FLASHBACK FRIDAY: Originally posted on June 28, 2010
Thank goodness the G20 madness in Toronto is over. The politicians have departed, the hooligans are in jail, the barricades are coming down. As far as we can see, the only bright note was the promotional opportunity for Canadian cheese.
The main meal for the assembled world leaders in the Royal York Hotel began with an appetizer of fresh Atlantic seafood followed by custom-aged filet mignon from the Spring Creek Ranch in Alberta.
They then sampled a selection of four Canadian cheeses: Blue Juliette from Salt Spring Island Cheese in British Columbia, a Toscano from Ontario’s Monforte Dairy, and two Quebec artisan offerings—Le Belle de Jersey from Les Bergeries du Fjord and La Fleurmier from Laiterie Charlevoix.
(No snide remarks, please, about the preponderance of soft “girly” cheeses at this alpha-male feast.)
Each course was paired with red and white Canadian wines, and the food will be served on white bone Villeroy & Boch china. A dessert buffet featured Nanaimo bars and the work of two Toronto chocolatiers.
Julia Rogers of Cheese Culture, a leading expert on Canadian cheeses, and foreign fromage, too, was delighted for the cheese producers involved:
“Bravo to the creative Canadian cheesemakers who’ve managed to score some face-time with the world’s leaders. The selection features delicate, surface-ripened Fleurmier, from Québec’s dairy mecca: the Charlevoix region. Belle de Jersey highlights the rich milk of English Channel Island cows—a rare breed in Canada—in a supple, Reblochon-esque washed rind. B.C.’s contribution comes from David Wood, whose Salt Spring Island cheeses are appreciated across the country. Blue Juliette is a petite, pillowy round with earthy, mineral flavours and a steely blue-grey complexion. Rounding out the plate, and giving it some muscle, is Monforte Dairy’s Toscano, a firm and forthright sheep milk offering that despite its Ontario origin, expresses Central Italian caccio di pecora typicity.”
Here are links to more information about the G20 cheese plate:
We bring the curtain down on 2013 with friends in fromage recalling the memorable cheeses that crossed their palates this year. In alphabetical order, mainly, here are 22 outstanding cheeses of the year just ending—plus new Canadian fondues and a pilgrimage cheese lovers must make.
It is surprising, even to me, that two of my three faves of 2013 are flavoured cheeses, which to me is a testimony to high-quality cheesemaking. Flavours that meld with the cheese substrate where the cheese and the flavour counterpart do a sublime dance. —Janice Beaton, Owner, Janice Beaton Fine Cheese, FARM Restaurant
Ruckles, Salt Spring Island Cheese Company
David Wood knocks it out of the park, again. In a sea of so many pedestrian offerings of marinated goat cheese, Ruckles is in class all its own. Firm yet silkily textured cylinders of cheese are bathed in grapeseed oil which is speckled with a mix of thyme, rosemary, chives and garlic, in perfect proportion.
Chili Pecorino, The Cheesiry
The Chili Pecorino is one of my favourite offerings from Rhonda Zuk Headon’s repertoire. The balance of chilis embedded in this toothsome cheese provides a gentle heat that lingers on the palate while the nutty, olive flavour of this sheep milk cheese still holds its own. Not an easy accomplishment but Rhonda pulls it off!
Cheese fondue, the melted-cheese dish popular some years ago, is making a comeback—but without the classic ingredients of Comté, Beaufort, Gruyere or Emmental.
