Why only fresh cheese curds squeak

Video Wednesday: Dr. Art Hill and Christina Marsigliese of Department of Food Science, University of Guelph, demonstrate why only fresh cheese curds squeak.

Generally speaking, supermarkets and chain grocery stores refrigerate cheese curds which reduces or eliminates squeak. For truly fresh curds that squeak as they’re supposed to, shop at specialty cheese stores or go directly to the source at the cheese dairy.

Cantal: We taste the cheese Romans enjoyed

Cantal, one of the oldest cheeses on the planet, like 2,500 years!

When you taste Cantal, you’re sampling one of the oldest cheeses on the planet, a cheese that dates back to Celtic times more than 2,000 years ago in what was then called Gaul, now France.

It’s jaw-dropping to realize that those buttery, milky and nutty flavours and that strong and earthy aroma were first appreciated by human kind more than two millenia ago, starting in the Cantal Mountains in the Auvergne region of central France.

Pliny’s Historia Naturalis, written in the first century AD, says Cantal was a favourite in ancient Rome. In ancient Rome!

I was first introduced to Cantal last winter by Cecilia Smith during a cheese appreciation course at George Brown College. The first taste was an eye-opener. Last week, at a family gathering to celebrate my sister’s birthday, there was Cantal Fermier, the centrepiece of a three-cheese gift she received. I was lucky enough to bring a small wedge home.

Cantal received Appellation d’Origine (AOC) status from the administrative region of Cantal in the Auvergne region in 1956. This has ensured that the semi-hard, uncooked, pressed cheese has the features and characteristics attributable to the area of origin.

The ”fermier” in the name indicates it’s a farmhouse cheese made with raw milk, as opposed to Cantal Laitier which is the commercial, mass-produced version made from pasteurized milk.

As Cantal ages, blue moldy veins begin to develop. Some say look for the “most blue-looking” Cantal because it has the most flavour.

The strong flavours and marked aroma of the wedge I have indicate the cheese has been well-aged, likely nine months or longer. As is typical of an aged firm cheese, the paste is brittle and crumbly. The colour is pale yellow. The rind is rustic-looking but thick and no longer edible.

The gift my sister received was part of a membership in the Cheese of the Month Club offered by CheesyPlace.com, the popular online cheese retailer that ships across Canada.

The tasting notes included with Cantal Fermier say it perfectly:

Along with its stronger flavour, the Cantal also has an equally strong milky, earthy aroma. With this robust selection, you will experience a variety of tastes—with buttery, milky, nutty, sweet and tangy flavours all playing a part. It is also lightly salty in the finish as it gets to room temperature.

Visually, Cantal can be quite intimidating with its rigid rind, penetrating deep into the cheese as its ages and the blue moldy veins that arise with time. Some cheese lovers look for the “most blue-looking” Cantal because it has the most flavour.

Agreed!

Cantal goes well with nuts, grapes and apples and it can be used in salads, soups, cheese fondue or gratins. Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot would pair nicely with Cantal.

Cantal is available from CheesyPlace.com and at fine cheese shops across the land.

—Georgs Kolesnikovs

Georgs Kolesnikovs, cheese-head-in-chief at CheeseLover.ca, is founder of Canadian Cheese Awards/Le Concours des fromages fins canadiens. His usual focus in the blog is on Canadian cheese but he’ll make an exception for exceptional imports like Cantal.

Back to school with David Asher to learn natural cheesemaking

Making Mozzarella at home sounds mighty appealing! All photography by Kelly Brown.

Hey, hey, hey, I’m going back to school! (See update in PS below.)

I’m enrolled to take a class in natural cheesemaking with the man who wrote the book on the subject, David Asher. He is an organic farmer, farmstead cheesemaker, cheese educator and author based on one of the gulf islands off British Columbia.

David Asher: Guerilla cheesemaker.

David runs the Black Sheep School of Cheesemaking, exploring traditionally cultured and organic methods of cheesemaking. His workshops, online and in person, teach a cheesemaking method that is natural, DIY, and well suited to the home kitchen or artisanal production.

I’m enrolled in Introduction to Natural Cheesemaking: Rennet Cheeses, Camembert & Mozzarella. The idea of making tasty Camembert at home really appeals to me.

To prepare, I’ve been reading The Art of Natural Cheesemaking, the book in which David outlines his philosophy of “guerilla cheesemaking,” covers the basic elements of cheesemaking, includes 35 easy-to-follow recipes and instruction on sourcing good milk, including raw milk, making rennet—and making good cheese without it, avoiding additives and chemicals, and much more.

