Avonlea Clothbound Cheddar’s recipe comes from the Orkney Islands, north of mainland Scotland, with the cheese made in the style of traditional English cheddars by Cows Creamery of Prince Edward Island.
Scott Linkletter, who started Cows Inc. in 1983 by famously making ice cream, was visiting the Orkneys with his wife 15 years ago when they were so taken by the local cheese that he cajoled a Scottish cheesemaker into sharing the recipe. The recipe became the foundation for the Cows signature cheese, Avonlea Clothbound Cheddar, introduced in 2006. Ten years later, Avonlea was named Cheese of the Yearat the Canadian Cheese Awards.
While developing the recipe for the clothbound cheddar, Linkletter and head cheesemaker Armand Bernard created a second cheese, PEI Cheddar. Other cheddars, such as Appletree Smoked, followed.
How Avonlea Clothbound Cheddar is made by Cows Creamery in Prince Edward Island under the guidance of head cheesemaker Armand Bernard.
Milk of Holstein cows from small local farms in the rolling hills of Prince Edward Island is gently heated—but not pasteurized—to allow beneficial microbes to thrive and give depth of character and flavour. The salt air and iron-rich soil of Prince Edward Island combine to add flavour and quality to the cheddar.
Cows makes Avonlea Clothbound Cheddar in 10 kilograms wheels, and ages it for 12 to 16 months at 10–12 degrees Celsius and 90% humidity.
The multi-award-winning cheese gets the “clothbound” name from traditional cheddar-making technique of wrapping it in cheese cloth, a method that originated in Somerset, England. The town of Cheddar, where cheddar cheese gets its name from is in Somerset.
The name Avonlea comes from link between Prince Edward Island and Anne of Green Gables. As Scott Linkletter explained to Sue Riedl of The Globe and Mail: “We thought that was a great name because of the connection with Anne of Green Gables. At the time of Anne, this is the way cheese would have been made.”
COWS Ice Cream has been a family tradition on Prince Edward Island since 1983. From a small kiosk on the famous Cavendish Boardwalk, the COWS brand now has seven locations across PEI, two in Nova Scotia, two in British Columbia and one each in Alberta, Ontario and Beijing, China. The COWS brand has expanded over the years with cheese and butter lines, as well as the popular COWS-themed merchandise.
The Linkletter family has also invested in Raspberry Point Oysters with oysters being shipped across Canada, USA, Japan and Denmark. The oyster line started as a bit of a hobby for Scott Linkletter, who used to harvest oysters with his father near his summer home on New London Bay.
How does Avonlea Clothbound Cheddar taste? Among Canadian cheddars, quite unique, truly exceptional.
The flavours and aroma are rich and robust, fruity and nutty, with a hint of baked potatoes, as befits a cheese made on Canada’s spud island, Prince Edward Island. The texture is firm, slightly crumbly as the cheese ages beyond 12 months.
It’s an outstanding Canadian cheese, perfect for cheese boards and snacking. Stick a wedge in your glove compartment for your next road trip.
Check with your favourite cheese shop for availability or order online for convenient and safe home delivery:
You can order boxed selections of cheese and butter direct from Cows Creamery in Charlottetown by clicking here.
When it comes to cooking with cheese, I’m total devoted to recipes that call for melted cheese. There is nothing quite like the smell and the taste of ooey gooey.
Which brings us to making my soon-to-be famous (with tongue in cheek) Three-Cheese Toastie.
The recipe was inspired by a cheese vendor in Borough Market in London, England, called Kappacasein. I learned about it during chat at a farmer’s market at Brickworks several years ago which led me to a mouth-watering video on YouTube.
My Three-Cheese Toastie is all about showcasing Canadian artisan cheese. The recipe I developed—by delicious trial and error—originally called for a blend of three artisan cheeses, two from Ontario, one from Quebec.
The main ingredient is cheddar. I tried others but always came back to cheddar.
Empire Cheese & Butter, in Campbellford, Ontario, northwest of Belleville, started making cheese in 1876. It’s now owned by a group of dairy farmers and still dedicated to traditional handcrafted cheesemaking.
In case you didn’t know, cheddaring started in the village of Cheddar in southwest England in the 12th century. Yes, 12th century!