One of my best bites was a fondue made from Victor et Berthold, a beautiful washed rind from Fromagerie Du Champ a la Meule in Québec. This cheese made one of the most delicious fondues of all time. It made me very happy. —Wendy Furtenbacher, Blogger, CurdyGirl, Cheesemonger, Sobeys Queensway
Outstanding cheese of 2013
Alfred Le Fermier (24 months), Fromagerie La Station de Compton
Alfred Le Fermier is a true, rustic, organic, raw cow’s milk farmstead cheese made in small batches, pressed and cooked, washed/turned by hand, as a way of life on the farm. It has a European style, but with local terroir, as a result of choosing closely the hay from their local Estrie region. Note heavy woodsy, herbal and mild floral aromas, with layers of milky, grassy and buttery complexity on the palette, more pronounced when aged for 24 months. —Vanessa Simmons, Cheese Sommelier, Savvy Company
Beau’s Abbey StyleCheese, Gunn’s Hill Artisan Cheese
A delicious marriage of Gunn’s Hill Artisan Cheese of Woodstock, Ontario, with Beau’s All Natural Brewing of Vankleek Hill, Ontario. This sumptuous semi-soft cheese is washed with a seasonal beer from Beau’s. Beer and cheese together, pure bliss! —Gurth Pretty, Senior Category Manager, Deli Cheese, Loblaw Companies
Brebichon, Les Fromages du Verger
I simply adore Brebichon, a farmstead sheep milk cheese that is oh so creamy, delicate and lucious. This apple juice washed cheese is an absolute must buy on every stop I make at Fromagerie Atwater in Montréal. —Wendy Furtenbacher, Blogger, CurdyGirl, Cheesemonger, Sobeys Queensway
Chemin Hatley, Fromagerie La Station de Compton
Made with organic raw milk from a closed herd of fourth-generation family-farmed cows, this cheese readily fulfills its potential. Supple and fragrant, with yeasty and savoury aromas, and a long layered finish. —Julia Rogers, Cheese Educator, Cheese Culture
Dragon’s Breath Blue, That Dutchman’s Cheese Farm A rare find and 2013 Canadian Cheese Grand Prix finalist, Dragon’s Breath Blue is a closely guarded family secret. Unique in shape and size, these small cylinders of blue cheese are aged only a few weeks then coated with wax for ripening another 2-6 months. The flavor and texture varies by season, more buttery/creamy in the summer months with higher fat content in the milk. Note sharp blue flavor, moist texture with fruity notes, and little blue veining depending on exposure to air. More than worth the shipping charges! —Vanessa Simmons, Cheese Sommelier, Savvy Company
Figaro, Glengarry Fine Cheese
I choose Figaro from Glengarry–not that I don’t love (and love the Global award!) for the Lankaaster Aged but I kind of forgot about the amazingly fresh and delicate qualities. And we found each other again this year–lucky for me. —Sue Riedl, Cheese Columnist, The Globe and Mail
Fleur des Monts, La Moutonnière
Not as consistent as one might want, though still an ambitious and expressive farmstead cheese modeled loosely after Manchego, but more floral, bright and pungent. —Julia Rogers, Cheese Educator, Cheese Culture
Grizzly Gouda, Sylvan Star Cheese
I’ve served the Grizzly Gouda from Sylvan Star many times at events or at home this year and it is outstanding in its complexity, looooong finish and “ability to wow” factor. —Sue Riedl, Cheese Columnist, The Globe and Mail
La Sauvagine Réserve, La Maison Alexis de Portneuf
Somehow the cheesemakers at Alexis de Portneuf improved their already mouth-watering, soft, mixed rind La Sauvagine cheese. What did they do? Add cream to it, making it a triple crème. Grab some of this cheese while you can. A limited amount of this OMG mouth experience was created. —Gurth Pretty, Senior Category Manager, Deli Cheese, Loblaw Companies
Lankaaster Aged, Glengarry Fine Cheese Supreme Global Champion at the 2013 Global Cheese Awards, this firm to hard cow’s milk cheeses comes shaped in a loaf or wheel, covered in a waxy rind, and is a Gouda-style after Dutch farmstead cheeses. It’s a rich, dense, chewy cheese with intense buttery, fruity, caramelized nutty flavors that linger forever. —Vanessa Simmons, Cheese Sommelier, Savvy Company
