World’s first Chaga Cheddar created at Lakeside Farmstead

Cheesemaker Ian Treuer prepares to move blocks of Chaga Cheddar into the aging room at Lakeside Farmstead after it has air-dryed following a soaking in chaga tea.

Here are two things you need to know about Jeff Nonay, a third-generation dairy farmer in Alberta. He enjoys a cup of chaga tea. He has a passion for cheese.

Three years ago, Lakeside Dairy, a thriving dairy, beef and potato operation 30 minutes north of Edmonton owned by Nonay and his partner, Coralee, expanded into producing cheese. The Nonays hired Ian Treuer to, firstly, lead-hand the design of the cheese plant and, then, to become the head cheesemaker at Lakeside Farmstead.

One day Jeff asked Ian whether a cheddar infused with chaga, a type of fungus that grows on Alberta birch trees, might be worth developing.

After some trial and error, the first Chaga Cheddar in Canada—indeed, in the world—came to be.

After soaking in a bath of chaga tea, cheddar curds are molded, pressed and aged for up to seven weeks. The resulting cheese is beautifully marbled and has a creamy texture and mild, nutty flavour.

Jeff Nonay is all smiles with the way Chaga Cheddar looks and tastes. Photo by Curtis Comeau Photography.

Says Jeff: “We soak our curds in a chaga tea, imparting flavours of smoke, sweetness, earthiness. The brewing tea fills the room with smells of being around a campfire. While the cheddar and chaga flavours meld together, the texture quickly becomes creamy and smooth. The outside of the curd stains with the rich dark tea and makes for a spectacular looking cheese.”

Adds Ian: “Our chaga cheddar has an interesting flavour. You get the mild to medium cheddar flavour, but the chaga imparts an almost smoky, caramel/dark chocolate flavour.”

Cheesemaker Ian Treuer holds chaga, a type of mushroom or fungus that grows on birch trees in Alberta—and in northern climes around the world.

Chaga’s most noted accolade is its antioxidant power, according to Untamed Feast, the local experts who source the sustainably harvested chaga used by Lakeside. Chaga is also nutrient dense, containing the B vitamin complex, vitamin D, potassium, copper, selenium, zinc, iron, manganese, magnesium, calcium. Chaga is used to balance blood sugar and blood pressure, to purify the liver, to relieve pain, to modulate the immune system and as an overall tonic.

The cheese produced at Lakeside is truly “farmstead” in that milk comes solely from the dairy barn a mere 200 feet/60 metres from the cheese plant.

Adds Treuer: “The cows have a nutritionist that designs their feed. And that, to me, makes it a better milk to use.”

In addition to Chaga Cheddar, Lakeside produces Cheddar, Clothbound Cheddar, Butter Cheese, Brie, Alpine Cheese, Fromage Blanc, Cheese Curds, Cottage Cheese and Cultured Butter. The cheese is available only in Alberta at present, from selected cheese shops and a retail store at the farm open Wednesday through Saturday.

Ian Treuer first started making cheese at home more than a decade ago: “I was looking for a hobby and it was that or make beer—and I don’t really drink.”

It wasn’t smooth sailing at first.

“That first cheese was a hockey puck. It was hard . . . but I was determined to eat it,” Treuer said.

Treuer kept working at it, which eventually led to teaching classes and working at smaller cheese operations. Then, in 2019, he was asked to become the head cheesemaker at Lakeside Dairy.

Cheesemaker Ian Treuer is shown in the aging room at Lakeside Farmstead with wheels of Alpine, a raw-milk cheese that is aged 12 to 24 months.

 

 

 

“I spent 20 years in another career and then the opportunity to work in cheese kind of arose. I have a very understanding and supportive wife, who allowed me to leave a really good job to pursue cheese.”

Treuer calls the process of making cheese his happy place. He says no cheese is identical, as the result is influenced by the subtle differences in each batch of milk.

Wheels of Washed Rind Cheese and Brie are ready to be packaged and shipped to retailers and customers.

Lakeside Dairy owner Jeff Nonay is known in the Edmonton food scene for his beef. He says that helped get his foot in the door of local restaurants and retailers and on the minds of consumers but his ultimate goal was to add cheese to his offerings.

“It was produced only 200 feet away on our dairy farm, where it all started, and transformed here to something consumers can really wrap their taste buds around,” Nonay said.

Lakeside Dairy is a Nonay-family run dairy, beef and potato operation north of Edmonton that now also produces farmstead cheese.

