A Canadian cheese plate fit for the G20

Le Belle de Jersey ~ Les Bergeries du Fjord

Thank goodness the G20 madness in Toronto is over. The politicians have departed, the hooligans are in jail, the barricades are coming down. As far as we can see, the only bright note was the promotional opportunity for Canadian cheese.

The main meal for the assembled world leaders in the Royal York Hotel began with an appetizer of fresh Atlantic seafood followed by custom-aged filet mignon from the Spring Creek Ranch in Alberta.

Blue Juliette ~ Salt Spring Island Cheese

They then sampled a selection of four Canadian cheeses: Blue Juliette from Salt Spring Island Cheese in British Columbia, a Toscano from Ontario’s Monforte Dairy, and two Quebec artisan offerings—Le Belle de Jersey from Les Bergeries du Fjord and La Fleurmier from Laiterie Charlevoix.

(No snide remarks, please, about the preponderance of soft “girly” cheeses at this alpha-male feast.)

Each course was paired with red and white Canadian wines, and the food will be served on white bone Villeroy & Boch china. A dessert buffet featured Nanaimo bars and the work of two Toronto chocolatiers.

Julia Rogers of Cheese Culture, a leading expert on Canadian cheeses, and foreign fromage, too, was delighted for the cheese producers involved:

“Bravo to the creative Canadian cheesemakers who’ve managed to score some face-time with the world’s leaders. The selection features delicate, surface-ripened Fleurmier, from Québec’s dairy mecca: the Charlevoix region. Belle de Jersey highlights the rich milk of English Channel Island cows—a rare breed in Canada—in a supple, Reblochon-esque washed rind. B.C.’s contribution comes from David Wood, whose Salt Spring Island cheeses are appreciated across the country. Blue Juliette is a petite, pillowy round with earthy, mineral flavours and a steely blue-grey complexion. Rounding out the plate, and giving it some muscle, is Monforte Dairy’s Toscano, a firm and forthright sheep milk offering that despite its Ontario origin, expresses Central Italian caccio di pecora typicity.”

La Fleurmier ~ Laiterie Charlevoix

Here are links to more information about the G20 cheese plate:

Le Fleurmier
Latterie Charlevoix
Baie-St-Paul, Charlevoix region of Quebec

Le Belle de Jersey
Les Bergeries du Fjord
La Baie, Saguenay region of Québec

Blue Juliette
Salt Spring Island Cheese
Salt Spring Island, Gulf Islands region of British Columbia

Toscano
Monforte Dairy
Stratford, Southwestern Ontario

Toscano ~ Monforte Dairy

At CheeseLover.ca, we’ve enjoyed Le Fermier and Toscano in the past, but now, thanks to the G20, we have Le Belle de Jersey and Blue Juliette on our shopping list.

—Georgs Kolesnikovs

Georgs Kolesnikovs is Cheese-Head-in-Chief at CheeseLover.ca. His date with Le Belle de Jersey and Blue Juliette will have to wait as the cheese bin still is full of souvenirs from Warwick.

Celebrating midsummer with Jāņu siers, a Latvian cheese

Jāņu siers is the traditional midsummer cheese enjoyed by Latvians the world over.

“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 Jani. That festival was celebrated last night 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.

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 Zelta, a Latvian lager available in Canada, and the cheese tastes as good as it should.

—Georgs Kolesnikovs

Georgs Kolesnikovs, Cheese-Head-in-Chief at CheeseLover.ca, was born in Latvia but has lived in Canada most of his life.

Good cheese hunting: Day 15, paradise found in Warwick

For a cheese lover, Le Festival des Fromages de Warwick certainly isn’t formidable but it sure is fromidable—as the signs all over town proclaim. (Fromage, fromidable, get it?)

In its 16th year, the festival, the largest cheese event in Canada, generally welcomes more than 40,000 people to Warwick, a town of 3,500 two hours east of Montreal, in mid-June. This year, for reasons that are puzzling, attendance dropped to 28,000.

Thirty Quebec cheesemakers offered more than 100 varieties of cheese for tasting. It was impossible to taste them all, as much as one might want to. We focused exclusively on cheeses we did not know but managed to sample barely 20 cheeses over two days. Among the most memorable:

  • Louis d’Or, a flavourful, complex Gruyere-like washed rind, firm cheese made with the raw milk of the cheesemaker’s own Holstein and Jersey cows. Fromagerie du Presbytère, Sainte-Élizabeth de Warwick, Central Quebec.

  • Mont Jacob, a semi-soft, interior-ripened cheese, with a pronounced flavour and fruity aroma. Fromagerie Blackburn, Jonquière, Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean.
  • Tomme des Cantons also caught our fancy but there is no information available on the La Fromagerie 1860 DuVillage site. Perhaps it has been discontinued.

Saturday and Sunday are the busiest days at le Salon des fromages d’ici, the cheese show that is the heart of the Warwick festival. We’d recommend Friday as your primary day at the event. In addition to cheese, the 2010 festival featured 14 producers of artisan foods, eight vintners, three producers of ciders, one microbrewer, one beekeeper and two grocery-store chains, plus non-stop entertainment in the festival theatre, a children’s activity park, a farm yard complete with sheep, goats and chickens, a spectacular fireworks display on opening night, and popular Quebec bands and singers in concert every evening.

For lunch, supper or anytime, one could withdraw from all the goings-on to the 750-seat festival bistro under a big-top tent and enjoy a cheese and salad plate like the one pictured. There were six choices on the menu, each one with its own assortment of four cheeses, one pâté, one condiment, grapes, crudité, crisp greens and fresh bread.