Le Vlimeux, Fromagerie Le Mouton Blanc It’s not hard to see how this multiple Caseus award-winning cheese is smokin’ hot! Vlimeux is a firm, pressed, uncooked raw sheep’s milk cheese, with a hard, waxy, glossy, caramel-hued rind. Smoke, salt and nut permeate the interior overlaying the cheese’s natural sweet milky flavors in a perfect complement. —Vanessa Simmons, Cheese Sommelier, Savvy Company
Maple Cheddar, Black River Cheese
What could be more Canadian than Black River’s Maple Cheddar? This cheese provides a bite that is perfectly balanced between sweet and savoury, and just —Wendy Furtenbacher, Blogger, CurdyGirl, Cheesemonger, Sobeys Queensway
Okay, this is part of the cheese but my wife and I cannot resist adding small cubes of it into our soups, chili, tomato sauce and risotto. The dried rind softens in the broth, releasing its flavour and becomes chewable. We love it so much that we actually have to buy some from our local grocery store. —Gurth Pretty, Senior Category Manager, Deli Cheese, Loblaw Companies
Pont Blanc, Fromagerie Au Grés Des Champs
Pont Blanc is a soft, lactic, surface ripened cow milk cheese. A rare find outside the farmstead retail store, the skin-like rind on this beauty reminds of intricate ivory lace, while the dense interior has the texture of a soft cream sandwich and moist piece of cheesecake. Note pronounced flavors and aromas of fresh sweet milk, and grass that linger and linger. —Vanessa Simmons, Cheese Sommelier, Savvy Company
Ricotta, Quality Cheese The 2013 Canadian Cheese Grand Prix Grand Champion, the humble Ricotta from Quality Cheese reigned supreme, winning against more than 225 of Canada’s best cheeses, a first ever for both an Ontario cheese and a fresh category cheese. Fresh, creamy, melt in your mouth Ricotta (which means re-cooked in Italian, as it’s made from the leftover whey after making other cheese). Very light, but rich, and very versatile as a simple cheese to eat with a variety of garnishes/condiments or used in cooking. —Vanessa Simmons, Cheese Sommelier, Savvy Company
Taleggio, Northern Italy
Taleggio (1996 Italian DOP) has and will always be in my Top 10. It’s a semi-soft, washed rind, smear-ripened Italian cheese that is named after Val Taleggio where it has been made since the 10th century. The cheese has a thin crust and a strong aroma, but its flavour is comparatively mild with an unusual fruity tang. —Alain Besré, Fromagerie Atwater and Aux Terroirs
Water Buffalo Mozzarella, Old West Ranch
James Meservy deserves a medal for perseverance! He has faced many challenges in the last two years in his attempt to bring high quality Old West Ranch Water Buffalo Mozzarella to the artisan Canadian cheese market. When it is in its finest form, it is dense and velvety without being the least bit rubbery and sweetly milky with a tangy underpinning that keeps us reaching for more. —Janice Beaton, Owner, Janice Beaton Fine Cheese, FARM Restaurant
Only one imported cheese—Taleggio—made the 2013 most memorable list, but Julia Rogers offers this recommendation:
As far as international picks go, I’d suggest that any cheese lover make a pilgrimage to Neil’s Yard Dairy in London. The pleasures are too many to enumerate, but this is mecca, without a doubt. Here’s just one photo. And, yes, I tasted virtually everything in the shot. —Julia Rogers, Cheese Educator, Cheese Culture
We bring the curtain down on 2012 with friends in fromage recalling the memorable cheeses that crossed their palates this year. In alphabetical order, here are 20 outstanding cheeses of the year just ending—and one terrific cinnamon butter:
Any cheese made by Gunn’s Hill Artisan Cheese
Regardless if I’m eating his curds or the harder aged cheeses Shep Ysselstein is best known for, his cheeses never disappoint, they’re always outstanding bites to remember. He is truly a talented cheesemaker to watch. —Wendy Furtenbacher, Blogger, CurdyGirl
Avonlea Clothbound Cheddar, COWS Creamery
I was in P.E.I in the summer and finally got to meet Scott Linkletter, owner of COWS Creamery, and Armand Bernard, the cheesemaker. Ate Avonlea Clothbound Cheddar (still good everytime I have it) looking out over New London Bay as the sun was setting. —Sue Riedl, Cheese Columnist, The Globe and Mail
Bella Casara Mozzarella di Buffala, Quality Cheese