 

Nonay has had cheddar on the brain for a decade, after visiting a Québec dairy farm with its own cheese plant on site.

Five years ago, a devastating fire gutted a barn and killed 140 cows at the farm that has been in operation for decades.

“We lost a building, we lost animals and we needed to make decisions on what that meant on the farm,” Nonay said.

He said the fire was a fork in the road: a chance to look at what was lost and make decisions on other ways to run the business—and that included making cheese.

After Nonay rebuilt the barn, he started construction on the cheese plant.

“I could see in Québec (at Fromagerie du Presbytère) how it was done, and what we needed to do,” Nonay said but then the COVID-19 pandemic shut the world down.

Like aging cheese, patience is key. Nonay kept pushing, had the plant completed and began making cheese with Treuer in charge of production.

Nonay and Treuer have come up with a new flavour made from a type of fungus that is often found growing on birch trees in Alberta forests.

The world’s first chaga cheese has a fairly mild taste with a slight nutty flavour.

“It’s truly amazing, where we have been able to come up with something unique in the world of cheese,” Treuer said.

Your intrepid reporter first met Ian Treuer almost a decade ago when Ian was a judge at The Great Canadian Cheese Festival. The vat in the background holds 2,500 litres of milk which will yield 250-350 kilos of cheese.

These days Ian Treuer’s daily commute is a short one: a mere 100 steps separate his residence and jobsite at Lakeside Farmstead.

After tasting, testing and tweaking recipes for nearly a year, Lakeside Farmstead’s first cheese product, fresh curds, landed on store shelves in October, 2020.

The issue of milk sourcing is important. This is single-herd cheese, and just like single estate in the world of wine, the singleness of the raw product speaks to terroir (French for taste of place) and the very essence of the product. The taste, the smell and the texture of the cheese is not only a result of Treuer’s fine-tuning, but also because of what the animals are fed and how they’re raised.

While Ian Treuer turns milk into cheese, and Jeff Nonay tends to all aspects of farm life, including turning manure into compost, the dairy barn team ensures the cows receive the best food and care in a clean, low-stress working environment.

Lakeside milks 160 cows and finishes more than 150 beef animals a year.

“Sometimes I ask myself if I’m crazy to be doing all of this,” Nonay says. “Though when I look back, sitting in a rocking chair years from now, I want to think that the cheese is probably the coolest thing we did with our ability.”

The cheese idea sprouted after a young man from Québec came to the farm as part of an agricultural placement project for his education. “He had a backpack with a guitar, some maple butter and a block of amazing cheese inside,” says Nonay recalling the student’s arrival. The cheese was award-winning Louis d’Or, a Canadian classic.

When the placement ended and the young man returned to Québec, Jeff received a thank you note from his father, who, as it turned out, was Jean Morin, a fourth generation dairy farmer and the highly respected cheesemaker at Fromagerie du Presbytère in Sainte-Élizabeth de Warwick east of Montréal, maker of Louis d’Or and other award-winning cheeses.

Over the years, a friendship between the Alberta farmer and the Québécois fromager blossomed, and with that friendship, visits to Morin’s facility and an introduction into cheesemaking. Two of Jean Morin’s sons, first Charles, then Alexis, completed their placement at the Nonay farm.

More than a thousand people show up for Friday evening socials during the summer at Fromagerie du Presbytère in Sainte-Élizabeth-de-Warwick, about two hours east of Montréal.

“Everything Jean did spoke to my soul,” Jeff Nonay says, inspired not only by the creative process but by the enjoyment he witnessed from Morin involving the small community in his work at the church-turned-cheesiry, for in Sainte-Élizabeth-de-Warwick, those who make cheese together, eat, drink and rejoice together, too.

—Georgs Kolesnikovs

Georgs Kolesnikovs, Cheese-Head-in-Chief at CheeseLover.ca, has never met a cheese he didn’t like . . . well, hardly ever. Follow him on on his travels across Canada on Substack at On the Road, Across the Sea.

Credit: Much thanks to Global News in Edmonton and the Eat North website for coverage of developments at Lakeside Dairy from which portions of the above report have been excerpted.

Zacharie Cloutier: Perfect pairing of art and science

Cheesemaker Marie-Chantal Houde and award-winning Zacharie Cloutier. Photo Le Val Ouest.

