Marie Harel, I lust after your Camembert!

One of these days, I’ll have to spend time in Normandy, tasting my way through the 12 cheesemakers who produce Camembert under Apellation d’origine controlee standards (AOC). Tonight, however, I must be content with only one, Camembert d’Isigny, made by Isigny Ste-Mere, #3 on the map above.

And content I am! Although Camembert dates back only to the 18th century,  it is one of the most famous cheeses in France, and my d’Isigny is outstanding. Ten weeks after it was made, my small wheel has developed a deliciously strong creaminess, with the typical salty taste, and with the paste still white at its heart. Cheese Boutique, 250 grams, $16.99.

Camembert d'Isigny: Outstanding.

Camembert is named after a Norman village where there is a statue of its creator, Marie Harel. In 1855, legend has it, the cheese was presented to Napoleon, introduced as from the village of Camembert. He enjoyed it greatly and from that moment Camembert became known everywhere by this name.

As tradition and the AOC require, d’Isigny is made from raw cow’s milk cheese. Most of the Camembert we eat in Canada is made from pasteurized cow’s milk. When you first place a chunk of d’Isigny on your tongue, there is no doubt the source is a cow. Despite the aging, it tastes fresh, a testament to the quality of the milk from the herd that likely grazes overlooking the English Channel.

I had some bread at hand, and plenty of nuts and dried fruit, but, one hour later, I see I devoured most of the small wheel neat. As I’m in training for Lent, I washed the cheese down with San Benedetto, an Italian mineral water, splashed with cran juice.

For dessert, there were several slices of Lactantia on rustic white bread. Man, I love my unsalted cultured butter!

Artisanal food market opens at CBC

Cheese expert Gurth Pretty. Photo Keith Beaty of Toronto Star.

If you live in Toronto, here’s a new opportunity to support regional growers and artisanal food producers—and buy Canadian cheese.

Starting this Thursday, Regional ‘n’ Artisanal Food Market will be open from 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. in the Barbara Frumm Atrium at the Canadian Broadcasting Centre, 250 Front Street West at John Street.

It’s all thanks to Gurth Pretty, cheese guru and author and owner of Cheese of Canada, who lobbied the brass at CBC to obtain use of the indoor space. Other confirmed dates are February 25, March 25 and April 22.

“During the summer and early fall, the GTA (Greater Toronto Area) is awash with outdoor farmers’ markets,” says Gurth. “There is at least one each day of the week. Consumers are able to purchase local ingredients directly from the growers or from their representatives. But once the leaves change colour and fall, the outdoor market season shrivels up until (the following) June.”

Vendors confirmed for opening day include:

  • Cheese of Canada (Canadian cheese/dried apple and pear crackers),
  • Kawartha Ecological Growers (vegetables/preserves/eggs/meat)
  • More than Pies Baking Co. (biscotti and bars)
  • Toorshi Foods (savoury pickled vegetables)
  • Warner Farm (Niagara fruit products)
  • ChocoSol Traders and Chocolatiers (cocoa and coffee)
  • Nieuwenhuis Meadows (frozen lamb)
  • From These Roots (flower & fruit jam/salsa)
  • St. John’s Bakery (sourdough organic breads)
  • Evelyn’s Crackers (organic crackers)

Parking is available at nearby parking lots.

Cheese of Canada will have a variety of cow, goat and sheep milk cheeses on sale, including Alpindon, an organic raw cow’s milk cheese from British Columbia, Smoked Gouda from Thunder Oak in Thunder Bay, and award-winning Isabella, a goat’s milk cheese aged for 12 months at Fifth Town in Prince Edward County yet still offering delicate flavours.

The photo of Gurth Pretty appeared in The Toronto Star when it interviewed him on the benefits of raw milk.

Performance enhancing cheddar

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. You can see how Nolan works his magic in his showreel. Click here for stills.

Cheese Business News launched

Cheese Business News (CBN) is being launched today by Invest In Cheese, the economic development initiative of four counties in Eastern Ontario.

InvestInCheese.ca aims to become a clearing house for cheese news and the one-stop authority for start-ups in cheesemaking and other aspects of the cheese business. The long-term goal is to foster growth of the cheese industry in Frontenac, Hastings, Lennox and Addington, and Prince Edward counties which have united under the banner of Ontario’s Artisan Cheese Region.