Discovered shortly after my trip to Italy when I was experiencing serious fresh cheese withdrawals. Enjoy the fresh, mild, milky flavor and smooth silky texture of this oh-so-versatile cheese made from Ontario buffalo (Yes, water buffalo) milk. The small, soft, delicate hand-pulled rounds pair perfectly with both sweet and savory accoutrements. Click here for more tasting notes. —Vanessa Simmons, Cheese Sommelier, Savvy Company
Black River 8-Year Cheddar, Black River Cheese
While many Black River cheddars have a characteristic bitterness, the 8-year has lost this. It is incredibly thick and smooth in the mouth, rich and nutty, with a hint of caramel. —Andy Shay, Cheese Buyer, Sobeys Ontario
Brie Paysan, Fromagerie de la Presbytere
It’s been consistently beautiful this year, especially when ripe. If purchased, folks should hold it for an extra while. This is my favourite example of “vegetal” notes in a cheese. —Vanessa Simmons, Cheese Sommelier, Savvy Company
Downey’s Cinnamon Honey Butter
My personal favourite this year is Downey’s cinnamon butter. It was a breakfast favourite of my youth, and I knew the family that made it in upstate New York. Through sleuthing with Gerry Albright and Sue Riedl, it turns out this is a heritage Canadian product! Many people remember McFeeter’s Honey Butter. The McFeeters licenced honey butter to the Downeys in Eastern Ontario. The Downeys later moved the company to New York. Whether you like the history or not, it is an awesome breakfast treat on toast. Sobeys is very happy to offer this heritage Ontario product again—now made in Pennsylvania. —Andy Shay, Cheese Buyer, Sobeys Ontario
Figaro, Glengarry Fine Cheese
My favourite Canadian cheese of late has been Figaro, by Glengarry Fine Cheese, because it is unique (though I believe modeled after a style of Robiola) and risk-taking (very moist, difficult to package and transport) and absolutely delicious (yeasty aromas, complex texture, musky finish). —Julia Rogers, Cheese Educator, Cheese Culture
Golden Blyth, Blyth Farm
A delicious, mild goat’s milk Gouda produced by Paul van Dorp near Blyth, Ontario —Gurth Pretty, Senior Category Manager, Deli Cheese, at Loblaws
Grey Rush, Primeridge Pure
I’m a sucker for the plain as it is so versatile, but I find myself craving the chili, and this summer I was blown over by the frozen cheesecake made with their exceptional cream cheese. —Wendy Furtenbacher, Blogger, CurdyGirl
Sensations Applewood Smoked Cheddar, aged 2 years, Sobeys
A thermalized cheddar made in Québec. Like a campfire, you can taste the nuance. Would be perfect with a single malt! —Andy Shay, Cheese Buyer, Sobeys Ontario
Sorcière Bien Aimée, Fromagerie Les Folies Bergères
A soft, unctuous goat’s milk cheese is new to the luxurious lineup of Fromagerie Les Folies Bergères cheeses. Click here for my tasting notes. Again, keep until it’s soft and ooey-gooey good. —Vanessa Simmons, Cheese Sommelier, Savvy Company
Wendy’s Own Camembert
A sheep’s milk Camembert that I made in a class at George Brown taught by Ruth Klahsen. I was not expecting success, but one out of the five cheeses I affineured actually turned out well. I was really proud of myself. —Wendy Furtenbacher, Blogger, CurdyGirl
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
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.
Julia Rogers is a cheese professional, wine educator and event animator—recently a guest judge on Top Chef Canada—and one of the featured tasting seminar presenters at The Great Canadian Cheese Festival.
Her extensive knowledge of food and food lore has been formed by studying, teaching and traveling. She is passionate about cheese and dedicated to sharing her discoveries with others.
Years of tasting, encounters with cheesemakers, and diverse retail, catering and consulting experience have given her a thorough understanding of cheese history, flavours, and production.
Julia trains sommeliers and hospitality students in cheese appreciation, and teaches for the internationally recognized Wine and Spirit Education Guild. Her articles appear in Food and Drink, Slow Food Canada and Wine Express, and in her newsletter, The Wedge Issue, accessible via her website, www.cheeseculture.ca.