Marie-Chantal Houde has done it again. Her wonderful sheep milk cheese, Zacharie Cloutier, has been crowned the best cheese in Quebec—for the second time.

The honour came last night at the conclusion of Sélection Caseus 2022, the annual Québec-government sponsored judging and competition for artisan cheese made in Québec with all milks: cow, sheep, goat and water buffalo.

Complete results of the competition are online in English: https://www.caseus.ca/winners.php

Fromagerie Nouvelle France cheese is distributed by Plaisirs Gourmets. You’ll find Zacharie Cloutier in the best cheese shops across Canada. Ask your cheesemonger to order it. Or order online directly from the fromagerie.

We first met Marie-Chantal Houde way back in 2010 when she was developing Zacharie Cloutier on Sundays when she had use of the make room at Fromagerie du Presbytère. The next year she struck gold at Sélection Caseus for the first time. Her star had begun to ascend in a hurry.

Here’s our initial post about Marie-Chantal, her brother, Jean-Paul, who manages the sheep, and Fromagerie Nouvelle France in Racine, Québec, a 90-minute drive east of Montréal. It appeared in September 2014.

Marie-Chantal Houde: The cheesemaker as a rock star

THEN: Marie-Chantal Houde in the make room at Fromagerie du Presbytère developing Zacharie Cloutier five years ago.
THEN: Marie-Chantal Houde in the make room at Fromagerie du Presbytère developing Zacharie Cloutier five years ago.

Five years ago, on a visit to Fromagerie du Presbytère in Sainte-Elizabeth-de-Warwick two hours east of Montreal, I noticed a young woman up to her elbows in curd in the make room—even though it was Sunday.

Jean Morin, co-owner of the fromagerie, explained: “Oh, that’s Marie-Chantal (Houde). She’s developing a sheep’s milk cheese to sell under her own label. I let her use my facilities on Sundays. She’s really talented. In a few years, she’ll be a rock star in cheese.”

NOW:
NOW: One of its kind in Canada, a copper vat from France is used in the making of Zacharie Cloutier and other award-winners like Pionnier and Jean Morin’s Louis d’Or.

The next year, Marie-Chantal’s new cheese, Zacharie Cloutier, made its first appearance at Québec’s prestigious cheese competition, Caseus 2011, and struck gold. The sheep’s milk cheese was named best cheese in all milks. No cheese had ever won top honours at Caseus in its first year. Her star had begun to ascend in a hurry.

At this year’s Caseus competition, Fromagerie Nouvelle France, which Marie-Chantal started five years ago with her brother Jean-Paul, dominated the competition like no other cheese producer had done in the 16-year history of Caseus—confirming Jean Morin’s prediction.

ZAC: The best sheep's milk cheese made in Québec today.
ZAC: The best sheep’s milk cheese made in Québec today.

Zacharie Cloutier was named Grand Champion as well as Gold Award winner. Nouvelle France also won the two sheep’s milk categories, Zacharie Cloutier taking washed, natural or mixed rind honours while La Madelaine was judged best bloomy rind. Additionally, Pionnier, a collaboration between Nouvelle France and Fromagerie du Presbytère, was named best blended-milk cheese.

Fromagerie Nouvelle France is based on a 250-acre farm on the outskirts of the village of Racine, in Québec’s Eastern Townships. Jean-Paul tends to the East Friesian sheep, Marie-Chantal makes the cheese.

ZAC: The best sheep's milk cheese made in Québec today.
SIBLINGS: Jean-Paul looks after the East Friesians, Marie-Chantal makes the cheese. They’re the fourth generation in their family to work the land.

Vanessa Simmons, cheese sommelier at Savvy Company in Ottawa and featured presenter at The Great Canadian Cheese Festival who served as one of 21 judges at Caseus 2014, writes:

“Fromagerie Nouvelle France’s signature cheese, Zacharie Cloutier, is a raw sheep’s milk cheese, named for an ancestor who came to Canada from France in 1634. This ancestor is also said to be a distant relative of Céline Dion.

“Marie-Chantal’s love for her craft and talent transfers directly to her flagship cheese. Zacharie Clouthier is a semi-cooked, firm, raw sheep’s milk cheese with a very distinct exterior basket weave design attributed to a specially selected mold that gives the cheese and apricot rind its unique appearance.  Inside is a dense, meaty, bone-colored paste that portrays a mix of complex aromas and flavors: salt, butter, hazelnut, caramel, and coconut, with a hint of ripe pineapple. A rare treat.

