Cheese Boutique hosts Festival of Chefs

Henriot Champagne flows at Cheese Boutique during the launch party for this year's Festival of Chefs.

Chefs from Toronto’s leading restaurants will strut their stuff when the seventh annual Festival of Chefs unfolds at Cheese Boutique over the five weekends of May.

The concept is simple: Let the chefs create dishes with ingredients available at Cheese Boutique. Invite the public to interact with the chefs and—for a donation to Toronto Zoo’s conservation program—let them sample the cuisine paired with a glass of wine.

Here’s the schedule for the cooking demonstrations every Saturday and Sunday in May, from 12 noon to 4 p.m.:

May 1 – Anthony Walsh of Canoe
May 2 – Anne Yarymowich of Frank (AGO)
May 8 – Jason Bangerter of Auberge du Pommier
May 9 – Alida Solomon of Tutti Matti
May 15 – Mike Steh of reds bistro
May 16 – Anthony Rose of Drake Hotel
May 22 – Chris McDonald of CAVA
May 23 – John Higgins of George Brown College
May 29 – Keith Froggett of Scaramouche
May 30 – Jonathan Gushue of Langdon Hall.

Of course, there was plenty of cheese to sample at the launch party.

Five wineries are participating:

  • Tawse Winery
  • 13th Street Winery
  • Cave Spring Cellars
  • Norman Hardie
  • Cattail Creek Estate Winery

Afrim Pristine, co-owner of Cheese Boutique, describes the annual promotion as “a celebration of culinary excellence, of passion, fine ingredients and sharing knowledge.”

Cheese Boutique is located at 45 Ripley Avenue in Toronto’s west end. The photos were taken at the festival launch party last week.

Charcuterie and other taste treats were sampled by guests at the festival launch party.

Hootin’ and feastin’ with Monforte’s Ruth Klahsen

Two pigs and five lambs were only the beginning of the feast at Monforte's hootenanny.

Ruth Klahsen sure knows how to throw a party. This afternoon, more than 800 of her closest friends showed up—and hardly anyone knew it was Ruth’s 53rd birthday. The invitations had only said it was to be a hootenanny in the Stratford Festival Theatre Lobby.

And what a hoot it turned out to be!

Ruth hosted the party to thank the 858 contributors who have raised $385,000 toward the cost of a new plant for Monforte Dairy. Government funding, including a $190,000 grant just the other day from Ontario’s rural economic development program, will make up the rest of $880,000 budget that will see Monforte return to cheesemaking on May 17 in a spiffy new production facility in Stratford.

Ruth Klahsen shows a flock of her supporters the new production facility taking shape in Stratford. Cheesemaking restarts on May 17.

“But it isn’t government that we have to thank for all this,” Ruth told her supporters during a tour of the the plant this afternooon. “It is you, the people who support Monforte, who made all this possible. Without you, we wouldn’t have got a penny from anyone else.”

Cheddar hoops once used by now-closed Forfar Dairy will find new life at Monforte.

Certainly, the banks weren’t interested in getting involved. As a result, Monforte Dairy now only deals with Mennonite Savings and Credit Union, the only financial institution to show support when Monforte Renaissance 2010 was started.

The public money-raising was all done with a model called Community-Supported Agriculture. Essentially, supporters paid in advance for cheese they would receive over five years. Here is CSA explained by Ruth in a video.

The hootenanny turned out to be more of a feast than a folk-music party—which is a good thing . . . when you have some of the leading chefs in Ontario showing up to cook for your guests. Take two pigs and five lambs, organize the chefs into two teams, and the result is sure to be outstanding. Here’s the who’s who:

Team Lamb: Joshna Maharaj, Anthony Davis of The Roosevelt Room, John Lee of Chippy’s, Marc Breton of The Gladstone, Jason Inniss of Amuse Bouche, Johan Maes of Petite Dejeuner, and Scott Vivian of Wine Bar/Hank’s.

