The sweet smell of dairy in the house that comes from making cheese at home is one of my favourite things. Holding milk at 90 to 95C for 15 minutes so curd separates from whey is a sure way to create that warm and wonderful aroma.
The summer solstice has me preparing to make a caraway-speckled fresh cheese Latvians call Jāņu Siers.
Here are the ingredients: 3 litres of whole milk, 1.5 kilos dry pressed cottage cheese, 175 grams butter, 4 eggs, 2 tablespoons caraway seeds, and 1 tablespoon salt. After I make the cheese, I’ll add a few photos at the bottom of the post about the process.
In Latvia, my native land, the cheese is a core element in celebrations marking the summer solstice, a festival called Jāņi. I like the cheese too much to eat it only once a year, so often I’ll make it also at midwinter and giving small wheels as gifts to family and friends at Christmas.
Here’s what I posted about the cheese a few years back:
“Jāņu siers, what kind of cheese is that?” you ask. It’s a caraway-speckled fresh cheese that I make at home.
Jāņu siers in Latvian, my native language, is, 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 Jāņi. That festival is celebrated on June 23 by Latvians all over the world on the eve of St. John’s Day. For many, it’s the most important holiday of the year.
In Latvia, farms are bedecked with garlands of oak and birch branches and meadow flowers. Nearly everyone leaves the city for the open air so that the shortest night of the year can be spent in the merry company of friends in the country. Bonfires are lit, special songs are sung, dancing is a universal element during the festival. The traditional caraway-seed cheese and lots of beer are on the menu.
This TV commercial for Aldaris beer will give you a taste of the festivities on Jāņi:
Tradition has it that this is the one night of the year that you must never sleep. Girls pick meadow flowers to make wreaths for their hair, while men named Jānis get a bushy crown of oak leaves around their heads. (Jānis is the most popular male name in Latvia and comparable to John.)
Eating, singing, drinking and dancing ensue the whole night long. Although the sun sets briefly, it doesn’t get dark in the higher latitude of Latvia and everyone must be awake to greet the rising sun in the morning. A naked romp into the nearest lake or river is a must for men—and the women who cheer them on. Young couples like to go into the forest and search for the legendary fern blossom. Or so they say. And when you greet the morning sun, you have to wash your face in the grass’s morning dew, which on Jāņi morning is said to have particularly beneficial properties.
The reality for me this year was that I tried to make more Jāņu siers than before and used a large lobster pot to heat the milk to 90-95C rather than my usual heavy saucepan. Very hard to keep milk near the boiling point for 15 minutes in a thin pot, I discovered to my dismay, without scorching the milk, thus, three small wheels I made won’t be shared with friends as behind the taste of cream and caraway there is a hint of burnt.
On the bright side, Jāņu siers is always eaten with butter (and never on bread), and I love butter almost as much as cheese. Lay on enough butter and the slight scorched taste dissipates. Consume with enough lager and the cheese tastes as good as it should.
Incidentally, I have not repeated the error of trying to keep milk at 90-95C in a thin lobster pot!
Here are photos of the process:
Georgs Kolesnikovs, Cheese-Head-in-Chief at CheeseLover.ca, was born in Latvia but has lived in Canada most of his life, in Ontario, Quebec and the Northwest Territories. He did spend most of the 1980s living, working and sailing in California.
Eleven years ago, after I started CheeseLover.ca and launched The Great Canadian Cheese Festival, I approached Food Network Canada to explore the possibilities of creating a show about Canadian cheese. I was told in no uncertain terms, Food Network does not do single-ingredient programming.
Fast forward to May 10, 2021: Food Network Canada announces that it’s diving into the world of cheese with a food travel docu-series entitled Cheese: A Love Story. Hosted by Afrim Pristine, owner of Cheese Boutique in Toronto, the series will see him traveling the globe “exploring the most iconic cheese locations and hidden gems to get a deeper look at one of the world’s greatest, and most beloved foods. Cheese: A Love Story makes its debut on June 9 at 8 p.m. ET on Food Network Canada.”
The change-of-heart at the network is testament to how the food scene has changed in the past decade, how much more loved and enjoyed fine cheese is today by Canadians, and how high of a profile Afrim Pristine has managed to build for himself over the past 25 years at the family cheese emporium in west-end Toronto.