“Le Pionnier, a collaboration between Fromagerie Nouvelle France and Fromagerie Presbytère, is a 40-kilogram wheel made of raw sheep’s and cow’s milk coming from the two cheesemaker herds. The cheese is a great marriage of cow’s milk cheese according to Morin’s tradition, and sheep’s milk cheese, according to Houde’s tradition. Le Pionnier is a firm cheese with a bit of washed rind, a dense cheese texture and some earthiness, and is very robust. Aged for 10 to 12 months, Le Pionnier displays complex aromas of butter, brown sugar and macadamia nuts with a delicate floral note. This cheese says ‘Look at me’ and is very indicative of their personalities. They are very outspoken cheesemakers.”

Now
COLLABORATION: Marie-Chantal Houde and Jean Morin toast the introduction of Pionnier, now also a Caseus winner.

Born on the family farm in Racine 30-something years ago, Marie-Chantal studied at l’Institut de technologie agroalimentaire in Saint-Hyacinthe, then at l’Université McGill in Montréal and l’École nationale d’industrie laitière et des biotechnologies in Poligny in the Jura cheese region of France.

Jean-Paul Houde represents the fourth generation of farmers in his family. His knowledge of the fields, grains, soil and harvesting he owes to his grandfather. His father taught him animal husbandry, to love and care for the animals and, of course, how to milk them. Jean-Paul manages 400 East Friesian sheep of which 250 are milked in rotation. The Solidar sheep farms in Chicoutimi and the sheep farm Fou du Berger in Hatley also supply milk for cheesemaking.

For Marie-Chantal, fine cheese is a marriage of art and science. Her passion for cheesemaking seems boundless. We look forward to seeing—and tasting—where her star will take her.

—Georgs Kolesnikovs

Georgs Kolesnikovs is founder of The Great Canadian Cheese Festival and Canadian Cheese Awards/Le Concours des fromages fins canadiens.

 

With deep-fried cheese curds, poutine and a pogo stick, we celebrate 44 years in love

Whenever a road trip takes us into Northern Ontario, we always plan a stop at Nickel City Cheese in Chelmsford near Sudbury.

The beginning of our road trip out West was no different, except we had a special anniversary to celebrate: 44 years in love.

Who would have thunk that chance encounter on August 25, 1978, during registration at the Russian Academy of Classical Ballet in Toronto would lead to this: An anniversary celebration in Room 112 at Valley inn Motel in Azilda on the outskirts of Sudbury, Ontario, a short drive from Nickel City Cheese in Chelmsford where from the on-site food shack we ordered delicious deep-fried curds, an excellent poutine with curds that really squeak, and a house-made pogo stick that we shared as a meaty app.

The libation was a lovely Grand Cru champagne, Brimoncourt Extra Brut, gifted to us by good friends Maris and Sarmite on the occasion of my recent 80th birthday. Smooth and creamy, it elevated our simple meal to unexpected heights.

Nickel City Cheese is the outcome of a dream Nicole Paquin cherished for many years while toiling as a civil servant in the Ontario Attorney General’s ministry in Sudbury. She was originally from Québec and grew up with fresh curds readily available.

“I remembered the fromage des villages from where I grew up in Québec, and wanted to bring that here,” she said. “We had fresh cheese on a regular basis.”

She took early retirement, studied cheesemaking at University of Guelph, and in August, 2018, opened the doors of Nickel City Cheese.

She makes cheddar exclusively and offers nearly 20 flavours of fresh cheese curds. Thus, it was a natural progression to open a Poutinerie run by her son next to the creamery. And, eventually, a donut shop that features funnel cake, and now an ice cream stand, too.

The milk comes from a Dairy Farmers of Ontario co-op supported by 14 local farms.

Double disappointment

On our return trip from the Rockies, we planned to again stop in Chelmsford for deep-dried curds and the excellent poutine. Much to our chagrin, we found the Poutinerie closed for the season—even though the website says it will be open until November 1.

To add insult to injury, the fast-food joint in Chelmsford that specializes in deep-fried chicken ran out of chicken just as we placed our order, so we ended up eating barely warm burgers for dinner back at the motel.

Dare we visit Chelmsford again?