Spearheaded by Dan Taylor, Prince Edward’s economic development officer, Invest In Cheese hopes to return Eastern and Central Ontario to its heyday as the chief cheese producing region in Canada. In the 1920s, there were more than 270 cheesemakers operating from Peterborough eastward in Ontario, producing a gazillion pounds of cheese, mainly cheddar, much of it for export to the United Kingdom.

Today, there are only 17 cheesemakers in the region—many of them, however, producing exceptional artisan cheese.

CheeseLover.ca was recently invited to a brainstormer hosted by Dan where the idea for CBN was hatched. Also participating was Gurth Pretty of Cheese of Canada, Andy Shay of Provincial Fine Foods, Malcolm Jolley of Good Food Revolution, and two associates of Dan’s in Prince Edward’s economic development, Karin Desveaux-Potters and Caitlin den Boer.

If you’re into cheese, these are heady times. All sorts of interesting projects are coagulating in many corners of Ontario. One way to stay current is to bookmark InvestInCheese.ca and check it regularly. Another way is to enter your email address in the upper right of this blog to subscribe to posts here. Your address will not be sold, traded or given away.

Cheese Lover’s Guide to Ontario Southwest

I’ll say it again: Quebec has a cheese trail to delight the senses. Why not Ontario?

Earlier, we mapped the cheesemakers in Ontario East. Here are the cheesemakers in Ontario Southwest, including the newest, Chanoki Cheese.

[googlemaps http://maps.google.com/maps/ms?oe=UTF-8&ie=UTF8&hl=en&msa=0&msid=109815724710963726608.00047aee6a1dfcc06145f&ll=43.98491,-80.980225&spn=1.968317,4.224243&output=embed&w=425&h=350]

Click on “View Larger Map” for a legend showing the cheesemakers. Then start planning your tour to taste some of the finest cheese made in Ontario.

Here’s where to find the other Ontario cheesemakers:

When you visit a cheesemaker, in Ontario or elsewhere, share your experience by leaving a comment below.

Our cheese plate overfloweth

After I wrote about the Twelve Cheeses of Christmas, it dawned on me we may never ever again be as cheese rich as we are right now at our house. In addition to the delightful dozen, here’s what’s resting at 4C and high humidity in our fridge:

Parmigiano-Reggiano Vacche Rosse

People who know their cheese often say Parmigiano-Reggiano delle Vacche Rosse is the best Parmigiano-Reggiano there is.

Is this the red cow that makes the milk that makes the best Parmigiano-Reggiano?

Parmigiano-Reggiano from Red Cows, in English translation, is made from the exceptionally rich and creamy milk of the original milk source for Parmigiano-Reggiano, the Pezzata Rossa, a breed almost extinct by the by the late 1980s, writes Stephanie Zonis in The Nibble, an excellent online food magazine. Like the Jersey cow, its milk has a higher butterfat content and more milk proteins, but it isn’t a high-yielding cow. After the Second World War, as the old artisan ways began to succumb to efficiency, it was replaced by the higher-yielding Friesian. The result: a less-rich Parmigiano. The other result: The breed began to die out, since only a few committed farmers would keep less profitable herds. Over the last 25 years, some herds have been reestablished, thanks in part to the Slow Food Movement, and are now being used to produce small quantities of this high-end Parmigiano-Reggiano.

The combination of higher butterfat and more proteins allows for the production of a cheese that is better suited for a longer period of aging, producing a 30-month-old cheese instead of the 24-month aging period of most other Parmigianos. The extra aging yields a cheese that is uniquely nutty, fruity and grassy, with a flavor that is richer than most Parmigianos. The texture is more creamy, even though the cheese is aged for a much longer time (The rule of thumb is, the longer the cheese is aged, the drier the paste). This is a special-occasion cheese: Serve it as the cheese course, in chunks, drizzled with 25-year-old (or older) balsamic vinegar, The Nibble writer recommends.

We haven’t taken our first nibble yet, as other cheeses needed to be eaten first, but I’ll provide tasting notes when we do.

Here’s what else awaits us:

Chevrai

This soft, unripened goat cheese from Woolwich Dairy in Orangeville was given to us for Christmas with a goat-cheese baker that we’re eager to try.

Wilton Cheddar

I picked up this five-year-old cheddar during a quick visit to the Wilton Cheese Factory north of Kingston.

Black River Cheddar

A six-year-old cheddar from Black River Cheese in Prince Edward County that we’re in no rush to open.