Here’s how Corus Studios/Proper Television, which produced the series, describes the show:
Afrim Pristine is Canada’s leading cheese expert, owner of the Cheese Boutique in Toronto and has over 25 years of cheese experience. His passion and commitment to learning more about this magical food stems from his father and family business of 50 years. In this six-part series Cheese: A Love Story, Afrim embarks on a journey to meet up with the farmers, cheesemakers, shop owners, affineurs and chefs in Switzerland, France, Greece, Toronto, Quebec and British Columbia. In each episode, Afrim’s love of cheese only grows fonder as he gets an in-depth look at how each culture has made it their own. Throughout his excursions, he crosses paths with culinary pioneers including: Chuck Hughes (Le Bremner) and Michele Forgione (Chez Tousignant) in Quebec; Elia Herrera (Colibri) and Aiko Uchigoshi (Aburi Hana) in Toronto; and Wall of Chefs’ Rob Feenie and Top Chef Canada Season 7 winner Paul Moran in British Columbia, and many more.
In the premiere episode airing Wednesday, June 9 at 8 p.m. ET, Afrim starts his journey in Switzerland, where he meets with chefs, cheesemakers, vendors and a legendary affineur, Roland Salhi to learn the fine art of aging. In the home known for Gruyère, raclette, fondue, and the famous holey Swiss Emmental, Afrim learns firsthand how these classic cheeses stand the test of time and discovers the modern approaches the Swiss have innovated in the world of cheesemaking.
Here’s a preview of other segments as per Corus:
More than a few countries like to call themselves the “masters” of cheese, but none has cheese more engrained in its cultural identity than France. This is where Afrim knows he’ll find upwards of 400 varieties of cheese in soft, semi-soft and pressed forms, each made in their own specialty pockets of the country. The journey begins in Paris, where gastronomy is the national pastime. Here, cheese is enjoyed in iconic dishes, from a delicate Soufflé to a hearty Tartiflette, to a simple cheese board enjoyed one bite at a time. Then, Afrim heads south to the Jura Mountains to find one of the largest cheese aging facilities in the world. Situated in a former military fort once helmed by Napoléon, the vast, winding fortress of underground caves and tunnels is unlike any other cheese-ripening facility on the planet. Afrim’s final stop is in Normandy, where he shops the local market, Marché de Dieppe, to learn about the region’s heart and history with Neufchâtel and Camembert.
Not to be outdone in terms of long traditions, Afrim takes a trip to Greece where the history of cheese dates back thousands of years. Greece is one of the first countries on record to ever make cheese, from shepherds with sheep and goats on the mountainside to athletes at the first Olympic games energizing with cheesecake. Cheese is a national cornerstone at every Greek table. Starting in the capital city of Athens, Afrim meets Greek master chef Akis Petretzikis to find out how traditional cheeses are used today in beloved Greek dishes; from Hortopita cheese pie to traditional Greek salad, Horatiki. Heading north to the Thessaly region, Afrim finds the historic capital of pure barrel-aged Grecian Feta, Greece’s most iconic cheese. The final stop is Crete, where local shepherds still employ the art of ancient cheesemaking completely by hand in methods passed down over generations.
Quebec cheese making is a practice rooted in heritage and tradition, from long established family fromageries to the key ingredients of classic local dishes. Quebec is known as one of the finest cheese making regions in the world and has developed a whole tourism industry modeled around the top quality and wide variety of cheeses they produce. Afrim’s journey into the creamy creations of Quebec begins in Montreal where he tastes modern takes on timeless classics, and of course, poutine. Just outside the city, Afrim stops in at two generations-old fromageries, both known for some of the region’s best cheeses and for their unique settings. Then he heads North to the historical capital Quebec City and the neighbouring Charlevoix County to experience the most iconic local traditions that la belle province has to offer.
Not all great cheese comes from old Europe. Cheese is now, truly, a global favourite. This time Afrim takes a mini trip around the world in his own backyard, Toronto, one of the most diverse and cultural cities on the planet. Afrim gets a rare opportunity to see the extent of new influences on cheese since he first began in the business. From Filipino food trucks, to Korean diners, to Caribbean comfort classics; Afrim gets an inside look at the cheese secrets of immigrant neighbourhoods all over town. Turns out he needn’t travel far to see the effect of a booming global cheese culture, expressed through the cultural melting pot right here at home.