We use the 2-year cheddar made at Empire. Older cheddars have less moisture and aren’t as good for grilled cheese.
Two cheeses have supporting roles in our original recipe: Mountainoak Gouda and Louis d’Or.
Sainte Elizabeth de Warwick, Québec, 1.5 hours southeast of Montréal
The Morin family are sixth generation dairy farmers. Across the street, in a former Roman Catholic rectory, is the fromagerie that Jean Morin founded in 2005. Since then, Morin was has won more awards than any other cheesemaker in Québec.
Let’s get started!
Shred the cheese immediately after removing from fridge. If you let it come up to room temperature, you’ll have a mess on your hands.
White onion (NOT cooking onion)
Chopped fairly fine and mixed thoroughly into cheese blend. In equal parts. Tailor to your taste.
Quantities are easy to remember:
To make 10 sandwiches, you’ll need 1 kilo or 1,000 grams of cheese mixture. If only 5 sandwiches, which we’re doing, 500 grams of cheese mixture and 50 grams of onion/leek/garlic.
We’re shooting for about 100 grams of cheese per sammie. Equal cheese and bread for best results.
Optional: Black Forest Ham, 2 slices, folded, per Sammie, approx 25 g per slice;
For speed and efficiency when making 100 or more toasties at our local farmers market, we used butter-flavored PAM with excellent results.
At home, we use either unsalted butter or mayo, slathered on the outside of both slices of bread. As the years slide by, we may be developing a preference for the mayo option, mainly because it produces such a nice even brown.
If you’re adding ham, to make what is called a Croque Monsieur, smear a small amount of mustard on the ham. To make a Croque Madame, top with a fried egg, sunny side up.
Usually, we’ll just use a non-stick frying pan, using a second pan or skillet to press down the toasties as they toast away. When we have more time, or guests, we’ll use our Cuisinart Griddler.
Medium heat works well. About 3 or 4 minutes per side, or until cheese melts and bread toasts. Serve while hot, cutting each sandwich on the diagonal to expose more of the ooey gooey. We start eating with our eyes, after all
We’ll usually serve the toasties with a handful of potato chips or a small tomato or gherkins or all of the above.
In the toasties that you see in the video and photos, we went with cheese we had on hand:
Cheese and butter from across Canada have been sampled and evaluated, scores have been tabulated and, now, the finalists in the 2020 Cheese & Butter Competition at The Royal Agricultural Winter Fair can be announced.
A jury of expert judges sampled and scored the 164 entries received from producers in Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Quebec, Ontario and Alberta on the basis of appearance, aroma, flavour and texture, with flavour being the key element.
Here are the finalists in the Cheddar Cheese Section which attracted 35 entries:
Winners in each class and the grand champions—the best of the best—will be announced November 10-14 during The Royal Agricultural Virtual Experience on a new, completely free digital platform accessible by all 24-7. Free registration is required and now is open at http://www.royalfair.org/virtual
Finalists are listed alphabetically by product name in each class. Please note that there was a minimum score to place 1st, 2nd and 3rd. In some cases, if you do not see three finalists, it was either the minimum score was not reached or there were not enough entries.
About The Royal Agricultural Winter Fair:
The Royal Agricultural Winter Fair is the world’s largest combined indoor agricultural and equestrian show. Now in its 98th year, The Royal Agricultural Winter Fair has gone digital and will run November 10-14 at http://www.royalfair.org/virtual
In this year of COVID-19, the 2020 Canadian Cheese & Butter Competition at The Royal Agricultural Winter Fair is the only such judging and competition in Canada and one of the few such contests in the world this year.
The cheese and butter competition hosted by The Royal is the oldest in Canada, dating back 98 years to 1922 when the Fair was first held at Exhibition Place in Toronto.
Judging this year took place on September 24 with six expert judges sampling and evaluating the 164 cheese and butter entries submitted by producers across Canada.
Judging was live and in-person with masks on except when judges sampled cheese, with plenty of social distancing, temperatures taken at the entrance and hand-sanitizers everywhere.
Once scores have been tabulated and carefully checked, three finalists will be announced in each class.
