Oka and chicken thighs: a winning pair

Voila! A grilled-cheese sandwich made with Oka and dark chicken. And butter of course.

Significant Other knows I love Oka. She knows I love dark chicken. And she knows I’m crazy about well-buttered grilled-cheese sandwiches. Yes, you guessed it! She combined all three in a surprise lunch that was outstanding.

Although I’ve been in love with Oka for almost 50 years, I’ve never ever had it in a grilled sandwich. Now, it will be part of the reportoire. It melts so easily, turns so gooey, and tastes so wonderful.

The chunks of chicken thighs in the warm cheese reminded me of a fine chicken Parmigiano. The caraway seeds in the light rye were popping with flavour. Sliced cucumbers and grape tomatoes made the perfect side.

—Georgs Kolesnikovs

Georgs Kolesnikovs, Cheese-head-in-chief at CheeseLover.ca, has never met a grilled-cheese sandwich he didn’t like.

Say artisan cheese, say craft beer, please!

Craft beer and artisan cheese: A pairing made in grain.

When I think of cheese pairings, my mind immediately goes to wine: the two are a classic combination. Apparently, mine is not the only brain that works this way. At a beer and cheese tasting held at Black Creek Pioneer Village, one attendee admitted, “I never would have thought to pair beer with cheese”. Though it may be a less-obvious pairing, under the expert guidance of Julia Rogers, I learned cheese and beer can complement one another beautifully.

“Cheese and wine is such a known pairing, it has become a single word, cheeseandwine,” Julia said. “But I am more nervous when pairing cheese with wine. Cheese and beer work together every time.”

Julia explained that cheese and beer make sense together because they share a common origin: beer is made from grain (usually barley), and grain is one of the main foods consumed by dairy animals. This common source can be detected when tasting both cheeses and beers.

But being in a historical replica village, we, the tasters, had to go through a lesson on the history of beer in Canada before we got to test Rogers’s theories.

Black Creek Pioneer Village is set in the 1860s, and so our lesson focused on the state of the beer industry at that time. Many of the big-name Canadian brews lining liquor store shelves today got their start in the 19th century, including Labatt’s, Alexander Keith’s, and Sleeman’s.

These early brewers were part of the upper echelons of Canadian society, dabbling in politics, banking, and business, and they helped to build much of the country’s infrastructure at that time, including schools, churches, and banks. As my tasting companion remarked with awe, “Canada was built on beer.”

Black Creek Brewery: Crafting beer the way Canadians did in the 1860s.

Black Creek Pioneer Village opened its own traditional brewery in June 2009. The beers are made as they would have been in the mid-nineteenth century. They are not carbonated, and are served at room temperature directly from the oak barrels in which they are aged. We sampled three of Black Creek’s beers: a brown ale, a porter ale, and an India Pale Ale.

Though initially I was repulsed by the warm, flat beer, my tastebuds gradually became accustomed to the style, and I grew to appreciate the simplicity of the traditional brews and the purity of their taste. The porter ale, a dark beer with notes of coffee and chocolate, was my favourite of Black Creek’s offerings.

After finishing our samples, we were finally introduced to the evening’s cheese selection. Rogers had come with five pairings: four Ontario cheeses matched with Ontario craft beers, and one Quebec cheese and beer pairing.

Julia explained there are different ways of creating a pairing. You can pair by the ‘weight’ of the two (such as a heavy-tasting beer with a strong cheese), by common flavours and aromas, or by regional and historical commonalities.

The first pairing was a Stracchino from Quality Cheese matched with Mill Street Brewery’s Lemon Tea Ale.  The two worked nicely together, as the bread flavours present in the wheat beer paired well with the yeasty, tangy Italian-style cheese.

Our second selection included Niagara Gold, a Guernsey cow milk tome made by Upper Canada Cheese Company, and Black Oak Saison Ale. As the name would suggest, Saison is a seasonal beer, brewed at the close of the traditional brewing season, in March. It’s a refreshing beer with flavours of citrus and spice. The Niagara Gold, a savoury, buttery cheese, paired well with it, muting some of the stronger spice notes in the beer.

We then reached the Quebec pairing of Chevre Noir, a goat’s milk cheddar, with Rose d’Hibiscus, a flavoured wheat beer crafted by the Dieu du Ciel microbrewery. The attractive rose-coloured beer is sweet on the nose but has an acidic taste which comes from the hibiscus flowers added during the brewing process. The pairing was suggested by the brewer himself, and the man clearly knows his cheese as well as his beer. The tangy Chevre Noir was powerful enough to stand up to the strong-flavoured brew.

Tasting companion: In truth, my brother Mike.

My tasting companion’s favourite pairing was the fourth, Jensen Cheese’s 3-year cheddar with Railway City Brewery’s Dead Elephant India Pale Ale. It was a bold pairing; the 6.8 % ale had strong flavours of grapefruit and hops that were complemented by the zesty, creamy cheddar. My tasting companion had nothing but praise for the pair, and he wondered aloud where he could buy each.