Team Pork: Daniel DeMatteis, Steffan Howard of Palais Royale, Tyler Cunningham of Mildred Temple, Mark Cutrara of Cowbell, Martha Wright of Frank@AGO, Olivia Bolano of All The Best Fine Foods, and Chris Sanderson of The Drake.

Ontario wines, local beer and apple cider complemented the fine fare the chefs produced.

On the drive home, more than one guest likely reflected on truths that had become apparent during the afternoon:

—Georgs Kolesnikovs

Georgs Kolesnikovs is Cheese-Head-in-Chief at CheeseLover.ca.

Talk about being open to the public! This video camera in the make room at Monforte broadcasts 24/7 on the Web. Go to <http://webcam.monfortedairy.com&gt;. The username is guest. No password required.

Fifth Town expands into cow’s-milk cheese

Petra Cooper (left) and Jean McCormack among the Holsteins at Quinte Crest Farm.

Only 20 months after Fifth Town Artisan Cheese first began producing cheese, Petra Cooper, founder and president, isn’t resting on the laurels of critical acclaim that greeted her goat and sheep cheeses. Since late December, cow’s milk is also being turned into cheese at the Prince Edward County creamery—with the first offerings going on sale in May.

Sampling will be possible this weekend in Toronto at the Ontario Cheese Society’s booth at Green Living Show and Monday evening at Canadian Artisan Cheese Marketplace & Prince Edward County Wine Tasting.

Quinte Crest Tomme is the new cheese crafted by Stephanie Diamant, Fifth Town’s master cheesemaker. It will be somewhat similar to Lighthall Tomme, Fifth Town’s award-winning goat cheese. (Click here to learn what makes a tomme a tomme.)

Quinte Crest Tomme takes its name from Quinte Crest Farm—just a few minutes northwest of Fifth Town—where grass is turned into milk by a herd of 30 happy Holsteins under the care of Jean McCormack, one of Ontario’s few female dairy farmers. Jean and Petra are near neighbours as the farm is just a few minutes northwest of the creamery.

Quinte Crest is a single-herd cheese that is aged for three to six months in the underground cave at Fifth Town under the care of affineur Phil Collman (who happens to be married to the cheesemaker).

Not content with just one cow’s-milk cheese, Petra has her team at Fifth Town developing a second. It will be called Rose Haus. Ten percent of net sales will be donated to Rose House Museum which chronicles life in North Marysburgh (originally known as Fifth Town) from the 19th century to the present.

Rose Haus, once approved by government agencies, and Quinte Crest Tomme will initially be sold from Fifth Town’s store at the creamery 15 minutes beyond Picton in Prince Edward County.

Fifth Town Artisan Cheese Company bills itself as a “contemporary, environmentally and socially responsible enterprise positioned as a niche producer of fine handmade goat and sheep milk cheese.”

All of Fifth Town’s goat cheeses are made with Prince Edward County milk that is Local Food Plus certified. The cheeses are aged by time honoured artisanal methods in Ontario’s only subterranean aging facility. Fifth Town is a Platinum LEED certified dairy and won the Premier’s Award for Agri-Food Innovation in May 2009. Fifth Town opened in June 2008 as a federally licensed dairy. Currently, it employs 14 people and buys milk from three local, family-owned goat farms and three local, family-owned sheep farms. More than 80 percent of the milk processed by Fifth Town is goat milk.

Ontario Cheese Society goes Canadian

Ontario Cheese Society, during the course of its annual conference and general meeting next Monday, will evolve into a pan-Canadian organization. In an interview with CheeseLover.ca, here’s how Gurth Pretty, chairman of the society’s board, and Andy Shay, a society board member and one of the conference organizers, explain what’s happening.

CheeseLover.ca: What has prompted the Ontario Cheese Society (OCS) to consider going national?

Gurth Pretty

Gurth: The notion has been mentioned by different board members over the last year. When Andy brought to the board’s attention that ongoing trade talks between Canadian officials and representatives from other countries could affect our industry, this was the signal that a national organization was needed to voice the concerns of Canadian cheesemakers.