American Cheese

A colleague of mine who loves to grill with American Cheese brought us a sample from her last visit to the U.S.

1000 Islands River Rat Cheese Curds

Cheese curds make such nice snacks, and these from River Rat are not as salty as those from La Belle Province.

Grand Camembert L’Extra

Where we live out in the boonies, the nearest cheesemonger is 45 minutes away. When the urge for cheese strikes, sometimes I’ll cruise Loblaws or Metro. That’s how I must have ended up with this Agropur product. Obviously, the urge was not that great as the Camembert is still with us, two weeks beyond its best-before date.

Rosenborg-Castello Traditional Blue Cheese

We always have some around for use in salads as it has bite and isn’t expensive for everyday use.

Bonnie & Floyd

So, why are we not eating any sheep’s milk cheese and have inventoried only one goat cheese?

Quite frankly, after I spent a day at Fifth Town Artisan Cheese in November, I brought home so much sheep and goat that by the holidays we had exceeded our quota. In other words, we over-ate.

But the best is still to come. As a bonus for learning to be a cheesemaker for the day, each participant in the program was allowed to pick a 2-kilogram wheel of any Fifth Town cheese to take home. As Bonnie & Floyd is a favorite of mine, my choice was easy. As a result, I’m doing my best, despite the cold in all storage spaces in our condo building, to age my wheel for a Valentine’s Day treat.

Twelve Cheeses of Christmas

Pied-de-Vent from the Magdalen Islands in the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

With 12 outstanding cheeses to enjoy during the holidays, we’ve never had a Christmas quite like this one.

It all started when Significant Other and I decided to present cheese plates instead of sweets for dessert at our house, and to take cheese to friends as gifts. As a result, here’s what we tasted (after spending a small fortune on almost eight kilograms of cheese), sort of in the order of our preference:

1) Beaufort Chalet d’Alpage

After we finished our list of planned purchases at Chris’s Cheesemongers in Toronto’s St. Lawrence Market, we asked, Geoff, our favorite cheesemonger there, what he’d recommend that would blow our socks off. He didn’t hesitate: “Beaufort,” and gave us a taste. As soon as the cheese melted in my mouth, I didn’t hesitate either. “We’ll take it,” I said, motioning to the slab he held in his hand, not even asking what the weight and cost were.

Beaufort, specifically Beaufort Chalet d’Alpage, is an amazing raw cow’s milk cheese that comes from the Alpine corner of France bordering Italy. The term “chalet d’alpage” applies to cheese made from summer milk of Tarantaise cows that graze in mountain pastures above an altitude of 1,500 metres, with the milk coming from a single herd in the chalet property.

Beaufort Chalet d'Alpage from Haute-Savoie.

Beaufort has a natural smear rind and is immediately recognizable by its inwardly-curving sides. While a young Beaufort is said to impart a mild, fruity, sweet flavor, the Chalet d’Alpage variety that we had is aged longer and develops a lovely, rounded, more savory note. It’s rich and flavorful, apparently because the pasturing is done high up in the mountains. Think unpolluted summer pastures scattered with alpine flowers under clear blue skies.

2) Epoisses Berthaut

When we weren’t certain of finding Pied-de-Vent, one of our favorites, we asked Christie at Leslieville Cheese Market East in Toronto what she would recommend as a substitute.

Epoisses, from Burgundy in France, was an excellent choice for something creamy and powerful. It’s a washed-rind cow’s milk cheese with a natural red tint and it’s own rich and penetrating aroma to which it owes its renown. The mouth waters as I type.

3) Pied-de-Vent

We’ve been huge fans of Pied-de-Vent even before we visited the enchanting Magdalen Islands in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Smelly, creamy and tasty, Pied-de-Vent is our idea of the perfect cheese.

When you buy it right at the creamery overlooking the sea, the cheese has a fresh and mild flavor, but distinctive nevertheless. By the time Pied-de-Vent is sold in Ontario, it can be quite strong, almost pungent.

As our friend Matt said, Pied-de-Vent is “great on its own but ignited when paired with pears or fig jelly.”

4) Blue Benedictin

In the words of Matt’s brother Will, “This is perhaps the best blue I have ever had!” As Matt himself said, “It’s a beautiful, mild blue, great on its own but divine with honey.”