Footnote: In a recent email, Nicole Paquin confirmed the poutinerie, donut shop and ice cream shop are closed for the season while the cheese shop hours are as follows:

  • Monday to Friday—10am to 5:30pm
  • Saturday to Sunday—10am to 5pm

Nickel City website: https://nickelcitycheese.ca/

Nickel City on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/NickelCityCheese

Fromagerie du Presbytère twice champion at Royal Cheese & Butter Competition

Cheesemaker Jean Morin with award-winning Louis d’Or at Fromagerie du Presbytère.

Cheesemaker Jean Morin and his équipe at Fromagerie du Presbytère in Ste-Elizabeth-de-Warwick, Québec, dominated the 2022 Canadian Cheese & Butter Competition presented by Dairy Farmers of Ontario at the 100th anniversary Royal Agricultural Winter Fair.

Louis d’Or 18 mois and Treizième Apôtre were crowned Grand Champions in two sections of the competition, in Cow Milk and in Goat, Sheep, Water Buffalo and Mixed Milk, respectively. Additionally, four cheeses from Presbytère were named class champions.

Quite the haul in the oldest and biggest cheese and butter competition in Canada with 195 entries submitted by producers across the land. Judging took place June 10. The Fair runs November 4-13 at Exhibition Place in Toronto.

Cows Creamery Extra Old Cheddar was named Grand Champion Cheddar.

Gay Lea Grass-Fed Salted Butter was crowned Grand Champion Butter.

More than $33,000 in prize money was provided by Dairy Farmers of Ontario, the Presenting Partner. The Champions Showcase at The Fair is presented by Metro.

Complete results are posted at https://www.assistexpo.ca/results/rawf/5/

Here are the 2022 Grand Champions and class winners:

Cows Creamery Extra Old Cheddar: Grand Champion Cheddar.

CHEDDAR CHEESE

  • Grand Champion, any milk
  • Cows Creamery Extra Old Cheddar
  • Cows Creamery, Charlottetown, P.E.I.
  • Cheesemaker Armand Bernard
  • Silver Trier Award, cow milk cheddars
  • Cows Creamery, Charlottetown, P.E.I.
  • Cheesemaker Armand Bernard
  • Mild Cheddar, up to 3 months
  • L’Ancêtre Organic Mild Cheddar
  • Fromagerie L’Ancêtre, Bécancour, Québec
  • Medium Cheddar, 4 to 9 months
  • L’Ancêtre Organic Medium Cheddar
  • Fromagerie L’Ancêtre, Bécancour, Québec
  • Aged Cheddar, 2 years or older
  • Perron Millésimé 2015 Vintage
  • Fromagerie Perron, Saint Prime, Québec
Louis d’Or 18 mois: Grand Champion in the cow milk section.

COW MILK CHEESE

Treizieme Apotre: Grand Champion in the goat-sheep-water-buffalo-mixed milk section.

GOAT, SHEEP, WATER BUFFALO & MIXED MILK CHEESE

  • Grand Champion
  • Treizième Apôtre
  • Fromagerie du Presbytère, Ste-Elizabeth-de-Warwick, Québec
  • Cheesemaker Jean Morin
  •  
  • Fresh Unripened Cheese, Flavoured
  • Beet Horseradish Chevre
  • Cross Wind Farm, Keene, Ontario
  • Cheesemaker Cindy Hope
  • Pasta Filata
  • Bella Casara Buffalo Mozzarella
  • Quality Cheese, Vaughan, Ontario
  • Soft Bloomy Rind
  • Le Sabot de Blanchette
  • Fromagerie La Suisse Normande, St-Roch-Ouest, Québec
  • Cheesemaker Fabienne Mathieu
  • Interior Ripened
  • Blyth’s Eweda
  • Blyth Farm Cheese, Blyth, Ontario
  • Cheesemaker Paul Van Dorp
  • Surface Ripened
  • Treizième Apôtre
  • Fromagerie du Presbytère, Ste-Elizabeth-de-Warwick, Québec
  • Cheesemaker Jean Morin
  • Feta or Feta Style, Natural
  • River’s Edge Feta
  • River’s Edge Goat Dairy, Arthur, Ontario
  • Cheesemaker Katie Normet
  • Feta or Feta Style, Flavoured
  • Sundried Tomato & Basil Feta
  • Cross Wind Farm, Keene, Ontario
  • Cheesemaker Cindy Hope
  • Cheese with Grilling Properties
  • Grillou Fines Herbes
  • Fromagerie Nouvelle France, Racine, Québec
  • Cheesemaker Marie-Chantal Houde
  • Open Class
  • Le Verdict d’Alexina
  • Fromagerie Le Détour, Témiscouata-sur-le-Lac, Québec
  • Cheesemaker Mario Quirion
Gay Lea Grass-Fed Salted Butter: Grand Champion Butter.