The last leg of Afrim’s journey is in beautiful British Columbia, Canada. It’s the same country where Afrim lives, but thousands of miles from his home and worlds away in terms of its cheese culture. Unlike his other stops with centuries-old cheese histories, B.C.’s cheese scene is unencumbered by tradition. Here, in the wild west, there’s a free-to-invent mentality that touches all aspects of the lifestyle, including cheese, and the collective attitude is to ‘support your own’ and ‘buy local.’ Afrim will be surprised and delighted by the quality he finds in under-represented spots like Tofino, Comox, Salt Spring Island and of course, the culinary capital of Vancouver. Against some of the most breathtaking scenery the country has to offer, Afrim enjoys some of the world’s top-notch, award-wining cheese that punctuates platters and ignites local chef’s imaginations.
Cheese: A Love Story makes its debut on Wednesday, June 9, at 8 p.m. ET on Food Network Canada.
Kudos to Corus Studios/Proper Television. Congrats to Afrim Pristine! Three cheers for cheese!
Georgs Kolesnikovs, Cheese-Head-in-Chief at CheeseLover.ca, has never met a cheese he didn’t like . . . well, hardly ever. Follow him on YouTube at Strictly Cheese.
This aged gouda has a wonderful grainy crystaline texture and an intense sweet-savory flavour with a caramel finish. Break it up in rustic chunks and serve with dried cured meats, olives, roasted nuts, mustard and dark bread. #CDNcheese
A pretty little cheese wrapped in spruce bark is perfect to feature on a cheese board. This rich cheese tastes of salted butter and bit of funky damp hay. The spruce bark strapping adds a pleasant resinous woodsy flavour. Cut the top off and slather on fresh crusty bread. #CDNcheese
A soft surface-ripened cheese that when served at around six weeks is rich and lactic, with mellow yeasty and vegetal notes. Serve it with dried fruits and nuts, fresh berries, or drizzle with honey. #CDNcheese
Flashback Friday: Post first published on March 7, 2010
There’s nothing quite like spending an evening nibbling on cheese and sipping wine with good friends. We invited two couples to join us for a five-course tasting menu. Here’s how it went down:
Riopelle de l’Isle:
One of the great cheeses of Canada, it’s made from raw cow’s milk on a small island— Île-aux-Grues—in the middle of the St. Lawrence River about 40 miles down-river from Quebec City. Riopelle de l’Île is named after Quebec’s most famous painter, Jean-Paul Riopelle, who lived on the island for two decades until his death in 2002.
He lent his name to the cheese, and provided the artwork that adorns the packaging, on the condition that one dollar for each wheel sold by Fromageries Île-aux-Grues would be donated to the island youth foundation.
A soft triple-cream cheese with a bloomy rind, Riopelle melts in your mouth and has a wonderful taste of hazelnut, mushroom, a hint of butter and a pinch of salt.
I’m so proud of “my” cheese because the two times I’ve shared it, guests have said it was their favorite. This is the Bonnie & Floyd that I was given in November after spending a day learning how cheese is made at Fifth Town Artisan Cheese in Prince Edward County.
Despite my difficulties in finding a spot in our apartment building to age the cheese at the right temperature and the right humidity, my Bonnie & Floyd turned out to be a real treat. Just like the cheese aged at Fifth Town, mine has a smooth paste with complex yet mild mineral flavours. Barely salty near the rind, and somewhat nutty, it provides almost sweet lactic flavours near the centre.
When I first cut into the wheel, I couldn’t believe how fresh and milky it tasted, a testament to how well the ewes who gave the milk are treated, and the speed with which the milk moves from farm to cheesemaker.
Second course/Warming up
Baked Woolrich Chevrai:
My sister gave us a lovely baking dish for Christmas together with a small log of Woolrich Dairy goat cheese and assorted herbs. After 20 minutes in the oven at 350F, it was a striking addition to the assortment of flavours on our menu.
It was nearing its best-before date, so was well aged, and most of our guests laced it with honey. With a Parisian-style baguette, it was a light and tangy treat.
Third course/Cheddar chowdown
Kraft Cracker Barrel vs 5-year Wilton vs 6-year Black River:
We had purchased the Kraft “aged cheddar” as it was on sale at a ridiculously low price at Wal-Mart but had not yet found a way to eat it; thus, my bright idea of blind-tasting the factory-made cheddar against two artisan cheddars.
It was no contest. Even sitting on the board, it was obvious which was the Kraft, but we proceeded with the blind-tasting anyway as it provided an entertaining twist to the proceedings.
The five-year Wilton is a very nice cheddar. Perhaps because it has rested in our refrigerator for four months, we could spot the occasional crystal developing.
Guernsey Girl is a delightful new cheese that is unique to Canada and deserves its own blog entry (which will come after we have another chance to try frying the cheese. Yes, this cheese is fried or grilled before it is served).