Made by the monks at Abbaye Saint-Benoit-du-Lac in the Eastern Townships of Quebec, Blue Benedictin is our favorite blue. Not as sharp a Roquefort (which we prefer in salads for that reason), but divine in so many ways.

Let it melt on your tongue and you’ll be taken away to the rolling green landscape around the monastery, propped up against a shade tree on a late afternoon in the summer, listening to the rise and fall of the monastic chant during Vespers.

Abbaye Saint-Benoit-du-Lac, home of Benedictine Blue (and the milder l'Eremite).

5) Blue Haze

Blue Haze is also made by the monks at St. Benoit du Lac, aged at Provincial Fine Foods in Toronto, and then smoked by Hansen Farms in Cayuga, Ontario. It’s essentially the same cheese as Blue Benedictin but the end result is a testament  to how the aging process—affinage—is everything when it comes to cheesemaking.

“If cheese could walk, Blue Haze would swagger,” Sue Riedl famously wrote in The Globe and Mail. “The rock ‘n’ roll-inspired name sets the tone for this blue cheese with a smoky edge and creamy base . . . the golden brown rind that develops when it’s smoked (over cherry and hickory chips) imparts the exterior ‘crust’ with a burnt caramel quality. The sweetness of the smoke is a perfect counterpart to the salty, buttermilk quality of the blue.”

Blue Haze might be a bit strong for the lightweights among cheese lovers.

6) Midsummer’s Night

“Midsummer’s Night, what kind of cheese is that?” you ask. It’s a caraway-speckled fresh cheese that I make at home.

In Latvian, my native language, it’s called “Janu siers”, literally, John’s cheese in English. In Latvia, for more than a thousand years, it has been made at the summer solstice to mark the midsummer festival of Jani. For this Christmas, I decided to start a new tradition and make it also on the winter solstice. It’s too good to eat only once every year. More, in a later post.

7) Migneron
8  Ciel de Charlevoix
9) Secret du Maurice

It wasn’t our plan to select three cheeses from one cheesemaker but when we returned home after shopping at four different cheese shops, we realized that La Maison d’Affinage Maurice Dufour dominated the pickings. And for good reason.

When affineur Maurice Dufour introduced Migneron in 1995, it’s popular success was key to launching the artisan cheese revolution in Quebec. It’s smooth as ivory, rich and buttery, tasting of the pastoral Baie-Saint-Paul region of Quebec.

Ciel de Charlevoix, a silky, earthy blue, is made from the milk of a single herd of cows and aged to perfection by Maurice Dufour. We found it growing stronger and stronger over two weeks in our refrigerator.

But the big find—thanks to Jeremy at A Taste of Quebec in Toronto’s Distillery District—was a unique goat’s milk cheese, Le Secret de Maurice.

When you unwrap it, you’ll see a circle slightly larger than a twoonie in the middle of the small wheel. With a sharp knife, cut out the circle, exposing the cheese. Dip with plain cracker or white bread and enjoy.

“What fun!” said friend Matt. “This cheese (would be) the talk of (any) party with everything but the kitchen sink being dipped into it. Actually, my favorite was dipping cured meats.”

10) Grey Owl

Another fine goat’s milk cheese from Quebec, Grey Owl provides a brilliant, strong flavor, not quite as sharp as Blue Haze or as rich as Le Secret.

It’s a striking cheese to add to a spread, and not only on account of it’s punchy taste. It’s a thing of beauty because of the way the white interior paste contrasts with the grey ash-covered rind—and thus gives the cheese its name.

11) Pag

Don’t look for Pag at your cheesemonger. You need Croatian friends, like our Ivan and Maria, to bring it over.

It’s a lovely sheep’s milk cheese that comes from the windswept island of Pag in the Adriatic Sea. Hard and flaky, it truly melts on the tongue, imparting the taste of sage and cypress, somewhere between an Oka and a Parmigiano Reggiano.

It’s said to be the best cheese of Croatia and, at least by Croatians, to be one of the best cheeses in the world.

12) Oka

Oka, my first love in cheese.

Yes, I know. What’s an industrial product (as opposed to hand-made cheese) doing on a cheese lover’s list? Simply because it was my first love almost 50 years ago, and despite the fact Trappists no longer make it, Oka has been my one constant companion all these years. Still mild, still buttery, still nutty, still delightful.

There you have it, the 12 cheeses of Christmas at our house this year.

Leave a comment, if you like, about the memorable cheeses of your Christmas.