BUTTER

The Royal Agricultural Winter Fair celebrates 100 years of world-class equine and agricultural excellence on November 4-13, 2022.

Since its inception in November 1922, The Royal Agricultural Winter Fair has become the world’s largest combined indoor agricultural and equestrian show.

The Royal draws more than 300,000 visitors to Toronto annually to see thousands of unique entries from elite Canadian and international breeders, growers and exhibitors, more than 4,500 large and small animals, shows, activities, shopping, dining and—of course—The Royal Horse Show.

Come and experience The Royal, there’s truly something for the entire family. Click here for information and tickets.

 

Much cheese and good eats on a cross-Canada road trip

We’re planning a road trip across Canada, from our home near Toronto to the Canadian Rockies and home again. We’ll be on the road for almost two months, covering close to 8,000 km, camping most of the time—and eating well.

Our primary destination will be the Rockies in all their early fall splendor. We are so looking forward to taking in incredible scenery such as Pyramid Lake in Jasper National Park captured above by Scott Kranz @scott_kranz on Instagram.

Cheese stops are on the itinerary, and food stops, too. Here’s the beginning of our list:

WESTBOUND

EASTBOUND

If you have a suggestion or recommendation, please leave it in comments below.

If you’re planning to visit the Rockies, be sure to check out Travel Alberta, an excellent resource for all things Alberta.

Read more about our plans and the itinerary at our new website On the Road, Across the Sea on Substack. Come along for the ride by subscribing to our newsletter on the Substack page. It’s free.

—Georgs Kolesnikovs

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.

Canadian cheese calendars for Advent

After years of only British cheese calendars available for the holidays, Canadians finally have an Advent calendar featuring Québec cheese.

Congratulations to Fromages CDA, the award-winning marketing agency led by Daniel Allard, for developing a tasting calendar for sale in Sobeys, IGA and Safeway stores—while supplies last.

Here’s how the 24-day cheese calendar works:
—Ideally, you’ll start tasting on December 1 and conclude on Christmas Eve.
—When you lift the perforated flap for each day, revealing a cheese sample, the name of the fromagerie and the cheese will be visible. In the photo, we have opened December 1 and 2, revealing Fromagerie le Fromage au Village/Coeur du village, and Fromagerie P’tit Plaisir/Lys de St-Gérard.
—With a small knife, pierce the plastic to uncover the cheese.
—Enjoy the treat and repeat the process again the next day.
In all, there are eight different cheeses in the package that retails for $39.95, a reasonable price for 650 grams of excellent artisan cheese. Each of the 24 pieces is 27 grams, a perfect amount for sampling.
The eight cheeses are:
Coeur du village, a cheddar made by Fromagerie le Fromage au Village in the Abitibi-Témiscamingue region of Québec;
Lys de St-Gérard, semi-firm cheese, Fromagerie P’tit Plaisir, Eastern Townships;
Fontina, firm cheese, Fromagerie Saint-Benoit-du-Lac, Eastern Townships;
Meule des champs, firm cheese, Fromagerie Rang 9, Centre-du-Québec;
Noyan, semi-firm cheese, Fromagerie Fritz Kaiser, Montérégie;
L’Ancêtre, organic cheddar, Fromagerie L’Ancêtre, Centre-du-Québec;
Fredondaine, firm cheese, Fromagerie La Vache à Maillotte, Abitibi-Témiscamingue;
Le Désirable, cheddar flavoured with maple syrup, La Fromagerie du Terroir de Bellechasse, Chaudiere-Appalaches.
All of the above cheeses are made with cow’s milk. They are marketed under the Amour et Tradition banner by Fromages CDA and distributed across Canada.
If the Québec artisan cheese calendar has sold out where you shop, take the above list to your neighbourhood cheese shop and purchase the cheeses individually or have them ordered in for you.
Failing that, Progressive Dairy Canada has created Advent cheese calendars that you can download and print and then use as a guide for shopping and sampling:
Either way, enjoy plenty of excellent Canadian cheese as the holidays approach.
—Georgs Kolesnikovs
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.