It’s an outstanding creation of Upper Canada Cheese using the rich milk provided by a herd of Guernsey cows on the Comfort family farm near Jordan, a Niagara Peninsula village.
When we think of a rich and powerful cheese at our house, we think Époisses Berthaut from Burgundy in France. It’s a washed-rind unpasteurized cow’s milk cheese with a natural red tint and its own rich and penetrating aroma.
It’s described as an iconic cheese in tasting notes published by Provincial Fine Foods: “Époisses is powerfully scented, soft-to-runny, and can sometimes deter people with its frank, leathery, animal aromas. Once past the lips, Époisses is spicy, earthy, salty and rich, but not nearly as potent as one might expect.”
When Cabrales, the great blue of Spain, is well-aged, it is fully potent—on the verge of overpowering the faint of heart. Our Cabrales was like that, even with a chutney or honey or fig jam, so ripe and so intense.
I had told Geoff, a longtime cheesemonger at Chris’s Cheesemongers in St. Lawrence Market, that we wanted a strongh finish to our evening—and did he deliver! Geoff carved our wedge from a wheel that was obviously fully ripe. Heck, half the piece was dark blue!
Our guests, who were as satiated was we were by evening’s end, barely tasted the Cabrales. Meaning Significant Other and I, over the coming week, must find ways to savour the strongest cheese we’ve ever tasted—or it will simply become too powerful, even for strong cheese lovers like us.
There was a loud groan from our full guests when we presented one additional variation on the evening’s cheese theme—cannoli—but six of the little suckers were devoured within minutes.
For starters, Henry of Pelham Cuvee Catharine Rose Brut and an excellent Pillitteri Gewurtzraminer Reisling. Then, Henry of Pelham Pinot Noir and a delightful Conundrum California White Wine (blend). Concluding with Casa dos Vinhos Madeira and a knockout Cockfighter’s Ghost Shiraz that was a match for our Cabrales.
With plenty of San Benedetto carbonated mineral water to stave off dehydration.
Red pepper jelly, Latvian chutney, Kalamata olives, Ontario honey and fig jam from France. Green grapes and strawberries. Honey dates, dried apricots and walnuts. Kashi crackers, multi-grain flatbreads and plain crackers. Parisian-style baguette and a multi-grain baguette.
We also offered tomato slices drizzled with Spanish olive oil and Modena balsamic vinegar and topped with a fresh basil leaf which worked exceptionally well to counter the buttery richness of Guernsey Girl.
One couple brought us two additions to our menu:
Le 1608 is a relatively new creation of Laiterie Charlevoix. A semi-firm, washed rind cheese, Le 1608 uses milk from Canadienne cows whose ancestors were brought to Canada from France starting in 1608. Most of these hardy animals are unique to the Charlevoix region of Quebec.
As Sue Riedl wrote in The Globe and Mail about a year ago, “Le 1608 develops a pale orange exterior that is washed with brine while ripening. Developing a full, barny aroma, the paste tastes nutty at the rind and has a complex, fruity flavour that emerges from its melt-in-the mouth texture. The pleasant tang of the long finish clinches this cheese’s spot as a new Canadian favourite.”
We couldn’t agree more.
What a mouth-watering, medium-strong, creamy blue cheese made from pasteurized cow’s milk in Auvergne, France!
Saint Agur was the perfect counter-point to our Cabrales. Kind of like a softer and finer Roquefort and, due to its double-cream nature, easy to spread on a plain cracker. (The next day, it tasted even better, leaving an almond-like impression.)
In retrospect, 11 cheeses over five courses were too much of a good thing. Four courses of maybe eight or nine cheeses would have been just fine.
The experts usually say allow for 400 grams of cheese per person when serving cheese as a meal. We provided 485 grams per person. When all was said and done, close to 400 grams were consumed on average per person.
Georgs Kolesnikovs is Cheese-Head-in-Chief at CheeseLover.ca.
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.
Laliberté is triple crème that will blow your mind and palate. Think aromatic, decadent, with an exquisite hint of mushrooms and wild flowers. It’s made by Jean Morin, cheesemaker extraordinaire, and his équipe in a former Roman Catholic rectory—thus, the name Fromagerie du Presbytère—in Sainte-Élizabeth-de-Warwick two hours east of Montréal.
The milk comes from the family dairy farm across the street from the rectory now creamery. Jean Morin is a fourth-generation dairy farmer, the fifth generation now works the farm, too, with a sixth generation in the toddler phase.