At home with the Pristines of Cheese Boutique

Afrim Pristine of Cheese Boutique in Toronto.

What cheese will the Pristine family, the preeminent cheesemongers in Toronto, enjoy at home during Christmas?

“It’s impossible to say until it’s seven o’clock on Christmas Eve, we’ve closed the shop and I’m standing at the cheese counter to see what’s left—and what’s really ripe and ready,” says Afrim Pristine, one of four brothers who operate Cheese Boutique with their parents, Fatos and Modesta Pristine. “I can tell you it will be absolutely incredible, and there might be white or black ruffles shaved on top.”

With close to 750 cheeses to choose from at this time of the year, Afrim has the difficulty of choice that the rest of us can only dream of.

“My father usually opens a big northern Italian red at home, so a Parmigiano Reggiano that we’ve aged to six years would make the table,” Afrim says, noting that in his opinion it’s “the best cheese in the world.”

Then there would be a goat cheese—”I just love goat’s milk cheese”—from Quebec, or the Loire Valley of France which has been ripening at Cheese Boutique for 90 days to be ready for Christmas: “It will be phenomenal, so luscious, ripe, acidic.”

With 25 people on hand for the Pristine family Christmas, Afrim says he’ll aim to have something for every palate: “You have to contrast the flavours so you offer the best of all worlds.”

Quite definitely the table will include “a very rich and very creamy triple creme from Burgundy or Normandy where all the good ripe triple cremes come from. That will be a great time to shave some white or black truffles.”

Stilton blue cheese and port wine is “a classic combination” at Christmas, say Afrim, but he might serve Cabrales, the famed blue from Spain.

How will the cheese be served? “Really simply, really rustically, because cheese shouldn’t be taken out of its element.”

It will be a happy Christmas for the Pristines as holiday business has been good this year. Unlike last year, Afrim says, shoppers “can see the beauty of a $25 piece of cheese. We can’t keep the high-end stuff in the store.”

If you’re not familiar with the Pristines and their influence on the cheese and gourmet food scene, there’s an excellent feature in Toronto Life that tells all.

Holy Lactococcus Lactis!

Wisconsin, which produces more cheese than any other state in the U.S., has given preliminary approval to a bill that will name the bacterium that converts milk into cheese as the official state microbe.

It’s called lactococcus lactis and is pictured at right.

“We call those people who oppose it lactose intolerant,” joked Gary Hebl (D-Sun Prairie), who presented the bill to the Committee on State Affairs and Homeland Security on Thursday. The committee voted 7-1 in favor of the bill. It will likely head to the full Assembly in January.

Supporters say the bill may seem silly but it has its merits.

“We want people to know that as a result of this little microbe, we are able to produce these things for Wisconsin, and it’s a tremendous backbone to our industrial complex,” said Hebl.

Plus, establishing a state microbe could spark national attention.

“It doesn’t cost anything to have a state microbe, but it really is a great advertising tool so that we can sell what Wisconsin is really great at to the world,” said Hebl.

Wisconsin’s cheese-making industry generates $18 billion a year. That’s twice as much as the citrus industry in Florida, and seven times as much as potatoes in Idaho. Wisconsin ranks first in cheese production in the U.S., producing 2.5 billion pounds of cheese annually, or 26 per cent of total output. California is second at 23 percent while Idaho is third at 8 percent.

In other cheese news this week . . . two shoppers needed hospital treatment after they fought a pitched battle in a supermarket in Germany with salami used as clubs and Parmesan cheese brandished like a dagger.

Cheese Lover’s Guide to Ontario East

Quebec has a cheese trail to delight the senses. Why not Ontario?

With 24 cheesemakers in the province east of Toronto, you could easily spend two weeks on the road tasting your way to bliss. Check out what we’re billing–Drum roll: Ta dah!–as the Cheese Lover’s Guide to Ontario East:

[googlemaps http://maps.google.com/maps/ms?ie=UTF8&hl=en&msa=0&msid=109815724710963726608.00047a63de1fc16f3bba0&ll=45.290347,-76.728516&spn=3.709952,7.03125&z=7&output=embed&w=425&h=350]

Click on “View Larger Map” for a legend showing the cheesemakers. Then start planning your tour to taste some of the finest cheese made in Ontario.

Here’s where to find the other Ontario cheesemakers:

When you visit a cheesemaker, in Ontario or elsewhere, share your experience by leaving a comment below.