Fritz Kaiser celebrates 40 years of cheesemaking with gold medals at Worlds

Fritz Kaiser: Celebrating 40 years of cheesemaking with Swiss know-how and Québec terroir.

Three goat milk cheeses made by Fritz Kaiser, one of the earliest pioneers of artisan cheese in Québec and, indeed, Canada, won gold medals at the recent World Cheese Awards held in Spain that attracted more than 4,000 entries from 45 countries.

The honours come on the heels of the 40th anniversary of the founding of Fromagerie Fritz Kaiser in 1981, in Noyan, Québec, south of Montréal, three kilometres from the U.S. border.

Fritz Kaiser was born in Zurich, Switzerland, into a farming family but early on he developed a passion for cheesemaking and began to learn his craft. In 1978, Fritz emigrated to Canada, settling, as many Swiss did, in French-speaking Québec south of Montréal. His brother, Matthias, also emigrated and started Ferme Imperiale, a dairy farm, in Noyan.

Three years later, in August, 1981, at age 23, Fritz struck out on his own with Fromagerie Fritz Kaiser. This was a time when every cheesemaker in Canada seemed to be making cheddar exclusively. Two monasteries, Trappist Abbeye Notre Dame du Lac near Oka and Benedictine Abbaye Saint Benoît du Lac in the Eastern Townships of Québec, were the rare exceptions.

Using the craft he learned in his native Switzerland, Fritz started cheesemaking with Raclette, for which he’d become most widely known, and Noyan, a lovely washed rind that has been a best-seller for four decades.

Today, Fromagerie Fritz Kaiser produces 30 different cheeses, using pasteurised cow and goat milk, many of which have won seemingly countless awards over the years. In Raclette alone, there are eight different cheeses made.

“Cheese is a living product, made from 100% pure milk,” says Fritz. “No derivatives, no modified milk ingredients. Our production is purely artisanal, completely opposed to factory production that places more importance on volume.”

His wife, Christin, and sons, Adrian and Noah, are involved in the cheese business. His brother, Matthias, and nephews continue to run the nearby dairy farm.

In 2020, Fromagerie Fritz Kaiser processed 5 1/2 million litres of milk and fabricated about 660 tonnes (660,000 kilos) of cheese. The fromagerie has about 25 employees and one busy cheese-washing robot made in Switzerland, added in 2019.

In February this year, two new cheese coolers were completed, each with a capacity of 64,000 wheels, in investment to permit future growth.

Fromagerie Fritz Kaiser in Noyan, Québec, south of Montréal, three kilometres from the U.S. border.

The cow’s milk used by the fromagerie comes from six area farms. The goat’s milk comes from two nearby farms, one owned by Franz Fuchs, the other by Hans Hodel. The El Toro cheese is made with water-buffalo milk which comes from Ferme Bufala Maciocia an hour away from the fromagerie.

Fritz, hearty and hale at age 63, still indulges in his other passion, flying, by piloting his own Cessna 172.

Daniel Allard, president of Fromages CDA, the powerhouse marketing agency that handles distribution of many leading Canadian cheeses, has known Fritz for more than 30 years, and represented his cheese since 2000.

“Fritz is very much hands-on with all aspects of cheese production at the fromagerie,“ says Allard. “The high standards of Swiss cheesemaking are at the heart of all he does. He started out small, encountered pitfalls, but persevered to become a dominant force in cheesemaking in Quebec and Canada.”

Allard chuckles as he recalls the challenge Fritz had making bloomy rind cheese; nevertheless, he persevered with Le Sœur Angèle which went on to become hugely popular and raise $110,000 for Sister Angèle Foundation.

Here are the three gold medalists in the World Cheese Awards:

SUPER GOLD MEDAL: La Mascotte

Semi-firm 100% goat’s milk cheese, Mascotte tastes of roasted almonds with a goaty finish. Its rind releases a most appealing slightly woody aroma. Excellent cheese for raclette. First produced in 2011.

Named after the mascot of Fort Lennox National Historic Site of Canada on Île aux Noix in the Richelieu River close to Lake Champlain.

GOLD MEDAL: Sainte Nitouche

With notes of roasted almonds and caramel, and a woody aroma, Sainte Nitouche is a semi-soft, washed-rind goat’s milk cheese that melts well and can be used for raclette dishes. It pairs well with homemade tapenade or fresh- or dried-tomato bruschetta. First brought to market eight years ago.

Named after a fictional saint said to be the epitome of innocence and modesty.