CheeseLover.ca: What action will take place at the OCS annual general meeting next Monday?

Andy Shay

Andy: This is a very exciting time for the Ontario Cheese Society and months of planning are coming to a head at the AGM. Really, we will be asking the membership to ratify the ground work that we have put in place for the society to begin its national agenda. The proposal to go national has been drafted and sent to members and will be voted on at the conference. In addition, we will be asking the members to contribute to the renaming process. The board will sift through the proposals and will announce the new name in May. Coming up there are a few board member seats that will be available to be filled and we hope that we will be able to draw from a diverse national basis. We are also thinking about the AGM for 2011. In a national society, it would move around the country. Next year, the American Cheese Society will be meeting in Montreal, and that might create very interesting opportunities for the 2011 AGM.

CheeseLover.ca: Are there any other provincial organizations like the OCS? Do they support the idea of a national cheese society?

Gurth: La Société des fromages du Quebec is the only other provincial cheese organization in Canada. Several Quebec cheesemakers and distributors were invited to attend this year’s “Unity” conference. Several members are registered in both organizations. We will discuss with la Société’s executive officers, to hear their comments and suggestions.

CheeseLover.ca: Does OCS only represent the artisan cheese industry? What will the scope of the national organization be?

Gurth: The OCS represents all facets of the Ontario cheese industry, from the large industrial cheesemaker to the tiny artisanal-farmstead operation, where they produce cheese from their flock of 25 sheep. The mandate of the national organization is to be written and agreed to by the interim board. I personally hope that the organization will represent all cheesemakers making cheese with Canadian milk.

CheeseLover.ca: How many members does OCS currently have? Are there several categories? What success has OCS had over the six years since its founding?

Andy: Currently there are well over 100 members representing cheesemakers, milk producers, distributors, retailers, restaurateurs, educators, media and enthusiasts. One of the original goals was to increase communication among all aspects of the industry and that has been accomplished in several ways. First, the AGM has turned out to be a really important annual event for connecting and reconnecting with the cheese network as well as being a chance to regenerate with new ideas. Second, the AGM marketplace and other consumer shows that the society hosts during the year has increased the public profile and access to the cheeses and the cheesemakers that have not always been easy to find. Third, the communication between the Dairy Farmers of Ontario (DFO) and cheesemakers and between the cheesemakers has been opened and there is now a regular back and forth between those parties, about policy, but also about daily operation. We have also increased communication for all members through the monthly publishing of The Slice e-mail, a sort of bulletin board of all things cheese. One other initiative coming up will be the membership card which will entitle the holder to a 10-percent discount at participating retailers.

The Ontario Cheese Society’s sixth annual conference, AGM and marketplace takes place Monday, April 26, at Hart House on the University of Toronto campus in downtown Toronto.

The public is invited to the Canadian Artisan Cheese Marketplace & Prince Edward County Wine Tasting that will take place Monday evening. Click here for more information.

Getting to know sheep’s-milk cheese with Julia

The washed-rind cheese in front left is Clandestin from Fromagerie le Detour in Quebec. Behind it is Pecorino Crotonese from Calabria, Italy. In the upper right is the Ossau-Iraty from France. The small cheese in front right is Sheep in the Meadow from Ewenity Dairy Co-op. The blue almost out of the photo at right is Roquefort Papillon from France.

Despite enjoying a long, rich history in Europe, the production of sheep’s-milk cheese in North America has never been prolific. Happily, Canadian cheese lovers can rejoice as the emergence of local sheep-milk co-ops has led to a resurgence of sheep’s-cheese making in Ontario.

At her Night School for Cheese Lovers, cheese master Julia Rogers conducted a class devoted to sheep’s-milk cheeses last week. Unlike a class on goat’s-milk cheese that she delivered to a packed house—and perhaps speaking to the relative obscurity of sheep-milk cheese in Canada—this class was a more intimate affair, with only 11 students taking part in the tasting.