The Art of Natural Cheesemaking by David Asher.

Learn more about the book and order it for convenient home delivery via Amazon at our Bookstore at CheeseLover.ca.

The one-day online class I’ll be taking is designed to give a basic understanding of the philosophy of natural cheesemaking. We’ll learn about raw milk’s microbiology and how to cultivate an effective starter culture from it; how to curdle milk with natural rennet; how to make a basic rennet cheese; how to ferment that cheese and stretch it into a fresh Mozzarella; and how to age the same cheese into a Camembert with a natural white rind.

I cannot wait to try my new-found skills in our home kitchen. I’ll be sure post a report here.

Other upcoming online classes include:

  • Introduction to Natural Cheesemaking: Dairy Fermentation – Kefir, Clabber, Yogurt, Crème Fraiche, Cultured butter.
  • Introduction to Natural Cheesemaking: Rennet Cheesemaking & Pasta Filata Cheeses, Stracchino, Camembert, Mozzarella, Burrata, Queso Oaxaca.
  • Introduction to Natural Cheesemaking: Soft Goat/Sheep cheeses, Fresh and Aged, Chevre, Brebis and Faisselle; the affinage of cheeses like Crottin, Valencay, and Saint Marcellin.
  • Advanced Class in Natural Cheesemaking: Blue Cheeses, Stilton, Bleu d’Auverge, Surface Ripened Blue.
  • Advanced Class in Natural Cheesemaking: Alpine Cheeses, Raclette, Tomme, Tomme de Chevre, Ricotta.

Class size is limited to 30 students. Cost is US$100 per session. Some scholarships are available for the English language classes for agricultural students and interns, as well as BIPOC.

A beautiful tomme in the hands of the maker.

Click here to learn more about online classes at The Black Sheep School of Natural Cheesemaking.

Click here learn more about The Art of Natural Cheesemaking and order the book for convenient home delivery via Amazon at our Bookstore at CheeseLover.ca.

All images courtesy of Kelly Brown.

—Georgs Kolesnikovs

Georgs Kolesnikovs is Cheese-Head-in-Chief at CheeseLover.ca. He’s enamoured with the idea of making Camembert at home. We shall see what we shall see.

POSTSCRIPT:

Talk about learning a lot about cheese!

A day spent with David Asher—even online—has my head spinning with everything I learned during an introductory class to natural cheesemaking, with the emphasis on natural.

Going in, I thought I knew a fair bit about cheese. Not so!

Now, at least, I know about backslopping, claber, kefir grains, freeze-dried fungal spores, and, in a new, all-encompassing way, fermentation.

Prior to the class, I scanned The Art of Natural Cheesemaking, David Asher’s book, manifesto and guide. Now, I plan to slowly read and study every word about “using traditional, non-industrial methods and raw ingredients to make the world’s best cheeses.”

After years of enjoying artisan and farmstead cheeses, and few industrial ones, too, a whole new world may be opening for me.

If you’re at all interested in learning more about cheese, I heartily encourage you to consider David Asher’s book and taking one of his online classes. He’ll open your eyes to a whole new world in cheese.

As for me, I was going to take a crack at making Camembert at home but I might start with Mozzarella as no ripening period is needed to make a fresh cheese. I know from past experience that maintaining humidity at 90% can be a steep challenge for an apartment-dweller like me.

Stay tuned!

 

Baluchon: Acquisition by L’Ancêtre ensures the love child lives on

Childhood sweethearts Michel Pichet and Marie-Claude Harvey.
Childhood sweethearts Michel Pichet and Marie-Claude Harvey of award-winning Fromagerie F.X. Pichet near Québec City.

Baluchon is the story of a love lost and, two decades later, found again.

Marie-Claude Harvey and Michel Pichet were childhood sweethearts in the village of Champlain, Québec, on the north shore of the St. Lawrence River near Québec City. But by the time they graduated from high school, they had drifted apart. She found a husband, he found a wife, they both had families before their marriages ended.

Twenty years later they met again. He owned an organic dairy farm. She wanted to make cheese. Obviously, their love was still there, now fired by a common passion for dairy farming and cheesemaking. Thus, they married and 10 years ago, in 2004, Fromagerie F.X. Pichet came to be in Sainte-Anne-de-la-Pérade, Québec. Baluchon was their first-born cheese.