The farmstead cheese took a year and a half to develop and is made with cow’s milk provided by a mix of naturally raised Jerseys and Holsteins.
When asked what the secret is to making award-winning cheese, Morin, answers simply: “Good grass and no silage.” He elaborates: “Happy, healthy cows. It all starts with the milk, and the care we show the cheese as we make it.”
Laliberté was judged Grand Champion at the recent Canadian Cheese Grand Prix. At the most recent Canadian Cheese Awards, it was named Best Bloomy Rind Cheese.
“This cheese truly distinguished itself in texture, taste and overall appearance. Its exquisite aromatic triple cream with its tender bloomy rind encases an unctuous well-balanced flavour with hints of mushroom, pastures and root vegetables,” says Phil Bélanger, Canadian Cheese Grand Prix jury chairman.
Jackie Armet, cheese co-ordinator at Canadian Cheese Awards, spotlights Laliberté “because it is simply delicious. It has so many rich qualities for a soft bloomy rind cheese. Delicate but bold in flavour with a lovely creamy finish and always t
Ruth Klahsen has been making cheese at Monforte Dairy for 16 years now. Regularly, she has knocked it out of the park with winners like Toscano and Abondance. Add Waltzing Matilda to that list. Made with the rich milk of water buffalo, the flavour profile of the Camembert-style Waltzing Matilda can only be described as gorgeous, as silky smooth delicious.
There are actually two Matildas: Waltzing Matilda features a delicate layer of vegetable ash under its bloomy rind while Matilda in the Buff is the same cheese without the touch of ash.
As Ruth writes on her website:
This Water Buffalo Camembert will make you decide where your loyalties to the name Matilda lay. Tom Waits’ gravelly rasp, or a patriotic love of Australia? For an elegant dinner party, choose the Waltzing Matilda with a delicate layer of ash under its bloomy rind. For the more casual family affair, the Matilda in the Buff will do just fine. Both of these cheeses age beautifully and become supple and creamy in their hinter years (weeks). Honey pairs perfectly with their nutty flavor.
The soft cheese comes in 200-gram rounds, made with water buffalo milk from the Isaac and Israel Wagner farm in Ontario’s Amish community around Aylmer. The ash is, to satisfy federal regulations, imported from France.
At Monforte Dairy in Stratford, Ruth writes, we’re convinced the small things do indeed make a difference, that agriculture is best practiced on a human scale, and that our cheeses, each in its own way, reflect something a little deeper than the technology behind mass manufactured food—a little of the poetry and passion of life itself.
Speaking of poetry and passion, here is the legendary Tom Waits performing the song that inspired Ruth to name her cheese Matilda:
Rock-music author Daniel Durchholz once said Tom’s voice sounds “like it was soaked in a vat of bourbon, left hanging in the smokehouse for a few months, and then taken outside and run over with a car.”
We agree and, thus, in the interest of public service, we feel obliged to present the lyrics here. Besides, wasted and wounded never sounded so good!
Wasted and wounded, it ain’t what the moon did I got what I paid for now See ya tomorrow hey Frank can I borrow a couple of bucks from you To go waltzing Matilda, waltzing Matilda, You’ll go waltzing Matilda with me
I’m an innocent victim of a blinded alley And I’m tired of all these soldiers here No one speaks English, and everything’s broken and my Stacys are soaking wet To go waltzing Matilda, waltzing Matilda, You’ll go waltzing Matilda with me
Now the dogs are barking and the taxi cabs parking A lot they can do for me I begged you to stab me you tore my shirt open And I’m down on my knees tonight Old Bushmills I staggered you buried the dagger in Your silhouette window light To go waltzing Matilda, waltzing Matilda, You’ll go waltzing Matilda with me
Now I’ve lost my Saint Christopher now that I’ve kissed her And the one-armed bandit knows And the maverick Chinaman, and the cold blooded signs And the girls down by the strip tease shows, go Waltzing Matilda, waltzing Matilda, You’ll go waltzing Matilda with me
No, I don’t want your sympathy the fugitives say That the streets aren’t for dreaming now manslaughter dragnets and the ghosts that sell memories They want a piece of the action anyhow Go waltzing Matilda, waltzing Matilda, You’ll go waltzing Matilda with me
And you can ask any sailor and the keys from the jailor And the old men in wheelchairs know that Matilda’s the defendant, she killed about a hundred And she follows wherever you may go Waltzing Matilda, waltzing Matilda, You’ll go waltzing Matilda with me
And it’s a battered old suitcase to a hotel someplace And a wound that will never heal No prima donna the perfume is on an Old shirt that is stained with blood and whiskey And goodnight to the street sweepers the night watchmen flame keepers And goodnight Matilda too
Tom Traubert’s Blues “Waltzing Matilda”
Album: Used Songs
Click here to order Matilda and other Monforte Dairy cheeses online for home delivery in Greater Toronto Area (GTA) and Niagara. Or check with your favourite cheese shop.