Click on this or any other image for a larger view.

Down the street from the festival is La Fromagerie 1860 DuVillage, now owned by giant Saputo, which has a cheese boutique and a restaurant that features, among other dishes, 15—Yes, 15!—different ways to serve poutine, the cheese-curd-gravy-with-fries Quebec delicacy that was invented in Warwick.

Quite frankly, it was distressing, on account of all the fabulous cheese already in the belly, not to be able to dive into a plate of poutine in its birthplace.

—Georgs Kolesnikovs

Georgs Kolesnikovs, Cheese-Head-in-Chief at CheeseLover.ca, has returned home to Frenchman’s Bay east of Toronto with a cooler full of Quebec and Eastern Ontario cheese.

Good cheese hunting: Day 14, arrival in Warwick

In 2007, Warwick convinced the Quebec government to declare it as la Capitale des fromages fins du Québec, the Specialty Cheese Capital of Quebec. Le Festival des Fromages de Warwick that starts tomorrow is the 16th version of the huge cheese event that attracts 40,000 to 80,000 visitors, depending upon who is counting.

This evening, it’s still a small rural community in central Quebec some two hours east of Montreal. The most exciting thing happening is the occasional roar of a hot rod on the main drag, which we overlook from Gite du Champayeur.

A delicious baked-to-order pizza—vegetarian except for two cheeses—is our first meal in Warwick.

At La Maison des Fromages, a bistro and cheese boutique in the centre of town, we enjoy a thin-crust Pizza Bénite loaded with pesto, zucchini, tomato, black bean, artichoke and green onion and laced with Bleu Bénédictin and a mozzarella the waitress said came from Saputo.

We look over the exhibitor list: 30 cheesemakers, 14 producers of artisan specialties, eight winemakers, 3 producers of ciders, 1 microbrewer, 1 beekeeper and 2 grocery stores. Bring it on!


Good cheese hunting: Day 13, pilgrimage in Montreal

On our final full day in Montreal, we make a pilgrimage to the oldest cheesemonger in Quebec. As true pilgrims, we trudge on foot, some two hours, between Marché Jean-Talon and our downtown hotel on Boulevard René Lévesque.

Marché Jean-Talon, the largest year-round farmer’s market in Montreal, is where one finds the head office and main retail store of La fromagerie Hamel—in the cheese business since 1961.

There are some 700 varieties of cheese on display at La fromagerie Hamel in Marché Jean-Talon in Montreal.

La fromagerie Hamel now has five locations in Montreal including the flagship store at Jean-Talon. The name comes from its founder, Fernand Hamel, who owned the business until 1988 when it was purchased by Marc Picard who runs the business today with his wife, Murielle Chaput, and his son, Ian Picard, who has been the master fromager affineur for the past decade.

Camille, one of the friendly, bilingual experts in cheese who looks after customers, introduced us to three new-to-us Quebec cheeses that we will report on in due course:

  • Alfred fermier, a farmstead organic raw cow’s milk cheese from
    Eastern Townships
  • Kenogami fermier, a farmstead thermalized cow’s milk cheese from Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean
  • Mamirolle, a pasteurized cow’s milk cheese from Central Quebec aged in the cave at La fromagerie Hamel.

La fromagerie Hamel is the oldest cheese retailer in Quebec and, as far as we can make out, the second oldest in Canada. Olympic Cheese Mart at St. Lawrence Market in Toronto started cheesemongering in 1958. The high-profile Cheese Boutique in Toronto opened its doors in 1977.

Non-cheese footnotes on eating our way around Montreal for a week:

—Georgs Kolesnikovs

Georgs Kolesnikovs, Cheese-Head-in-Chief at CheeseLover.ca, departs Montreal tomorrow with his Significant Other for Le Festival des Fromages de Warwick.

Good cheese hunting: Day 12 and crêped out

We lied. After dining at Crêperie Chez Suzette in Old Montreal, we’re unable to stay away from the blog. Here’s why:

Brie, Gruyere and mozzarella—with a splash of maple syrup—make le crêpe aux trois fromages an amazing dish, cheesy and so tasty.

La Florentine is a crêpe stuffed with spinach and Brie and served with a béchamel sauce. Yum.

There is no cheese involved but we couldn't resist showing you a decadent dessert named Sonia: A crêpe served with fresh strawberries, bananas, ice cream and Belgian chocolate sauce.

We know, we know, the dessert looks, well, over the top, but it was utterly delicious.

—Georgs Kolesnikovs

Georgs Kolesnikovs, Cheese-Head-in-Chief at CheeseLover.ca, is traveling with his Significant Other to Le Festival des Fromages de Warwick.

Good cheese hunting: Day 11, kicking back in Montreal

Lest you think we’re slacking off in the good cheese hunt, here’s a look at what’s in our portable cheese bin at the moment, clockwise starting from the upper left:

For the next few days, as we get down to serious sight-seeing in Montreal, we might drop out of sight as far as the blog goes. Besides, we need to munch our way through the cheeses shown above. After all, the cheese hunt will start again with a bang when we hit Warwick on Thursday for Festival des Fromages de Warwick.

Tonight, it was bistro night in our suite at Holiday Inn Express in downtown Montreal. A few mouthfuls of a rich smoked salmon, a chunk of Balderson 3-year, a chunk of the great Celtic Blue, and a chunk of unsalted butter with the fresh baguette. The vin rouge was a no-name from France that we found at the neighbourhood IGA for under $10.

A final note: During a visit to Dairy Farmers of Canada, it was most encouraging to learn how DFC promotes Canadian cheese in so many different ways.