(The creamery was sold in 2017 to Abdel Ould Baba Ali and his son Yacine and became known as Fromagerie Baluchon. In August 2020, the fromagerie was purchased by Fromagerie L’Ancêtre, Québec’s leading producer of organic cheese and butter. L’Ancêtre will relocate Baluchon production to its huge dairy plant in nearby Bécancour but continue ripening the cheese in the Sainte-Anne-de-la-Pérade facility which features a retail store. The re-born Baluchon should be back on the market before Christmas 2020. Now, back to the Baluchon love story first published in December 2014.)

Baluchon: Canadian Cheese of the Year.
Le Baluchon: Canadian Cheese of the Year in 2014.

The name Baluchon in French refers to the small bundle of belongings travelers carried before the advent of mass transportation. Such a traveler, as a mouse character called Hapi, appears on all packaging for cheeses produced at the fromagerie on the 260-acre farm called La Ferme F.X. Pichet, after Michel’s father.

Michel and Marie-Claude are devoted to organic farming and cheesemaking. In Québec, the certification process is rigorous, but they cannot see proceeding otherwise. Michel says: “It’s our way of life.”

Their way of life lead them to dominate the 2014 Canadian Cheese Awards/Le Concours des fromages fins canadiens with Baluchon being named Canadian Cheese of the Year in addition to Best Organic Cheese and Best Semi-Soft Cheese.

In Sélection Caseus 2014, the prestigious competition for Québec cheese, Baluchon was awarded Prix du Public in the semi-soft category. Even five years ago, in the Canadian Cheese Grand Prix, Baluchon was declared best organize cheese.

Even as Baluchon begins to curdle, already the sweet dairy taste is there.
Even as Baluchon begins to curdle, already the sweet dairy taste is there.

Baluchon is exquisite, exemplifying the best in an organic, semi-soft cheese with a washed rind. It is made with thermized cow’s milk and ripened for a minimum of two months. In Québec, thermized milk—heated to 60 degrees Celsius for 15 seconds—is considered raw milk.

Baluchon is a creamy, melt-in-your-mouth cheese that tastes of hazelnut, cream, butter and leaves a slight clover aftertaste, so you really do taste the terroir.

Tour the terroir at La Ferme F.X. Pichet and meet Michel Pichet and his cows in a pictorial we posted on Facebook after a visit in August in 2014.

The compact cheese plant is located on the farm in Champlain steps from the family home. Affinage rooms and the retail store are 20 kilometres away in Sainte-Anne-de-la-Pérade.

Now is the time.
Fromagerie F.X. Pichet in Sainte-Anne-de-la-Pérade, Québec.

When they were getting started more than a decade ago, Marie-Claude and Michel consulted André Fouillet, a cheese expert from France, who recommended they use a cheesemaking process he developed when working with Oka, the Canadian classic. Fouillet consulted with a number of Québec fromageries, witness the many semi-soft, washed-rind cheeses produced in the region. Jonathan Portelance, a collaborator at the time, was inspired by the fruity aroma and floral taste of the French Comté.

“But Balachon is unique,” says Marie-Claude, “because of our milk and our way of making cheese. Right from the start, we wanted to use non-pasteurized milk—for the taste. Good cheese starts with good milk. We prefer to use pure, organic milk because the integrity of milk is important to us. With conventional milk, you just don’t know what’s all in the milk.”

An organic milk producer and cheesemaker (who, incidentally, works at giant Saputo) suggested the name Baluchon as the cheese could be served on tables around the world. She still supplies some milk and remains a good friend.

Michel Pichet's talents as an artist are visible at the fromagerie.
Michel Pichet’s talents as an artist are visible at the fromagerie.

Why has Baluchon been so successful?

“Because of the distinctive aroma and taste that’s stems from a certain synergy,” says Marie-Claude. “Our milk comes from a mix of breeds, Holsteins, Swiss Browns and the Canadienne. In our pastures, we have a mix of five or six different plants, grasses, clover, sweat peas and so on. In the plant, we have a mix of talented people. All that ‘team work’ comes together in le Baluchon.”

Cheesemaker Remi Gélinas starts a new batch of Baluchon.
Cheesemaker Remi Gélinas starts a new batch of Baluchon.

Cheesemaker Remi Gélinas is a key member of the team. He’s been with the fromagerie less than two years but has 25 years of experience in cheese and milk production.

Click here for a pictorial of cheesemaking at Fromagerie F.X. Pichet in August 2014.