For the Love of Cheese: Recipes and Wisdom from Cheese Boutique, by Afrim Pristine, Maître Fromager at Cheese Boutique in Toronto, is much more than a cookbook. Yes, 164 of its 214 pages are devoted to recipes but even those pages are chockful of cheese knowledge and anecdotes from Afrim’s lifelong devotion and passion.
He was born into the business that began as a convenience store in the Bloor West Village in the 1960s, eventually growing into the Cheese Boutique on Ripley Avenue, Toronto’s pre-eminent retailer of fine cheese and gourmet foods.
Afrim started working at the store when he was eight years old. Three decades later, there is no one, arguably, with a higher profile and deeper knowledge of cheese in Toronto.
Afrim’s father, Fatos Pristine, built the business by cultivating relationships with the city’s outstanding chefs. Afrim has taken those relationships to the next level. Many are his close friends, many have contributed to recipes in the book. The list reads like a who’s who of chefs: from Michael Bonacini, who wrote the foreword, to Claudio Aprile and Chuck Hughes, Mark McEwan, Jonathan Gushue, Anthony Walsh and Daniel Bolud, to Bob Blumer who describes the “spine-tingling gastrogasm” of enjoying Époisses.
But when I asked Afrim what is the one recipe of the 79 in the book that I must try, he recommended his mother’s Gatto di Patate. How he knew we love potatoes in this house almost as much of cheese, I don’t know, but Modesta Pristine’s recipe delivered deliciousness in spades, as you can read here.
For the Love of Cheese is available for convenient online purchase and contactless delivery at the CheeseLover.ca Bookstore.
The wisdom portion of the book’s subtitle starts straightaway, after an introductory history of Cheese Boutique, with Cheese 101, Afrim’s take on all you need to know about buying, storing and enjoying cheese. He covers all the bases in a straightforward, useful manner.
Afrim, like most cheesemongers worthy of the name, is often asked to name his favourite cheese—an impossible question, really, given the thousands of tasty cheeses on the planet. His response is to identify his top 10 cheeses of all time, in order of preference, no less.
We won’t reveal the entire list but will allow that Parmigiano-Reggiano is clearly the first cheese named—“The king of cheeses, end of story”—while two Canadian cheeses make the list:
“Simple, straightforward, with the perfect amount of stink.”
#10 FRESH CHEESE CURDS
“Go, Canada, go!”
Then follows a section on all 55 cheeses used in the book’s recipes—which results in a handy directory of possibly the 55 tastiest cheeses in the world.
When I asked Afrim Pristine what is the one recipe in For the Love of Cheese: Recipes and Wisdom from Cheese Boutique that I must try, he recommended his mother’s Gatto di Patate. How he knew we love potatoes in this house almost as much of cheese, I don’t know, but Modesta Pristine’s recipe delivered deliciousness in spades, spuds and curds.
It’s a classic Neapolitan dish—IlGattò di Patate in Italian—that Mrs. Pristine makes on special occasions, such as when relatives visit from Italy.
The recipe calls for Ragusano, Mozzarella, Salami Cacciatore and Yukon Golds, in addition to milk, eggs, unsalted butter, nutmeg, sea salt, ground pepper and fine breadcrumbs. We substituted Parmigiano-Reggiano for the Ragusano, an Italian PDO-protected cheese made exclusively in provinces of Ragusa and Siracusa, Sicily. It is one of the oldest cheeses in Sicily dating back to 1500.
After mashing the boiled potatoes with milk, eggs and grated Parmigiano, we cubed the Mozzarella and Salami and mixed gently with a wooden spoon, adding seasoning as we went.
After applying butter to the bottom of the casserole dish and adding breadcrumbs, in went the potato mixture with all its ingredients. Then a coating of breadcrumbs and more butter before our Gattò went into the oven.
After an hour in the oven at 350F, we concluded we had been too liberal with breadcrumbs, but what the whey. The aroma of baked cheese and potato was fabulous, lingering in our home till late in the evening.
The first scoop revealed a wonderful warm mixture of cheese, potato and salami.
Served with Italian sausages and green beans, we had ourselves a wonderful feast.