GOLD MEDAL: Tomme du Haut-Richelieu

Tomme du Haut-Richelieu is the goat’s milk version of Fritz Kaiser’s Noyan cheese. Made with 100% goat’s milk, it has a washed rind and supple interior, with a hay-like aroma and nutty, fresh milk flavour. In production for 30 years.

Named after Le Haut-Richelieu, a regional municipality in the Montérégie region in southwestern Québec, home to Fromagerie Fritz Kaiser.

In addition to the three goat’s milk cheeses that garnered gold, three other Fritz Kaiser cheeses brought home medals:

SILVER MEDAL: Vacherin Fri-Charco

Semi-soft washed rind cow’s milk cheese with a mild lactic, fruity aroma and a hazelnut and salted butter flavour.

BRONZE MEDAL: La Tomme de Monsieur Séguin

Half cow’s milk, half goat’s milk, Tomme de Monsieur Séguin is a nice blend of Noyan and Tomme du Haut Richelieu. Its smooth rind, and supple, flexible interior, tempt the palate with a fine blend of flavours and a nice goaty finish.

BRONZE MEDAL: Miranda

A firm cheese with a washed, rose-and-copper coloured rind. This impressive cow’s milk cheese emits a scent of nuts and damp straw, and its salty taste releases hints of spicy walnuts and almonds.

Miranda was named Grand Champion at the 2021 Cheese & Butter Competition at Royal Agricultural Winter Fair.

—Georgs Kolesnikovs

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jāņu Siers: Midsummer means making cheese at home

Jāņu Siers still wrapped in cheesecloth as it cools. Brown eggs give the caraway-speckled fresh cheese a yellow hue.

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:

Here are the ingredients: 3 litres of whole milk at least 3.25%, 1.5 kilos dry pressed cottage cheese, 175 grams butter, 4 eggs, 2 tablespoons caraway seeds and 1 tablespoon salt. Look closely at the label of the cottage cheese and ensure it says “dry pressed” and not merely “pressed.”
Mix eggs with cottage cheese. Brown eggs are generally more yellow, which is preferred.
Gently heat the milk to 90-95C and add the cottage cheese mixture. Hold at 90-95C for 15 minutes or so until curd separates from whey.
Wet the cheesecloth before lining a sieve and emptying the curd and whey. Twist the resulting bag of curd and squeeze to drain most of whey.
Warm the pot again, add butter and caraway seeds, then add the curd and salt, and begin mixing in circular fashion until curd forms a ball and no longer sticks to sides of pot. It will take 10 minutes or more.
Wet another cheesecloth before lining a sieve and emptying the ball of cheese. Divide into two or three portions if you prefer smaller wheels. Place on a plate, with the knot in the cheesecloth underneath the cheese. Add second plate and weigh down in fridge overnight.
The next day, remove cheesecloth and wrap cheese in plastic. Store in fridge until it’s time to enjoy. Some people say a week is the right time for the cheese to age to perfection, but we can never wait that long.

—Georgs Kolesnikovs

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.

Cheese finally makes it on Food Network Canada

Afrim Pristine, Canada’s highest profile cheesemonger, starts his cheese journey in Switzerland for the television docu-series Cheese: A Love Story

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:

FRANCE

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.

GREECE

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

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.

TORONTO

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.   

BRITISH COLUMBIA

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

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.

 

 

 

Cheese treats for Valentine’s Day

We asked our neighbourhood cheesemonger, Tammy Miller at Country Cheese Company, what she would recommend for a cheese board on Valentine’s Day—or any other special occasion.

Here are Tammy’ top five picks:

Farmstead 3-Year Gouda, Mountainoak 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

Adoray, Fromagerie Montebello

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

Wildwood, Stonetown Artisan Cheese

This firm washed rind has a silky texture and flavours of brown butter and nuts. Serve with a cherry jam like Provisions Montmorency Cherry and Merlot Wine Jam. #CDNcheese

Figaro, Glengarry Fine Cheese

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

Cashel Blue, J&L Grubb

Creamy and salty with the perfect amount of mineral blue tang. Tammy likes to serve this with classic pairings like honey, figs, prosciutto and candied nuts. Imported from Ireland.

Our thanks to Tammy Miller at Country Cheese Company for helping us prepare these recommendations. Click here to see the Valentine’s Day specials she has on offer at her cheese shop in Ajax just east of Toronto on Highway 401.

 

 

 

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