What pairs well with Baluchon?

“Any tasty wine, red or white, that has a lot of aroma,” Marie-Claude says, expressing a preference for shiraz. In beer, she suggests a good amber or red.

Where is Baluchon available outside of Québec?

Baluchon now is widely available in cheese shops and Loblaws stores, especially since it was named Cheese of the Year in the spring. Baluchon and F.X. Pichet’s other cheeses are distributed by Fromages CDA which represents members of the Québec Artisan Cheese Guild. Telephone 1-866-448-7997 or 514-648-7997, email info@fromagescda.com.

Now is the time
Marie-Claude Harvey and Michel Pichet: poster children for organic dairy farming and cheesemaking in Québec.

—Georgs Kolesnikovs

Georgs Kolesnikovs, cheese-head-in-chief at CheeseLover.ca, is founder of Canadian Cheese Awards/Le Concours des fromages fins canadiens.

Pilgrimage to a Canadian cheese lover mecca

FLASHBACK FRIDAY: First published March 17, 2013

Vanessa and I stopped shopping for cheese and charcuterie at Marché Jean-Talon when we were left with nothing but coins in our pockets. Photo by SO.

When they want to pay homage to fromage, cheese lovers in Europe make a pilgrimage to France. In the U.S., the destination is Vermont or California. In Canada, there is only one choice: Québec.

Despite much progress in Ontario and British Columbia in the last decade, Québec remains Canada’s leading artisan-cheese region. With about half of Canada’s 180 cheese producers based in Québec, its leading role isn’t likely to end anytime soon.

For Canadian cheese lovers, the easiest way to find Mecca in Québec is to visit Marché Jean-Talon in Montréal. Which is what Significant Other and I did with a great friend in cheese, Vanessa Simmons, cheese sommelier at Savvy Company in Ottawa. We have many friends who love cheese, many friends who love food, but only in Vanessa do SO and I find an appetite for food, drink and adventure to match ours.

We warmed up for Marché Jean-Talon by visiting Complexe Desjardins in downtown Montreal to say hello to cheesemakers taking part in the annual La Fête des fromages d’ici. It was good to see so many producers represented by Plaisirs Gourmets at the show. SO and I sampled our way around for several hours and then caught up with Vanessa to compare notes and purchases. No surprise that our wallets were $150 lighter and bags similarly heavier.

What makes Marché Jean-Talon such a perfect Mecca for cheese lovers is that here one finds:

and across the lane:

Short of spending weeks driving from cheesemaker to cheesemaker around Québec, it doesn’t get much better than this.

Two hours and more than $350 later, here’s what we had in our cooler bags:

OUR HAUL

IN VANESSA’S COOLER

CHARCUTERIE

Smoked meat at Schwartz's, fatty and fabulous.
Smoked meat at Schwartz’s, fatty and fabulous. Photo by VS.

And if all that wasn’t enough, Vanessa forced us to accompany her to Schwartz’s Montréal Hebrew Delicatessen for lunch of the most famous smoked meat in Canada. Oh, the agony!

 —Georgs Kolesnikovs

Georgs Kolesnikovs, cheesehead-in-cheef at CheeseLover.ca and director of The Great Canadian Cheese Festival, lived in Montréal when Oka was still made Trappists at Oka. Way back then, his smoked-meat emporium of record was Bens De Luxe Delicatessen & Restaurant founded in 1908 by Latvian immigrants Ben and Fanny Kravitz.

Louis d’Or 3 Ans: Taste the difference affinage makes

Cheesemaker Jean Morin with award-winning Louis d’Or at Fromagerie du Presbytère.

Except when it affects us humans, aging can be a wonderful thing. It’s what transforms shlock into fine wine, it’s what turns a good cheese into a great cheese.

In cheesemaking, the process of maturing cheese is called affinage. It usually occurs in a cellar or climate-controlled room where temperature and humidity are carefully managed.

But Jean Morin took the concept further: First, he bought the village church. Then, he turned it into a state-of-the-art space for aging Louis d’Or and other cheese.

He paid $1 to purchase the Roman Catholic church in Sainte Elizabeth de Warwick, Québec, in 2015, across the street from the family dairy farm, Ferme Louis d’Or, and then poured $1 million into the conversion for affinage.

The church is adjacent to the former rectory which Morin purchased in 2005 to start up Fromagerie du Presbytère. (Presbytère is the French word for rectory.) Cheesemaking takes place in the former rectory which also houses fromagerie offices. The expansive new retail store is just down the street.