Winners in each class—there are 33 in all—and the grand champions—the best of the best—will be announced November 10-14 during The Royal Agricultural Virtual Experience on a new, completely free digital platform accessible by all 24-7.
The Royal Agricultural Virtual Experience will be a unique opportunity to experience the very best in Canadian agriculture and food from your laptop, tablet, smart phone or desktop. The Cheese & Butter Competition will be one of several featured presentations at the virtual Fair. Click here for more information and to register.
Here’s the breakdown of entries received from producers in Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Quebec, Ontario and Alberta:
Cheddar 35 entries
Variety Cheese (Cow milk) 72 entries
Variety Cheese (Goat, Sheep, Water Buffalo and Mixed Milk) 30 entries
Butter 21 entries
Ghee 6 entries.
The six judges work in pairs, one technical judge and one aesthetic judge. The technical judge starts with a score of 50 and deduct points for flaws and defects while the aesthetic judge starts with zero and awards points for outstanding characteristics and qualities to a maximum of 50. The two scores are added together to obtain the final score for each entry.
The elements under consideration are appearance, aroma, flavour and texture, with flavour being the key element.
Here are the expert judges for the 2020 competition:
André Derrick, aesthetic judge, is a master at food and drink synergy. He is a certified fromager, Prud’homme beer sommelier, accredited whisky ambassador and certified expert in the service and sale of scotch. He’s co-founder of the Frontier Whiskey Society. André’s lifelong love of learning has propelled him to sip, gulp and nibble at life from many international experiences, including stints at Fairmont Hotels, The BT Hotel Group, Club Med and Vineland Estates Winery. André graduated from the University of Waterloo with an honours combined degree in Recreation and Business. He also earned a graduate certificate in hospitality and tourism management from Niagara College. André is regional account manager for Krinos Foods Canada.
Marla Krisko, aesthetic judge, started her journey in cheese in 2005 when she discovered the Cheese Education Guild and began to study about cheese which quickly became a passion. As a “graduate fromager” she continued her studies, making cheese at the Three Shepherds Cheese School in Vermont and working at specialty food stores in Toronto and at events like The Great Canadian Cheese Festival. In 2012, with her partner, Lisa McAlpine, Marla bought Cheese Education Guild, the first school in Canada dedicated to cheese appreciation, from retiring founder Kathy Guidi. Since then, she has served as a judge for the Canadian Cheese Awards and The Royal’s Cheese and Butter Competition.
Kelsie Parsons, aesthetic judge, is Category Manager for Deli Cheese for the 450 Sobeys and Safeway stores across Canada. He is the chair of the American Cheese Society’s Certification Committee, which runs the Certified Cheese Professional (CCP) Exam and TASTE (sensory evaluation) Test. Kelsie has worked as a cheesemonger at farmers markets, specialty shops, and grocery stores. He is a Certified Cheese Professional, earned his Cheesemaking Certificate at the Vermont Institute for Artisan Cheese, and has worked as a cheesemaker producing a variety of sheep and goat milk cheeses. He has visited more than 100 cheese companies during an epic cross-Canada road trip.
Barry Reid, one of the technical judges, was born into a cheesemaking family. His father was a cheesemaker for 30+ years, Barry was, too, for 15 years. For many years following, Barry was a full-time dairy inspector with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency based out of Belleville Ontario. For the past 35 years, Barry has judged cheese competitions.
Cecilia Smith, a technical judge, is a professional fromager, certified as a Professional Fromager by George Brown College and the American Cheese Society. She teaches the Professional Fromager Certificate at George Brown College and the Cheese Sensory Evaluation course at Conestoga College. Based in Uxbridge, Ontario, Cecilia owns a retail company that sells Ontario artisan cheese. She has provided consulting services to many restaurants and cheese shops and has used her sensory evaluation skills to assist craft breweries and cidermakers.
Heather Thelwell, technical judge, says her curiosity and passion for cheese began 25 years ago while living up the hill from a Parmigiano-Reggiano aging facility in the Po River Valley in Northern Italy. Since then, she has worked as a cheesemaker in predominately small ruminant dairies in Ontario, a cheesemonger and a cheese educator. Her credentials include Certified Cheese Maker, University of Guelph, Technical Production of Cheese; University of Vermont, Artisan Cheese Maker Certificate; School of Artisan Food, Wellbeck, Nottinghamshire, in the U.K.