As a newcomer to the study and appreciation of cheese, I was interested to learn the history of sheep-milk cheese. Humans have been raising sheep for their milk for more than 10,000 years. As self-feeding animals who aren’t the least bit picky, sheep have always been a low-maintenance choice for farmers.

But sheep are sparser producers when compared to their other milk-giving peers; sheep give about one-twentieth the amount of milk cows produce, and they only lactate six months of the year.

Despite these shortcomings, sheep’s milk has twice the fat and protein found in cow’s milk, making it a wonderful base for cheese.

When the night’s tasting was finished, I was left with two favourites, representing completely different ends of the historical spectrum of sheep milk cheese, from the traditional to the emergent.

Ossau-Iraty, an unpasteurized cheese from the Basque region of France, impressed me with its subtle flavours, clean taste, and its enduring finish. Julia spoke of quality versus intensity when offering this cheese, and she suggested that while its flavours might not blow the taster away initially, there are interesting, impressive dimensions to the cheese that make it a crowd favourite. The Basque region is one of the traditional bastions of sheep’s-milk cheese, having produced it for at least 5,000 years. It is no surprise Basques produce such a fine offering.

My other choice of the evening was Sheep in the Meadow, a semi-soft pasteurized cheese hailing from the cleverly named Ewenity Dairy Co-operative of Conn, Ontario. The bloomy rind was rolled in herbs, mainly rosemary and thyme. It was an earthy tasting, aromatic cheese. Founded in 2001, the Ewenity Dairy Co-op is a group of Ontario sheep’s-milk producers who banded together in order to ensure the sustainability of their business.

Sheep-milk production in Canada is not a big business the way cow’s milk is, and 98 per cent of the sheep’s-milk cheese sold in North America is imported. But mindful, dedicated producers, like those affiliated with Ewenity, are helping to expand the sheep’s-milk industry in Ontario, and their work should warm the hearts of cheese fanatics.

The small group who gathered in Leslieville Cheese Market West certainly left at the end of the evening with warm hearts and satisfied taste buds.

—Phoebe Powell

A journalism graduate and budding turophile, Phoebe Powell last wrote for CheeseLover.ca about getting to know goat’s-milk cheese.

Swiss Gruyere named best-of-show at World Championship

And the winner is . . . Gruyere AOC from Switzerland!

The two largest Canadian cheese producers won all five of Canada’s gold medals in the 2010 World Championship Cheese Contest held in Madison, Wisconsin.

Saputo Dairy Products Canada won three golds while Agropur Cooperative garnered a pair.

Twenty countries entered 2,318 cheeses in the competition. The U.S. swept the lion’s share of gold medals. Canada and the Netherlands tied for second with five golds apiece. Best-of-show honors went to a Gruyere made by Fromagerie de La Brévine in Switzerland.

The Canadian cheeses awarded golds are:

Rindless Swiss-style cheese – La Fromagerie, Saputo Dairy Products Canada of Saint-Laurent, Quebec. The Cogruet scored 99.15 out of a possible 100 points.

Camembert and other surface-ripened cheeses – La Maison Alexis de Portneuf, Saputo Dairy Products Canada, Saint-Laurent, Quebec. The Saint-Honore scored 98.95.

Smear-ripened soft cheese – La Maison Alexis de Portneuf, Saputo Dairy Products Canada won again for it’s Le Sauvagine scoring 99.45.

Cheddar, Mild – Agropur Cooperative of Bon-Conseil, Quebec. Its cheddar scored a 99.45.

Cheddar, Sharp – Agropur Cooperative, Bon-Conseil, Quebec. An older cheddar scored 99.5.

Judges at work at the Worlds.

Saputo Dairy Products Canada was founded in 1954 in Montreal by an immigrant Italian family headed by cheesemaker Giuseppe Saputo. It processes 6 billion litres of milk annually in 46 plants in Canada, the U.S., Argentina, Germany and the United Kingdom, with 26 plants in Canada. Saputo products are sold in more than 40 countries under brand names such as Saputo, Alexis de Portneuf, Armstrong, Baxter, Dairyland, Danscorella, De Lucia, Dragone, DuVillage 1860, Frigo Cheese Heads, Kingsey, La Paulina, Neilson, Nutrilait, Ricrem, Stella, Treasure Cave, HOP&GO!, Rondeau and Vachon.

