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.

Best cheeses in the “British Empire”

Cape Vessey, Grand Champion of the 2009 British Empire Cheese Competition.

Petra Cooper’s leap of faith into cheesemaking is being rewarded with much critical acclaim. Her Fifth Town Artisan Cheese, since it started operations in July 2008 in Prince Edward County, has won more awards than any other artisanal or homestead cheesemaker in Ontario, possibly in all Canada.

On the heels of Fifth Town’s Isabella being named Grand Champion Goat Cheese at the 2009 Royal Winter Fair Cheese Competition came news last week that Cape Vessey was named Grand Champion of the British Empire Cheese Competition.

What’s remakable is that in being named Grand Champion a goat-milk cheese beat cow-milk cheeses from many of Canada’s leading cheese producers. Kudos to Stephanie Diamant, the veteran cheesemaker at Fifth Town.

Additionally, Fifth Town took home first-places in Artisan Sheep Milk Cheese with Bonnie & Floyd, in Artisan Goat Milk Cheese with Petal Luna, in Sheep Milk Cheese with Wishing Tree and in Goat Milk Cheese with Cape Vessey. As a result of those four wins, Fifth Town also was presented with the overall award in goat and sheep milk cheesemaking.

Not a bad haul for someone who gave up a career as a high-powered book publishing executive a few years ago to put her all into cheese.

La Raclette was named Reserve Champion.

The Reserve Champion at the annual British Empire judging event in Belleville, Ontario, was Raclette du Village made by La Fromagerie 1860 du Village, a division of the giant Saputo conglomerate.

Here are all British Empire winners in specialty cheeses:

Artisan Goat Milk Cheese: Petal Luna, Fifth Town Artisan Cheese

Artisan Sheep Milk Cheese: Bonnie & Floyd, Fifth Town Artisan Cheese

Goat Milk Cheese: Cape Vessey, Fifth Town Artisan Cheese

Sheep Milk Cheese: Wishing Tree, Fifth Town Artisan Cheese

Hard Cheese: Romano Wheel, Saputo

Firm Cheese: Fontina Prestigio, Agropur

Swiss Cheese: L’Artisan, Agropur

Semi-Firm Cheese: Raclette du Village, La Fromagerie 1860 du Village

Fresh Cheese: Ricotta, International Cheese

Soft Rind Cheese: Roubine de Noyan, CDA Fromagerie

Smear Ripened Cheese: Le Formier, Alexis De Portneuf

Flavoured Soft Cheese: Red Wine Cold Pack, Maple Dale Cheese

Flavoured Firm Cheese: Double Smoked Cheddar, Parmalat

Blue Veined Cheese: Caronzola, Alexis De Portneuf

American Style: Monterey Jack, Bothwell Cheese

Pasta Filata: Bocconcini, International Cheese

Process Cheese: Smoked Gouda, Saputo

Reserve Champion: Raclette du Village, La Fromagerie 1860 Du Village

Grand Champion: Cape Vessey, Fifth Town Artisan Cheese

The Grand Champion Cheddar comes from P.E.I.

British Empire Cheese Competition features judging in six categories of cheddar. The two big winners were:

Reserve Champion: Pine River Cheese

Grand Champion: Amalgamated Dairies

These are best cheeses as selected by experts in the dairy industry. I wonder who the winners would be if cheese lovers like you and me had our say?

Authentic Parmigiano Reggiano at bargain prices

Giovanni Adamo is cheese manager at La Bottega in Ottawa.

The Special of the Week flyer from La Bottega Fine Food Shop was sent to me by a faithful reader too late for me personally to make the drive to Ottawa by Sunday but perhaps others can take advantage of what is being billed as a Parmigiano Reggiano “super special.” Indeed, that it is.

Until Sunday, Bottega is offering real-deal Parmigiano from Reggiano at $2.20 per 100 grams or $21.99 a kilogram. That’s about half-price of what Parmigiano Reggiano generally sells for in Ontario.

The only retailer that comes close to the Bottega price, as far as I know, is our neighbourhood Costco, bless its multinational soul, which has Parmigiano priced at $25.39 a kilo. Costco, like Bottega, offers it in one-kilo pieces. Costco’s supplier is Ambrosi while Bottega’s is made by Agriform. Both are biggies in Reggiano cheese production in Italy.

Pat Nicastro, proprietor of Bottega, says the Parmigiano Reggiano on sale is “a fantastic Scelto-quality Reggiano dated December 2007, aged 24 months.” (Scelto means specially selected in Italian.) Bottega orders the cheese by the pallet from its supplier where its ranks as the biggest customer. “We are both driving important year-end sales. We are passing on the savings to our customers.”

La Bottega is located in Ottawa’s Byward Market. It carries 200 types of cheese from around the world—plus every Italian delicacy imaginable.

Cheese that is certified as Parmigiano Reggiano is strictly linked to a specific geographical area in Italy. Milk production and its process into cheese takes place in the provinces of Parma, Reggio Emilia, Modena, Bologna (on the left side of Reno river) and Mantua (on the right side of Po River). Click here for information about the consortium that regulates Parmigiano Reggiano.

For a gorgeous video on how the King of Italian Cheese is made—and has been made for 800+ years—click here.

Pecorino Romano saves lives

Traditionally, the salted rind of Pecorino Romano is painted black.

OK, I’m stretching journalistic licence somewhat with that headline but the fact of the matter is that a joint Italian-American study reveals even small amounts of Pecorino Romano protect against arteriosclerosis and contain anti-inflammatory and cancer-fighting properties.