Pat, the Swiss-made robot, lifts, brushes and rotates 40-kilo wheels of Louis d’Or. Photo courtesy of https://www.gastrotraveling.com/

The former church can house up to 3,000 wheels of Louis d’Or. They are looked after by Pat, the name given to a $300,000 Swiss-made robot that lifts, brushes and rotates the 40-kilo wheels of cheese. Since the aging space is more than five meters high, the robot not only ensures uniformity but also protects employees from the hazards of doing it manually.

You can watch Pat in action in this video produced by the Ottawa Citizen:

“Even by using new cutting-edge technologies, we will never make concessions on the quality and authenticity of our artisan cheeses,” says Jean Morin. “We are and will remain artisans. We always take the same care to prepare each cheese using milk from our family farm.”

The robot may be cutting edge, the temperature and humidity controls state of the art, but the vat in the fromagerie make room has roots in Neolithic times around 9,000 B.C. The vat is made in France with copper, an element with thermal conductivity 20 times more efficient than stainless steel.

Many of the classic European cheese, such as Gruyère, Comté, Emmentaler and Parmigiano Reggiano, are made in copper vats. In fact, AOP (Appellation d’Origine Protégée) regulationas require it. As far as we know, Fromagerie du Presbytère is the only Canadian cheesemaker using a copper vat.

After 36 months in affinage, protein crystals provide Louis d’Or with delightful crunchies.

The net result of all of the above is a truly outstanding cheese, one that has won many awards for Jean Morin and his équipe at Fromagerie du Presbytère, including Cheese of the Year at the most recent Canadian Cheese Awards.

Here’s what Cheese Sommelier Vanessa Simmons of Ottawa, a friend of ours in cheese, has to say about Louis d’Or:

Made in monster-sized 40-kilogram wheels, this washed-rind raw cow milk cheese is cooked, pressed and aged from 9 to 24 months with extra care taken during the ripening process. Resulting is a smooth, rich-textured paste encased in an antique gold, amber-colored rind. Aromas range from butter to onion and ripe pineapple. A complex mix of sweet, salty and dominant nutty, meaty flavors finish with a tingle at the back of the palate that lingers thanks to raw milk.

Age Louis d’Or another 12 months and all that aroma and flavour only elevate the taste experience to a sublime degree. It’s rich and creamy, with floral notes and hints of nuttiness, a wonderful example of Canadian cheese at its finest.

If your favourite cheese shop doesn’t carry Louis d’Or, order it online for home delivery in Ontario and Québec.

 —Georgs Kolesnikovs

Georgs Kolesnikovs is Cheese-Head-in-Chief at CheeseLover.ca and founder and director of Canadian Cheese Awards/Le Concours des fromages fins canadiens, the biggest cheese judging and competition in the land.

A Canadian cheese plate fit for heads of state

FLASHBACK FRIDAY: Originally posted on June 28, 2010

Le Belle de Jersey made by Les Bergeries du Fjord.

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.

Blue Juliette ~ Salt Spring Island Cheese

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.”

La Fleurmier ~ Laiterie Charlevoix

Here are links to more information about the G20 cheese plate:

Le Fleurmier
Laiterie Charlevoix
Baie-St-Paul, Charlevoix region of Quebec

Le Belle de Jersey
Les Bergeries du Fjord
La Baie, Saguenay region of Québec

Blue Juliette
Salt Spring Island Cheese
Salt Spring Island, Gulf Islands region of British Columbia

Toscano
Monforte Dairy
Stratford, Southwestern Ontario

Toscano ~ Monforte Dairy

At CheeseLover.ca, we’ve enjoyed Le Fermier and Toscano in the past, but now, thanks to the G20, we have Le Belle de Jersey and Blue Juliette on our shopping list.

—Georgs Kolesnikovs

Georgs Kolesnikovs is Cheese-Head-in-Chief at CheeseLover.ca.

Oka: Unique aroma, divine flavour, rich history

First made in 1893 by Trappist monks, Oka is the most iconic of all Canadian cheeses, known the world over.

Flashback to November, 1960, Deux Montagnes, Québec:

A young monk entered the guesthouse dining room at Abbey of Notre Dame du Lac bearing a large platter. He gently placed it in the centre of the table where eight of us were sitting. The platter appeared to be piled high with big chunks of pale yellow pineapple.