Behind the scenes at the competition, we find:
Lisa McAlpine is one of two Superintendents for the Cheese and Butter Competition. In 2012, Lisa purchased the Cheese Education Guild/Artisan Cheese Marketing from its retiring founder, Kathy Guidi. Since then, she has been involved in teaching cheese knowledge and appreciation classes to deli employees of large retail chains across Canada, to food professionals and enthusiasts and working for the dairy industry as a cheese consultant.
Debbie Levy is the other Superintendent of the Cheese and Butter Competition. She is a graduate of the Chef Training and Baking and Pastry Arts programs at George Brown College, the inaugural Cheese Education Guild class in 2006 and two certificate programs with Acadamie Opus Caseus in France. Since then, Debbie has worked with the dairy and cheese industry promoting fine Canadian cheese.
Roxanne Renwick is in her third year as Judging Facilitator for the Cheese and Butter Competition. She obtained her Professional Fromager Certificate at George Brown College and has spent the last 10 years in the food retail and cheese industry.
Lindsay Bebbington, Manager, Agriculture & Food at the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair, served as the entry registrar and lead tabulator of scores for the Cheese and Butter Competition.
We’ll post information about the finalists in each of 33 classes in the competition as soon as it becomes available.
As noted earlier, winners in each class and the grand champions will be announced November 10-14 during The Royal Agricultural Virtual Experience on a new, completely free digital platform accessible by all 24-7.
I was delighted to serve as co-host with Katie Brown when the judging was filmed. The result, including announcement winners and grand champions, will be part of digital presentations online during The Royal Agricultural Virtual Experience.
Georgs Kolesnikovs, Cheese-Head-in-Chief at CheeseLover.ca, has never met a cheese he didn’t like . . . well, hardly ever.
It’s time for Ontario to have a designated taste trail to spotlight the close to 50 producers of excellent cheese made in the province. Click here for an interactive map providing an overview of cheesemakers in Ontario.
Quebec has long had taste trail to showcase its cheesemakers, recently producing an app for mobile phones to help you navigate the 15 cheese regions of La Belle Province. Click here to access the app, currently available only in French.
Oxford County in Southwestern Ontario has shown what can be done locally to promote its cheesemakers and other artisan food producers, gourmet shops and eateries. Click here to access the Oxford County Cheese Trail, a self-guided tour of 24 stops, including three cheese producers.
We see Cheese Lover’s Guide to Ontario as a mouth-watering guide in print and on the Web:
Who are the cheesemakers in Ontario
Where are they located
What are the tasty cheeses they produce
History of cheesemaking in Ontario
All about milk in Ontario
How milk is turned into cheese
Pairing cheese with wine and beer
Cooking with cheese
We plan to create maps dividing the province into four regions:
Ontario Golden Horseshoe
With suggested itineraries for weekend and longer road trips. We’ll include cheese shops and gourmet food retailers, bakers and charcuterie makers, wineries, breweries and distillers.
If you’d like to help make the Ontario Cheese Taste Trail happen, please get in touch. Email firstname.lastname@example.org or leave a comment below.
For our part, we’ll reach out to cheese producers—There are 46 on our map above—to begin building a database of information about cheeses produced, type of milk used, the personnel involved, history of the business, whether tours are offered, whether there is a retail store on the premises, and so on.
This is quite an undertaking so don’t expect to see the finished product for a while.
Georgs Kolesnikovs, Cheese-Head-in-Chief at CheeseLover.ca, drafted the original outline for an Ontario cheese trail way back in 2010, so this has been a long time coming.
FLASHBACK FRIDAY: First posted on January 23, 2010
Generally, I would not post commercials for cheese but this one for Nolan’s Cheese is worth sharing. Click here to view it. Make sure you have the volume turned up. Watch it to the conclusion before reading further.
In case it did not dawn on you, the commercial is faux. There is no such cheese as Nolan’s and no animals were harmed in the production of the short film.
The film-maker is John Nolan, at the leading edge of animatronics, whose work has been utilized in Harry Potter, Where the Wild Things Are, and Clash of Titans.