Among other regular Toronto engagements, she hosts Night School for Cheese Fans at the Leslieville Cheese Market, which was recently voted “Best Cheese Appreciation Class in Toronto” by Toronto Life Magazine.
In April, she was guest judge on Top Chef Canada when an episode of the Food Network Canada program featured Canadian cheese.
Cheese Tasting 101
A primer for those who want to appreciate cheese, not just eat it. Get acquainted with the different families and flavours of cheese. Gain insights into pairing cheese with beverages and other accompaniments. Learn to taste and talk about cheese like a pro, as you enjoy a flight of 6 to 9 selections.
Taste of Québec
Québec is the creative leader of our Canadian cheese renaissance. No region comes close to producing the range of styles and flavours that originate in la Belle Province. Enjoy a whirlwind tour of icon cheeses and newer artisan offerings from our trend-setting neighbours to the East.
Former Susur Lee Sous-Chef Dustin Gallagher’s playful tussle with a large block of fromage in Episode 1 gave Top Chef Canada viewers a heads-up on a key ingredient in upcoming Episode 2: Canadian cheese!
Titled “Cheese, Glorious, Cheese” and airing on Food Network Canada on Monday at 9 p.m. ET/10 p.m. PT, the chefs battle with each other in typical Top Chef style with first a quickfire and then an elimination based on creating appetizing cheese dishes. It’ll be quite a challenge for some, particularly Gordon Ramsay protégé Chef Dale Mackay who admits to not having much experience cooking with cheese, as well as Calgary Chef and Sommelier Rebekah Pearse who calls the challenge “a little tough.”
The chefs are given a range of Canadian cheeses from coast to coast. Will they use gouda from Gort’s Gouda Cheese Farm in B.C., Alberta’s Sylvan Star Cheese, or Ontario’s Thunder Oak Cheese Farm? Cheddar from Quebec’s Perron or Wilton’s Cheese Factory in Ontario? Perhaps they will create from a hodgepodge of cheeses? Selecting the wedges they know, the culinary contenders craft distinct plates for a cocktail party of 50 guests who help the judges in their selection of the second chef to be asked to pack his or her knives and go.
The most watched original premiere in Food Network Canada’s history, Top Chef Canada continues to vigorously protect its trade secret: the element of surprise. The cheeses procured and showcased? Guarded jealously. News of a guest judge from the cheese industry? Mum’s the word. We’ll have to watch Monday’s episode to find out!
Gabi has a law and politics background but her passion for food, wine, and entertainment developed from nearly a decade in Europe and the U.K. where, she discovered, many still find the time to enjoy the finer things in life. Gabi blogs about food, wine, music, travel, and life at poshbirdgabi.wordpress.com
It’s amazing how tightly shrouded in secrecy the producers of Top Chef Canada like to keep their show before it airs. Witness the scant information CheeserLover.ca was able to obtain for the above report.
No mention of even the basics, such as Dairy Farmers of Canada being the sponsor of the episode and provider of the cheese.
Even cheese and wine expert Julia Rogers, a good friend and supporter and presenter at The Great Canadian Cheese Festival we’re organized, wouldn’t say boo when we emailed for confirmation about her serving as the guest judge on Episode 2.
“Sorry, but I signed a confidentiality agreement as thick and detailed as could be. I will not be able to comment on anything you ask prior to the show airing, except to say that the challenge involved Canadian cheese,” she emailed.
But, if the truth were known, Julia did post this tidbit on her Facebook page:
Top Chef Canada spoiler alert . . . On Monday, watch me judge contestants’ cocktail party cheese offerings with as much integrity as possible, while wearing false eyelashes and losing the microphone down my dress.
From other sources, we learned:
Monday’s episode of Top Chef Canada on the Food Network will be all about CHEESE! The episode will be the main ingredient in the two key challenges in the show and will be featured prominently throughout the show.
The first challenge of the show is the “Quickfire Challenge” that measures specific skill sets of the competitors. For the challenge, a table full of cheeses made from 100% Canadian Milk will be unveiled to the competitors and they will be asked to create a dish using as many cheeses as they wish and then describe the dish and the inspiration behind it.