The Universities of Sassari and Cagliari (Sardinia, Italy) in conjunction with a team of doctors from the United States, announced this week the results of a six-year long research study confirming that Pecorino or sheep’s-milk cheese contains high amounts of CLA (Conjugated Linoleic Acid), an Omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acid naturally found in certain food groups and which shows bioactive properties for humans.

The study, conducted in Sardinia from 2003 to 2009 confirms the health benefits of CLA, including “reducing fat, suppressing diabetes, preserving muscle tissue and inhibiting tumor growths on the skin, mammary glands and stomach.”

Wow! Almost makes me rush out and buy the stuff.

CLA is found primarily in milk and dairy products and in the meat of ruminants: sheep, goats, lamb, cattle. Results are highest when ruminants are fed on fresh grass.

The study found that the “regular, ongoing consumption of Pecorino cheese, as part of a balanced and calorically correct diet, contributes a set of bioactive elements capable of significantly reducing the risk factors associated with eating habits in Western countries. Such as cardiovascular diseases, the enhancement of the immune defenses, the proven anti-inflammatory and cancer-fighting properties.”

Why Pecorino? Grass-fed sheep produce a high level of CLA. It is the grazing grass that gives the product its unique nutritional and therapeutic properties. In Sardinia, a region where more than 50% of the farmland is used as pastures, the sheep are fed more than 80% of daily intake with fresh grass, and the livestock techniques used guarantee respect of the animals and their well-being.

“High amounts of combined linoleic acid are a natural byproduct, and not produced through sophisticated, artificial processes or through genetic modifications. The more the sheep feed on grass pasture, the greater the concentration of unsaturated fatty acids in the Omega-3 family and CLA in products made from their milk. Obviously these benefits are added to the other common benefits of milk, such as the presence of calcium and branched amino acids that are especially important in combating osteopenia or osteoporosis in post-menopausal women and in combating overweight and obesity. Pecorino Romano cheese can be eaten even by those who are lactose intolerant. In addition, to protecting the coronary arteries and protecting against arteriosclerosis, CLA has important immunostimulant, anti-tumor, antioxidant and anti-diabetic properties.”

OK, that does it! Out the door I go, but as my nearest cheesemonger is more than an hour away, I end up at a neighbourhood supermarket where I find Romano cheese, without Pecorino cited, under the Tre Stelle brand, part of the Arla Foods conglomerate. The label says the cheese is made in Italy and the ingredients listed are sheep’s-milk cheese—pecorino, in Italian, from the word for sheep, pecora—and bacterial culture, salt and rennet. It costs $3.92 per 100 grams.

I give it 90 minutes to come up to temperature and then pop a chunk into my waiting mouth. Not bad, but a tad salty, which is why Pecorino Romano is primarily used for grating. It’s sort of like a Parmigiano-Reggiano but in a sheep’s-milk kind of way: sharp and earthy, yellowish white. With a Niagara merlot at hand, several additional pieces find their way into my mouth. Doesn’t quite melt on the tongue like the best Reggiano does, but I’m certain it will go well—for about two-thirds the price—with the tomato sauce I’ll make for pasta tonight.

Cheese the new gold?

Is this the new white gold?

Dairy has become more expensive than some top cuts of meat in Canada, and the cost is hitting restaurants and food processors the hardest, says the head of the food services industry, according to a news report by CBC News this week.

“A kilogram of cheese is more expensive than a kilogram of steak. A litre of milk is the same price as a litre of orange juice from Florida,” said Garth Whyte, president and CEO of the Canadian Restaurant and Foodservices Association.

“They now call cheese white gold,” he said. “It’s very, very expensive. I saw it today. A 500 gram brick at an [Ottawa] grocery store was on sale — $2 off. It was $6 for 500 grams, so it was $12 a kilogram. A top sirloin steak was on sale for $9 a kilogram,” said Whyte in an interview with CBC News Monday.

The association has called for a 16.5 per cent reduction in the price of industrial milk at a meeting Monday with the Canadian Dairy Commission in Ottawa.

The report got me thinking. (I hear you saying, Uh, oh!) Mr. Whyte deals with industrial milk so he’s talking mass-produced cheese, industrial rather than artisinal. The question for me is just what have I been paying recently for really good cheese?

Bonnie & Floyd, a wonderful sheep’s milk cheese, was $70 a kilogram at Fifth Town Artisan Cheese last week. My recollection is I paid the same $70 a kilo at Thin Blue Line Cheese Boutique for superb Tomme de Gaston about a month ago. At Cheese Boutique, Migneron de Charlevoix is $64.50 a kilo this week while Benedictine Blue goes for $49.90 a kilo. The six-year-old cheddar from Black River Cheese in my fridge cost $46.23 a kilo.

Clearly, Mr. Whyte would have a heart attack if he knew the price of artisinal cheese. No question, the best cheese is expensive . . . but it’s sooooooooooooo good!

And quite a bargain when compared to actual gold which today is trading at $42,751.23 a kilo.

Welcome, Cheese Lovers!

Cheesemaker for a day at Fifth Town Artisan Cheese in Prince Edward County.

A taste of Oka almost 50 years ago sparked in me a lifelong love for cheese. That love has ripened into full-blown passion as more and more mouth-watering cheeses are being churned out by artisan, farmstead and specialty cheesemakers across Canada. I’d like to share that passion by making CheeseLover.ca an informative and entertaining meeting place for all who love cheese.

Expect this site to grow in scope as I’m not beholden to any one cheesemaker or one style of cheese. Heck, there are even excellent mass-produced cheeses out there! Although my initial focus will be on my home province, Ontario, glorious Quebec and other regions of Canada will receive their due.

Visit often as I aim to add new content regularly. And please do leave a comment as feedback is always welcome.

—Georgs Kolesnikovs