He trained a mouse for the opening shots, then built a robotic mouse for the rest.
Georgs Kolesnikovs, Cheese-Head-in-Chief at CheeseLover.ca, is the founder of Canadian Cheese Awards and The Great Canadian Cheese Festival.
Limburger Cheese, famous for its pungent aroma, is a soft washed-rind cheese that, along with Havarti, was a staple of my childhood, after we escaped to Germany from Latvia in the final days of the Second World War, before coming to Canada.
Limburger was originally created by Belgian Trappist monks in the early 1800s in the Limburg region of Belgium. By 1830, due to its popularity, German cheesemakers in the Allgau region of Germany, aka Bavaria, began copying Limburger Cheese. This tradition continues today as Germany is the largest producer of Limburger in the world.
It’s a different story in Canada. Only one cheese producer makes Limburger Cheese, tiny Oak Grove Cheese Factory in New Hamburg, Ontario, 130 km west of Toronto.
It’s a similar story in the United States with only Chalet Cheese Cooperative in Monroe, Wisconsin, making what it calls Country Castle Limburger.
As best as we can determine, Oak Grove doesn’t have distribution in the Toronto area, and it’s unable to ship Limburger to consumers dying to sample the cheese. Thankfully, St. Mang Bavarian Made Limburger is generally available in supermarkets, enabling us to recall flavours of a childhood long ago.
Limburger Cheese has an orange-brown rind and a pale straw colored interior. After maturation of 30 days, the texture of Limburger is still firm and crumbly, similar to Feta, and the taste mild, but by three months of aging, Limburger softens and becomes somewhat spreadable and extremely pungent. This strong scent is caused by a particular strain of bacteria that grows on the surface of the cheese.
Brevibacterium linens is the same bacterium that is employed to ferment washed-rind and smear-ripened cheeses such as Époisses de Bourgogne, Port-du-Salut and Pont L’Eveque. (We won’t mention that Brevibacterium linens is ubiquitously present on the human skin, where it can cause odor.)
But don’t let the aroma of Limburger fool you. The taste is all creamy, sweet and savoury, the paste gives off a lovely lactic aroma with some nuttiness, and the mouthfeel supple and creamy.
All the pungent punch is on the rind—which the faint of heart and palate can trim.
The rind has a distinctive patten indicating where slices should be generously cut for sandwiches. After all, Limburger is a workman’s cheese, best enjoyed on dark rye bread, with a slice of onion, washed down with a dark ale or a strong cup of coffee.
In Wisconsin, they love to smear the rye bread, or pumpernickel with mustard. At our house, we prefer unsalted butter on Dimpflmeier Organic Whole Grain Rye Bread before we lay on the onion and Limburger.
Regarding the onion, we’ve developed a preference for Peruvian Vidalia sold in Farm Boy stores. Almost identical to the Georgia Vidalia in terms of taste, sweetness and color, the Peruvian onion has the characteristic of the flat granex-style onion and is grown in the Southern Hemisphere from the same seed variety as the Vidalia. (Did-you-know aside: The flatter the onion, the sweeter the taste.)
We’re waiting for COVID-19 restrictions to ease to make the trek to New Hamburg for our first taste of Canadian Limburger. Fingers crossed it will be tasty—and smell good like Limburger should.
Also waiting for Mrs. K to relent and let me try a Limburger Mac and Cheese recipe.
Georgs Kolesnikovs, Cheese-Head-in-Chief at CheeseLover.ca, has never met a cheese he didn’t like . . . well, hardly ever.
Flashback Friday: It’s amazing how many favourites of 2010 are still popular choices today. This post first appeared in November 2010.
It is hard to imagine someone with a greater enthusiasm for cheese and its appreciation than Vanessa Simmons. “I’ve never met a cheese I didn’t like,” she insists, and I believe her. I met Vanessa on a Monday night in Ottawa as she led a cheese-tasting class presented by Savvy Company titled the Great Canadian Cheese Discovery. Held at Thyme and Again Food Shop, the class focused on Quebec artisan cheeses.