In the “Elimination Challenge,” the competitors will be divided into teams and will be given a specific Canadian Cheese and a meal course to work within. The chefs must then create a dish around their kind of cheese that works within the corresponding course in the dinner service—which is at an actual function. This challenge will showcase the versatility and variety of Canadian cheese.
We’ve posted the video clip that is posted on the Food Network Canada website at the top of this post. Those who are unable to watch the show Monday night will be able to view it on the website Tuesday.
Georgs Kolesnikovs is Cheesehead-in-Chief at CheeseLover.ca. He’ll have a tape in the old VCR on Monday night as he and SO will be at the Drake Hotel taking in the Battle of Paté organized by Ivy Knight as part of her 86’d series of fun food events.
We take you to the Eastern Townships of Québec to visit Fromagerie La Station de Compton, an organic farmstead cheese producer best known for its award-winning Alfred Le Fermier. The clip is a tad promotional at the beginning but it does provides a nice introduction to the fourth generation of the Bolduc family, their 170-hectare farm, their 70 Holstein cows and their delicious cheeses.
Brebichon, Les Fromages du Verger:
A young 350g farmstead sheep milk cheese made with apple juice added to the curd and washed with apple juice from their own orchard. First prize in washed rind cheese category at 2010 Quebec Caseus Awards. Provincially licensed.
—Alain Besré, Fromagerie Atwater, often called the godfather of the Québec artisan cheese movement
Jersey Blue, Städtlichäsi Lichtensteig:
A 100% Jersey cow’s milk cheese from Switzerland made by Willi Schmid. So beautiful you almost don’t want to eat it, just gaze at it. But, mamma mia, when it gets into your mouth! What a cheese, WHAT a cheese! —Russell Gammon, Executive Secretary, Jersey Canada
Le Foin d’Odeur, La Moutonniere:
Soft surface-ripened sheep’s milk, sweet, mushroomy and herbacious. When ripe, like licking buttered popcorn from your fingertips!
—Vanessa Simmons, Cheese Sommelier, Savvy Company
Monforte Dairy Cottage Cheese:
Georgous small cream colour curds that play on your tongue like caviar and are so fresh they sqeek lightly on your teeth.
—Andy Shay, Cheese Consultant
At CheeseLover.ca, the most memorable moment in cheese of 2010 came when we first tasted Vacherin Mont d’Or, a singular seasonal cheese of Switzerland that delivers an amazing explosion of aroma and taste—so rich, so gooey.
Other taste hits:
Miranda, Fromagerie Fritz Kaiser:
Cheesemaker Fritz Kaiser, who kick-started the Quebec artisanal cheese movement in the 1980s, says Miranda is one of the many cheeses he produces that he’s most proud of. That says a lot, when one considers he makes Le Douanier, Port Royal, Raclette, La Soeur Angele, Le Saint Paulin, among others. We especially liked the rustic flavours of Miranda.
Celtic Blue, Glengarry Fine Cheese, and Bleu d’Elizabeth, Fromagerie du Presbytère: Two very different blue cheeses that demonstrate how far blues made in Canada have come since the days Roquefort ruled. Three cheers for Blue Canada!
Empire Cheddar, 7-year, Empire Butter & Cheese:
There are so many fine older cheddars made in Canada, but Empire’s oldest offering stands out in memories of cheese tasted during 2010.
—Georgs Kolesnikovs, Cheese-head-in-chief at CheeseLover.ca, wonders what outstanding cheeses he’ll encounter in the New Year.
When I think of cheese pairings, my mind immediately goes to wine: the two are a classic combination. Apparently, mine is not the only brain that works this way. At a beer and cheese tasting held at Black Creek Pioneer Village, one attendee admitted, “I never would have thought to pair beer with cheese”. Though it may be a less-obvious pairing, under the expert guidance of Julia Rogers, I learned cheese and beer can complement one another beautifully.
“Cheese and wine is such a known pairing, it has become a single word, cheeseandwine,” Julia said. “But I am more nervous when pairing cheese with wine. Cheese and beer work together every time.”
