaszeski of Holt’s Cafe in Toronto (represented by his sous Lucas Castle); and Michael Howell from Tempest Restaurant in Wolfville, Nova Scotia.

Each competitor cooked two original grilled-cheese creations in 20 minutes, in front of a foodie crowd at the Canadian National Exhibition. The dishes, all showcasing Canadian cheese, were then presented to a panel of expert judges, comprised of Lucy Waverman, Rita DeMontis and Corey Mintz, all food writers. Gurth Pretty, cheese author and chair of Ontario Cheese Society, was the engaging master of ceremonies.

Chef Michael Howell: Grilled-cheese champion.

Chef Michael Howell was hailed the champion for his recipe dubbed the “Panini Toscano,” an Italian-inspired creation that featured Nova Scotia Fox Hill Cheese House Havarti accompanied by prosciutto, figs, arugula, lemon aioli and balsamic vinaigrette.

Howell, who has run Tempest Restaurant for the past eight years following stints in Toronto and the United States, is committed to local, sustainable cooking. He believes the competition will inspire Canadians to experiment with locally produced cheese:

“This wonderful cook-off and my fellow chefs have all shown us that making a winning grilled cheese sandwich is simple: all you need is bread, your favourite Canadian cheese, and some imagination.”

Judge Rita DeMontis described the winning creation as being “a burst of flavour. A mouthful of joy!” Waverman praised the calibre of the food prepared by all four chefs, while Mintz declared that the judging might have been “the most difficult thing I’ve ever had to do in my life.”

The task assigned to the attendees was much easier: after watching the chefs battle it out, we were able to sample their tasty inventions. While they were all scrumptious, I was partial to Chef Craig’s decadent French Toast Grilled Cheese, which featured Canadian camembert, figs, and walnut cranberry bread.

All the chefs’ recipes are available online. I plan to recreate them all.

—Phoebe Powell

Phoebe Powell, a roving reporter for, is crazy about grilled cheese. Her fave is aged cheddar on multigrain bread.

Cook-off judges: Rita DeMontis (left), Corey Mintz and Lucy Waverman.

Grilled cheese vs poutine: A great Canadian debate

The Big Cheese at Chesterfields, photographed by the Blackberry Queen aka @CreativeKarinD aka Karin Desveaux-Potters.

Beyond eating cheese straight, I cannot decide which cheese dish I prefer: a grilled-cheese sannich or poutine?

These deep thoughts come to me as I get ready to take my first big bite of the Big Cheese, the grilled-cheese sandwich served at Chesterfields Homegrown Cafe in Picton, in Ontario’s Prince Edward County. Graham Sayers, who owns and operates the funky joint with his wife, Vicky, creates the Big Cheese with three local cheeses, Black River Old Cheddar, Black River Horseradish Mozzarella and Fifth Town Chevre. Grilled on whole grain bread with a pickle on the side, it’s a winner.

—Georgs Kolesnikovs

Georgs Kolesnikovs, Cheese-Head-in-Chief at, can’t wait for the results of the Grate Canadian Grilled Cheese Challenge next week.

Grilled cheese at Clinton wedding and other cheese news

Chelsea Clinton

Cheese makes news every day. That’s why we’ve started collecting links to the most interesting news reports of the week on a special page under the News tab at the top of the blog. Check it whenever you visit

Little Rove des Garrigues makes big mark

Cheese for vegans

Saputo cheese factory sale looms in Vermont

Mangos lighten up grilled cheese

Microbes help make raw-milk cheese safe

Cloak and dairy grilled cheese in Manhattan

Jessica Biel loves her cheese

Cheese washed with beer makes big stink

First breast-milk cheese, now he shows us sausage

How to make giant cheese popovers

Fried cheese curds popular but unhealthy

Cheese booms in Britain

The raw-milk debate Down Under

World Championship Cheese Curd Throw in Wisconsin

African cheese aims for U.S. market

Cheese and the kosher palate

Cooler cheeses for hotter weather

Wine and cheese and blood pressure

Lady Gaga admits she has cottage-cheese thighs

Milk: How much should you drink?