Pineapple in the middle of November in a Trappist monastery in Québec? I was mystified. Despite the no-talking rule, I turned to the man on my left and whispered: “Qu’est-ce que c’est?”

“Fromage” was his curt reply, followed by “Ssshhhh!”

Fromage? I could handle cheese first thing in the morning, my first morning as a guest at the monastery. After the blessing and signal to begin eating, I didn’t hesitate to reach for a big chunk and popped it in my mouth.

“Oh, my goodness!” I could hardly hold back exclaiming out loud. I had never tasted a cheese so buttery, so creamy, so delicious. So many more chunks followed the first that I hardly had room for the farm-fresh scrambled eggs that were served for breakfast.

And so it came to pass that I was introduced to Oka cheese when the Trappists still made it. Indeed, that morning was the moment my passion for artisan cheese was ignited.

Flashback further, to February, 1893:

Brother Alphonse Juin arrives at the Abbey of Notre Dame du Lac—known as Oka Abbey after the small village on the northern bank of the Ottawa River, northwest of Montreal, on Lake of Two Mountains, where the Ottawa has its confluence with the St. Lawrence River.

Abbey of Notre Dame du Lac aka Oka Abbey: At its peak, the abbey was the permanent home to as many as 200 monks, who belong to the Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance, commonly known as the Trappists.

The monastery was struggling, unable to make ends meet. Brother Alphonse had been sent from the Abbaye de Bellefontaine in France (from which the Oka monks originated) with a recipe for Port-du-Salut cheese created by Trappists a few years earlier. Brother Alphonse tweaked and adjusted Port-du-Salut recipe, creating a unique Quebec cheese that went on to win first prize at the Montreal Exhibition that same year.

Imagine the shock of judges at the exhibition to be presented with a unique semi-soft, washed-rind cheese when only cheddars ruled the day!

The Oka Trappist cheese continued to win awards and recognition. Soon, it became immensely popular, assuring the financial stability of the monastery. Today, it’s clearly the most iconic of all Canadian cheeses, known the world over.

Fast forward to 1981:

Agropur, Canada’s biggest dairy co-operative purchases the Oka cheesemaking operation from the Trappist monks and builds a state-of-the-art plant next door to the monastery. Eventually, an expansive retail store is opened, showcasing Oka cheeses and artisan products from across Québec. (Which makes a visit to Oka really worth your while.)

Over time, the product line is expanded beyond the original Oka cheese to include Oka Classique, Light, Raclette, L’Artisan, L’Artisan Smoke, Mushrooms, Ashed and Brother Alphonse.

The original Oka with the somewhat plain label remains my favourite and is closest to what I recall first tasting so many years ago.

Fast forward to October, 2006:

The monks, by now world-famous, announce they are selling Oka Abbey and moving to a smaller home in the forest 100 kilometres northeast of Montreal.

A local non-profit group will transform the monastery into a tourism and education centre. The Abbey of Notre Dame du Lac includes a large grey stone monastery and a dozen buildings nestled on 270 hectares of forested land. The monks also own farmland.

Thousands of people from around the world have visited the abbey to attend mass, meditate and enjoy the bucolic peace and quiet. The abbey has long welcomed men and women seeking short-term retreats, and also runs a monastic guest program for men interested in experiencing monastic life.

At its peak, the abbey was the permanent home to as many as 200 monks, who belong to the Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance, commonly known as the Trappists. But the community has dwindled over the past generation, and only 28 monks, the majority of whom are older than 70, live at the monastery.

Fast forward to today:

Oka is semi-soft, washed-rind cheese with an edible copper-orange rind. It has a distinct aroma—some might call it pungent, especially as the cheese ages—and a relatively mild, creamy and buttery flavour.

My tasting notes say: Creamy and sweet. Nice touch of umami. Hints of mushrooms and nuts. Velvety and supple mouthfeel.

Regular Oka, as shown, is the closest I recall in taste to when the Trappists still made the cheese.

While Oka was once made from raw milk fresh from the abbey’s farm, today it’s made from pasteurized milk. Master cheesemakers used to wash the wheels with brine by hand to promote proper aging. These days, the process is facilitated by machines that allow for a more homogenous production and limit rind contamination.

The secret to the flavour and iconic aroma lies in the complex microbiology of the rind, found only in the cellars of the former monastery. The cheese is made in a state-of-the-art plant next door but still aged in the old monastery cellars.

