Canada’s oldest—and only—cheese competition under way at The Royal

Judging is about to begin for the 2020 Canadian Cheese & Butter Competition at The Royal Agricultural Winter Fair.

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:

Aesthetic Judge André Derrick.

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.

Aesthetic Judge Marla Krisko.

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.

Aesthetic Judge Kelsie Parsons.

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.

Technical Judge Barry Reid.

 

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.

Technical Judge Cecilia Smith.

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.

Technical Judge Heather Thelwell.

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.

A big shout out goes to Dairy Farmers of Ontario and Metro for helping make the 2020 Cheese and Butter Competition happen.

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.

The Cheese & Butter Competition will be one of several featured presentations at the virtual Fair. Click here for more information and to register.

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

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

 

We’re building a taste trail to spotlight Ontario cheese

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

Plus:

  • History of cheesemaking in Ontario
  • All about milk in Ontario
    • —Cow
    • —Goat
    • —Sheep
    • —Water Buffalo
  • How milk is turned into cheese
  • Cheese-tasting demystified
  • Pairing cheese with wine and beer
  • Cooking with cheese

We plan to create maps dividing the province into four regions:

  • Ontario East
  • Ontario Southwest
  • Ontario Golden Horseshoe
  • Ontario North.

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 trail@cheeselover.ca 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

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.

 

 

 

 

This cheddar enhances performance

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

Georgs Kolesnikovs, Cheese-Head-in-Chief at CheeseLover.ca, is the founder of Canadian Cheese Awards and The Great Canadian Cheese Festival.

Limburger: In praise of stinky cheese

Limburger is best enjoyed on dark rye bread, with a slice of onion, washed down with a dark ale.

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.

St. Mang Bavarian Made Limburger is generally available in supermarkets in Canada.

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.

Limburger is best enjoyed on dark rye bread, with a slice of onion, washed down with a dark ale.

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.

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.)

Sign posted in a tavern in Monroe, Wisconsin, home of Chalet Cheese Cooperative, the one and only Limburger producer in the U.S.

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

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

Discovering Quebec cheese one wedge at a time

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.

But Vanessa’s great enthusiasm for cheese makes for a tasting course that is both educational and inspired. She led her 18 guests through a selection of seven Quebec cheeses, all of which paired with two Ontario wines: Cattail Creek Chardonnay Musque and Niagara Teaching College Winery Cabernet Sauvignon.

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.

Sein d’Helene with cheesemaker Lucille Giroux.

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.

—Phoebe Powell

Phoebe Powell, CheeseLover.ca’s roving reporter, is currently based in Ottawa. Her last post was about pairing artisan cheese with craft beer.

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.