Vanessa is a Cordon Bleu-trained chef, whose passion for cheese first developed when she made her own feta during a cooking class. She says she was amazed that it seemed to take just “magic, faith and some TLC” in order to produce a great-tasting cheese. She was hooked.
Vanessa is now working toward her Cheese Education Guild certificate with Canadian cheese maven and author Kathy Guidi. Once a week, Vanessa leaves work early and drives five hours from Ottawa down Highway 401 in order to attend the cheese appreciation course in Toronto.
“My brother jokes I either need a boyfriend or a dog, because I spend way too much time with cheese,” Vanessa says with a laugh.
We began our sampling with Le Joupon Frivole from Fromagerie Les Folie Bergeres in St-Sixte, a soft, rich surfaced-ripened sheep’s milk cheese. It was fresh tasting and had a thick texture, forming a paste that coated the mouth. The milk used for Le Jupon Frivole is thermalized, a process commonly used in Quebec. Unlike the high heat of pasteurization, thermalization uses lower heat over a longer period of time. It is therefore gentler on the milk, and helps maintain its original flavours.
Our second cheese of the evening was Foin D’Odeur, produced by La Moutonniere in Sainte-Helene-de-Chester. When it was presented to us, this ripe cheese was melting all over the plate. Foin D’Odeur is a bloomy rind sheep’s milk cheese. It had grassy, natural flavours, while the rind tasted mushroomy.
Nearly every cheese we tasted that night was packaged in a beautiful, hand-designed label, as Vanessa pointed out to the group. The unique labelling reflects the grassroots nature of Quebec cheesemaking. The labels serve as an indication of where the cheeses comes from, and speak to the personal attention they receive from their makers.
Our next sample was a knockout little cheese, and one of my two favourites from the evening’s selection. Le Pizy from Fromagerie La Suisse Normandie in Saint-Roch-de-L’Achigan comes in a tiny wheel, but packs a rich, buttery taste with a bit of a tang. A winner at Quebec’s Selection Caseus awards this year, this cow’s milk cheese is a standout.
We then moved to the most playful cheese of the evening, Sein d’Helene from La Moutonniere. Literally “Helen’s breast,” this cheese is sold in a cone-shaped package, both to reflect its cheeky name and the mountainous region from where it hails. The cheese mixes sheep and cow’s milk; it is a fresh, earthy tasting cheese with a bit of acidity.
Our next selection was a goat’s milk cheese from Fromagerie La Petite Heidi in Saint-Rose-du-Nord called Tomme Le Rosee de Saguenay. The cheese presented barn aromas and had a sweet, tangy taste. It is dry and crumbly in texture with a yellow-coloured rind.
Next up was the second of my two favourites from the evening: Hercule de Charlevoix from Laiterie Charlevoix in Baie-St-Paul. The cheese is named for a legendary local figure, Jean-Baptiste Grenon, dubbed “Hercules of the North”. According to local lore, when Grenon was captured by the English in the 1700s and hung, he fought so hard and so long, the English were so impressed they released him from the gallows. The cheese certainly exhibits some of that same strength with its powerful flavours. A thermalized cow’s milk cheese, it tastes of earth and nuts, with a rind that tastes of chocolate.
Our final cheese of the evening was the only bleu on our plate: Bleu Moutonniere from La Moutonniere dairy. Vanessa has nicknamed this blue-veined sheep’s milk cheese “the converter” for its ability to change the minds of staunch anti-bleu cheese tasters. My neighbour at the table was one of these self-professed bleu haters, so I eagerly awaited her reaction to this cheese. Bleu Moutonniere was a big performer at this summer’s American Cheese Society awards, claiming first prize in the “blue-veined sheep’s milk with rind” category. The cheese is smooth and creamy, with bright coloured blue veins snaking throughout the wheel. It is salty and earthy, and quite inoffensive for a bleu cheese. Bleu Moutonniere managed to live up to its name at the table, as my neighbour declared “this is the only bleu cheese I’ve ever been able to stomach!”
As the evening wound down, I finished up my wine, and mingled a bit with the crowd of satisfied cheese students. Finally, I made my way over to bid goodnight to Vanessa. Like a true cheese enthusiast, she was standing by the cheese table, making sure none of the evening’s offerings went to waste.
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.
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.
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.
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, 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.