Meanwhile, deep in the forest northeast of Montreal:

When the Trappists left Oka to escape suburban sprawl, they left behind an oversized, aging building. Their new Trappist abbey, L’Abbaye Val Notre-Dame, nested in the forests and rolling hills of the Lanaudiere region and known for its cutting-edge ecological architecture, has been heralded as the 21st-century monastery. But, more importantly, it has become pivotal in the monks’ sweeping spiritual renewal.

L’Abbaye Val Notre-Dame northeast of Montreal, the striking new home for the Trappist monks of Oka.

Moving here has made the Trappists rethink their relationship with their environment, as the community must earn its living from manual work. It’s no longer possible to take care of 3,000 apple trees or 2,500 sugar maples like they used to do in Oka. The monks have instead learned to tap the nurturing powers of the surrounding 187-acre forest.

Since 2014, the monks have transformed and commercialized edible forest products. They have discovered the riches of the abbey’s backwoods. At the monastery’s gift shop, one can find larch needles, marinated fiddleheads and products made from milkweed, next to the more usual chocolates and caramels. For the Val Notre-Dame monks, the forest holds a precious bounty. Occasionally, they even share a meal made entirely of ingredients harvested on their estate.

Meanwhile, out in Manitoba, the Oka story takes a twist:

In their own way, Winnipeg chefs Dustin Peltier and Rachel Isaak are continuing the Oka tradition with the recipe that was entrusted to Brother Alberic at Our Lady of the Prairies Monastery at Holland, Manitoba, and he in turn passed it on to the chefs after training Dustin in cheesemaking.

Dustin and Rachel are making the cheese, albeit with pasteurized milk. Obtaining provincial approval to use raw milk proved too onerous and costly.

—Georgs Kolesnikovs

Georgs Kolesnikovs is Cheese-Head-in-Chief at CheeseLover.ca. He’s never met a cheese he didn’t like . . . well, hardly ever.

 

 

Boursin: Creamy, garlicky, tasty—and versatile

My love affair with Boursin started maybe 40 years ago, when it was still an imported delicacy from France, so creamy and so garlicky. Now made in Canada, and even though manufactured on an industrial scale, the garlic and herb Boursin is very similar to what I recall enjoying so many years ago.

Which is to say the love affair continues.

It’s easy to understand why beguiling Boursin may well be the most popular flavoured soft cheese in the world, now sold in some three dozen countries.

Boursin was developed by French cheesemaker Francois Boursin in 1957 in Normandy. He was inspired by a traditional fromage frais dish in which dinner guests use bowls of fine herbs to season their own cheese.

A major newspaper in France reported incorrectly that Boursin’s cheese was flavoured with garlic. It was actually a competing cheesemaker who had introduced the garlic cheese. The newspaper article generated such interest and demand for garlic Boursin that the cheesemaker spent two years developing a garlic-flavoured cheese—which was introduced in 1963 to quickly become a household name across France.

Not only was Boursin an excellent cheesemaker, he had marketing smarts. In 1968, Boursin made history as the first cheese featured in a TV ad campaign. It featured famous French comedian Jacques Duby cast in the role of the first “Boursinophile,” a cheese lover unable to resist the alluring taste of Boursin whatever time of day or night. Waking in the middle of the night, he rushes to the fridge in his pyjamas yelling for Boursin over and over again.

You may recall seeing Boursin commercials on Canadian TV, for example:

More than 50 years later, Boursin now is available in seven flavours, with garlic and herbs being the most popular. The original recipe has changed little:

Pasteurized cow milk and cream, culture, garlic, salt, fresh and frozen parsley, white pepper, and fresh and frozen chives.

Since 2011, Boursin has been made in Canada in St. Hyacinthe, Québec, by Agropur, the Canadian dairy co-operative, for Bel Cheese Canada , the Canadian arm of Bel Group, the France-based multinational. Agropur also produces Bel’s other popular cheeses, The Laughing Cow and Mini Baby Bel.

Boursin is sometimes dubbed a Gournay cheese, Gournay being the name of the region in Normandy where Boursin was first made. The cheesemaker used the name when he was first asked to classify the cheese for customs purposes

Why is Boursin so popular?

  • The taste is irresistible, especially if you like garlic.
  • The small 150-gram wheels looks perfect.
  • The flavour balance between creamy and savoury is just right.
  • That slightly granular mouthfeel has one smacking lips. The finish lingers nicely.
  • The price point, as Boursin is so widely available including at discounters like Costco and Walmart, is affordable and appealing.