Founded in Quebec in 1938, Agropur Cooperative has 3,533 members and 5,225 employees at 27 plants and distribution centres and offices across Canada, the U.S. and Argentina. It processes 3.1 billion litres of milk on an annualized basis and offers products such as Québon, Oka, Sealtest, Natrel, Island Farms, Yoplait, La Lacteo, Trega and Schroeder.

Ruth Klahsen leads a renaissance at Monforte

We interview Ruth Klahsen of Monforte Dairy at St. Lawrence Market in Toronto.

The cheese is remarkable, the woman behind the cheese even more so.

First, the cheese. Toscano was the first cheese Ruth Klahsen made when she overcame considerable odds to open Monforte Dairy in Stratford, Ontario, six years ago.

Toscano is one of the oldest cheeses in recorded history, going back some 2,500 years in Italy. The full name is Pecorino Toscano, from “pecora,” Italian for sheep. At Monforte, Ruth uses pasteurized sheep’s milk from Mennonite farmers to make the pressed cheese that’s aged a minimum of six months.

The result is a rustic, earthy taste that lingers long after the swallow. You can taste the farm in the natural rind (which requires two brushings per week during the aging process). A lovely aroma announces it’s a sheep cheese even before you cut into Toscano.

No wonder it has become Monforte’s most successful cheese and a favourite of chefs for the way it grates nicely over pasta or rice. With a dab of fig jam, it works well on a cheese plate, too.

Now, the woman. Ruth Klahsen describes herself as “just an old broad who had a mid-life crisis.”

Prior to 2004, she was a chef in Stratford, at Rundles, Old Prune and the Stratford Festival’s Green Room. Her mid-life crisis was that more than anything, she wanted to make cheese. Thus, it came to pass that she mortgaged everything she owned to raise $250,000 to start a cheesemaking business with Sebastiano Monforte, an expert in the cheese arts. Unfortunately, just before the business was to open, Sebastiano quit. Then, $160,000 worth of cheese had to be discarded because of bacterial issues.

With only $2,000 left in the bank, Ruth soldiered on alone. She selected Toscano out of a book on cheese because she liked its appearance, figured out how to make it, and, well, the rest is history that four years later led Toronto Life magazine to declare that Monforte Dairy “makes the best cheeses in Ontario. Full stop.

Ruth proved to be as inventive in making cheese as she was accomplished but her greatest challenge lay ahead.

In 2008, her landlord raised the rent to a level that was simply uneconomical for an artisan cheesemaker. No matter where she turned, Ruth found dead-ends and eventually closed down operations.

Undaunted, she launched Monforte Renaissance 2010 to raise funds for a new dairy using an innovative model known as Community Shared Agriculture (CSA). In a CSA project, subscribers prepay for product, thus, providing financing.

Monforte has three subscription levels, $200, $500 and $1,000, whereby supporters will receive $250, $750 and $1,500 of Monforte cheese over five years.

Says Ruth on her website: “We think this is a revolutionary concept. Monforte Renaissance 2010 is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to affect directly the politics of food in Ontario. By participating, you’re helping establish a business model that should spearhead meaningful growth in micro-production, making it a more viable way of life for farmers and shepherds while providing consumers with higher quality products. If we can make this work—and we’re confident we can—Renaissance 2010 might just open the door to a new day for farmers and consumers alike.”

Renaissance 2010 is indeed working. To date, 791 subscribers have purchased subscriptions totaling $357,500.

The target is $500,000 from 1,000 subscribers by April 25 when the Monforte Hootenanny for supporters takes place at the Stratford Festival Theatre Lobby.

Click here to sign up. We already have.

—Georgs Kolesnikovs

Georgs Kolesnikovs is Cheese-Head-in-Chief at CheeseLover.ca.