Julia explained that cheese and beer make sense together because they share a common origin: beer is made from grain (usually barley), and grain is one of the main foods consumed by dairy animals. This common source can be detected when tasting both cheeses and beers.
But being in a historical replica village, we, the tasters, had to go through a lesson on the history of beer in Canada before we got to test Rogers’s theories.
Black Creek Pioneer Village is set in the 1860s, and so our lesson focused on the state of the beer industry at that time. Many of the big-name Canadian brews lining liquor store shelves today got their start in the 19th century, including Labatt’s, Alexander Keith’s, and Sleeman’s.
These early brewers were part of the upper echelons of Canadian society, dabbling in politics, banking, and business, and they helped to build much of the country’s infrastructure at that time, including schools, churches, and banks. As my tasting companion remarked with awe, “Canada was built on beer.”
Black Creek Pioneer Village opened its own traditional brewery in June 2009. The beers are made as they would have been in the mid-nineteenth century. They are not carbonated, and are served at room temperature directly from the oak barrels in which they are aged. We sampled three of Black Creek’s beers: a brown ale, a porter ale, and an India Pale Ale.
Though initially I was repulsed by the warm, flat beer, my tastebuds gradually became accustomed to the style, and I grew to appreciate the simplicity of the traditional brews and the purity of their taste. The porter ale, a dark beer with notes of coffee and chocolate, was my favourite of Black Creek’s offerings.
After finishing our samples, we were finally introduced to the evening’s cheese selection. Rogers had come with five pairings: four Ontario cheeses matched with Ontario craft beers, and one Quebec cheese and beer pairing.
Julia explained there are different ways of creating a pairing. You can pair by the ‘weight’ of the two (such as a heavy-tasting beer with a strong cheese), by common flavours and aromas, or by regional and historical commonalities.
The first pairing was a Stracchino from Quality Cheese matched with Mill Street Brewery’s Lemon Tea Ale. The two worked nicely together, as the bread flavours present in the wheat beer paired well with the yeasty, tangy Italian-style cheese.
Our second selection included Niagara Gold, a Guernsey cow milk tome made by Upper Canada Cheese Company, and Black Oak Saison Ale. As the name would suggest, Saison is a seasonal beer, brewed at the close of the traditional brewing season, in March. It’s a refreshing beer with flavours of citrus and spice. The Niagara Gold, a savoury, buttery cheese, paired well with it, muting some of the stronger spice notes in the beer.
We then reached the Quebec pairing of Chevre Noir, a goat’s milk cheddar, with Rose d’Hibiscus, a flavoured wheat beer crafted by the Dieu du Ciel microbrewery. The attractive rose-coloured beer is sweet on the nose but has an acidic taste which comes from the hibiscus flowers added during the brewing process. The pairing was suggested by the brewer himself, and the man clearly knows his cheese as well as his beer. The tangy Chevre Noir was powerful enough to stand up to the strong-flavoured brew.
My tasting companion’s favourite pairing was the fourth, Jensen Cheese’s 3-year cheddar with Railway City Brewery’s Dead Elephant India Pale Ale. It was a bold pairing; the 6.8 % ale had strong flavours of grapefruit and hops that were complemented by the zesty, creamy cheddar. My tasting companion had nothing but praise for the pair, and he wondered aloud where he could buy each.
The final match was my favourite: Ewenity Dairy’s Brebette sheep’s milk cheese and Black Creek’s own porter ale. The fresh-tasting, bloomy rind cheese had a velvety texture. Rogers served it with a homemade fig and dark chocolate jam. The porter paired perfectly with the cheese and the sweet spread. Beer often pairs better with desserts and sweets than wine, further proof of the beverage’s versatility.
As the evening wound down, the last of the cheese was eaten while Julia chatted with her students. Meanwhile, my tasting companion, never one to be shy, requested a second glass of the Railway City IPA, and as he savoured his brew, he vowed to create his own pairings at home.
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, Cheese-Head-in-Chief at CheeseLover.ca, loves boating as much as he enjoys cheese.