And it is such a versatile cheese. Great for snacks, wonderful for appetizers, excellent for cooking, just the thing for a picnic, as the slogan says, “Bread. Wine. Boursin.”

We keep Boursin in the cheese fridge, pretty well year round. Recently, we cooked with it, making a truly delicious stuffed chicken breast.

We seasoned the chicken with salt, pepper, garlic powder, onion powder and paprika and stuffed the breast with Boursin, sautéed spinach and a dusting of Parmigiano. Baked at 375F for 30 minutes. Served with a garden salad.

We also transformed leftover mushrooms into lovely appetizers: Sautée mushroom stems and spinach, then add Boursin and mix until creamy. Stuff the mushroom caps and top with Parm. Bake at 400F for 20 minutes.

Although Boursin is so readily available and affordable, one of these Covid Days we’re going to try making it at home, following this simple recipe:

We’ll let you knows how it turns out. If you have made it at home, let us know in comments below.

—Georgs Kolesnikovs

Georgs Kolesnikovs is Cheese-Head-in-Chief at CheeseLover.ca. He’s never met a cheese he didn’t like . . . well, hardly ever.

Adoray: Silky smooth, creamy and loaded with umami

Adoray: Just enjoy it with a spoon, but be sure to first give it at least two hours at room temperature.

Silky smooth and creamy, with loads of umami, that’s Adoray, a soft cheese with a mixed rind, wrapped with spruce bark.

What’s umami, you ask? Umami comes from the Japanese word for delicious, umai. Umami translates roughly to “deliciousness” and often stands in for “savory” or “meaty.”

It was only 30 years ago that umami was recognized as a distinct taste, one of the five basic tastes, the others being sweetness, sourness, bitterness and saltiness. It was only in 2006 that University of Miami neuroscientists were able to locate the taste-bud receptors for umami, validating the existence of the fifth taste.

Scientifically speaking, umami refers to the taste of glutamate. Glutamate, or glutamic acid, is a common amino acid in vegetable and animal proteins—and cheese.

L’Adoray is made with pasteurized cow’s milk by Fromagerie Montebello located on the Québec side of the Ottawa River one hour east of Ottawa.

Unique among Canadian cheeses.

The cheese dairy was established in 2011 following the meeting of two men, Alain Boyer and Guy Boucher. Having worked as a cheesemaker in the past, Boyer dreamed of owning his own cheesemaking business. Understanding that such a project would be difficult to bring to fruition on his own, he was fortunate to meet Guy Boucher, an accountant by training, who dreamed of owning his own business. Boucher took on the financial aspects of the enterprise while Boyer looked after cheesemaking.

Fromagerie Montebello officially opened its doors in June 2011. Located in the former Louis-Joseph Papineau seigneurie, Fromagerie Montebello makes fine cheeses in a nod to the famous 18th century politician.

Cheesemaker Alain Boyer, co-founder of Fromagerie Montebello.

L’Adoray has an orangey rind and an ivory-coloured, supple and creamy paste. Strapped with spruce bark, it features lactic, woodsy aromas and slightly spicy flavours of butter, wood and straw.

The cheese was introduced to the public upon the Fromagerie’s fifth anniversary in 2016. It’s named for the grandfather and father of Cheesemaker Alain Boyer: Adorice and Raymond.

The silky result is a wonderful mouth-feel packed with umami flavours. One could easily over-indulge.

Nathalie Schofield, who works with me at Canadian Cheese Awards as liaison with cheesemakers in Québec—and who adores Adoray, recommends pairing it with a Riesling or a sweeter white like a Gewürztraminer or Viognier.

This style of cheese, wrapped with spruce bark, has its roots in Europe, the classic example being Vacherin Mont d’Or.

It’s difficult to miss Fromagerie Montebello as you enter the village of the same name one hour east of Ottawa.

L’Adoray has a rustic rind, pinkish in colour. The small, 160-gram wheel has a beautiful ivory paste with a silky sheen. Soft and gooey. Medium nose, with a savoury forest-like aroma. There is a hint of spicy damp hay on the palate, there is a taste of bacon in the rind. The cheese literally melts on the tongue, with much smacking of the lips long afterward.

A unique Canadian cheese, generally available in stores and shops, distributed by Aux Terroirs.

—Georgs Kolesnikovs

Georgs Kolesnikovs, cheesehead-in-chief at CheeseLover.ca, is chairman and founder of Canadian Cheese Awards and founder of The Great Canadian Cheese Festival.