The final match was my favourite: Ewenity Dairy’s Brebette sheep’s milk cheese and Black Creek’s own porter ale. The fresh-tasting, bloomy rind cheese had a velvety texture. Rogers served it with a homemade fig and dark chocolate jam. The porter paired perfectly with the cheese and the sweet spread. Beer often pairs better with desserts and sweets than wine, further proof of the beverage’s versatility.

As the evening wound down, the last of the cheese was eaten while Julia chatted with her students. Meanwhile, my tasting companion, never one to be shy, requested a second glass of the Railway City IPA, and as he savoured his brew, he vowed to create his own pairings at home.

—Phoebe Powell

Phoebe Powell, a roving reporter for CheeseLover.ca, last wrote about a Canadian grilled-cheese throw-down.

Changing the cheese tastes of Vancouver and other cheese news

Cheese makes news every day. That’s why we’ve started collecting links to the most interesting news reports of the week on a special page under the News tab at the top of the blog. Check it whenever you visit CheeseLover.ca.

Allison Spurrell, with her mother Alice, owns Les Amis du Fromage, Vancouver’s leading cheese shop.

Converting cheeseheads into cheese connoisseurs in Vancouver (Photo)

Cooking show online promotes cheese in Wisconsin

Herding goats and making cheese in Tuscany

Cheese truck delivers

What to do with those dreaded cheese nubs

Sue Riedl: A mellow blue cheese even skeptics will love

History: The Limburger Cheese War

Video: Cardiff Castle invaded by Cheese Festival

Slideshow: Great British Cheese Festival 2010 at Cardiff Castle

Welsh cheese takes top prize British Cheese Awards

Jessica Biel: Addicted to cheese

Love cheese and chocolate? How about blue-cheese truffles?

Hard cheese a better choice for nutrition

World’s largest macaroni and cheese dish

Leave the curd-making to the pros

Cheese Day’s Parade: the Rose Parade of the Midwest

France drops fight for Gruyere cheese appellation, ceding to Swiss

Miami aims to be capital of artisan cheese in March 2011

Goat whispering in Vermont

Forty-fourth French cheese recognized by EU


In praise of aged Comté and belle Bleu l’Élizabeth

Bliss: Comté, Bleu l'Élizabeth and a glass of Jim Jim.

Sometimes, a board featuring only two cheeses is more than enough to satiate the senses. Last night was such a time at our house. Significant Other and I started with a divine 24-month Comté and stopped talking for the longest spell while moaning with delight about Le Bleu l’Élizabeth.

The fully mature Comté was recommended to us by Geoff at Chris’ Cheesemongers in Toronto’s St. Lawrence Market. He knows how much we enjoy an Alpine cheese such as Beaufort d’Alpage.

Comté has been made in the Jura Mountains in southeast France since the 12th century. It has the highest production figures of all the French AOC cheeses (51,000 tons in 2005, or about 1,275,000 wheels every year), a testament to its distinctive deliciousness.

It’s a raw cow-milk cheese with a natural brushed rind that is aged on average for eight months. The maturing period ranges from four months (the legal minimum ) to 12, 18 or even 24 months.

Comté: Spectacular caves to age a spectacular cheese.

Being a French AOC (Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée) cheese, its production is tightly controlled:

  • Delimited area of production: Doubs, Jura, Ain, elevation 1,500-4,500 ft.
  • Milk must be produced by local cows of the Montbéliarde (95%) and Simmental (5%) breeds. There are about 112,000 Comté cows.
  • Minimum of 2.5 acres of natural pasture for each animal.
  • Cattle feed must be natural and free of fermented products and genetically modified organisms (GMO).
  • Each fruitière must collect milk from dairy farms within a 20-kilometre diameter at maximum.
  • Milk must be made into cheese within 24 hours of the earliest milking. Of course no modified milk ingredients (MMI) are allowed.
  • Only natural ferments must be used to transform the milk into curds.
  • Wheels must be aged on spruce boards.

It takes as many as 530 litres of milk, which is about the daily production of 30 cows, all to make one wheel of Comté weighing 40 kilograms. Those numbers are staggering in a world where progress is measured in ever increasing productivity and, sadly, often decreasing quality.

The texture is firm, the rind is grey-brown and pebbled, and the flavours burst forth in so many ways: Complex, nutty and caramelized with a lingering but not sharp flavor. The taste is variable depending on the age and the season of the milk. It’s typically described as salty, mild, and fruity. Some Comté has strong hazelnut flavours, other exhibits subtle hints of nutmeg.

Comté goes well with either dry white or light red wines, but we’re fans of bold fruit-forward wines, thus, we paired both cheeses with our last bottle of Jim Jim, a 2008 Australian shiraz.

Our cave-aged Comté was made by Fromageries Arnaud. $8.99/100g @ Chris’ Cheesemongers

I only expected SO to pick up the Comté at Chris’s, but when she spotted Bleu l’Élizabeth, she couldn’t resist one of our favourite blues. It was the perfect match for the Comté and made for a memorable evening. Sides of duck paté with pistachio and rare roast-beef slices and a caraway rye only enhanced the experience.

Writing in The Globe and Mail, Sue Riedl described the cheese as a “mellow blue even the blue-skeptic will love.” Bleu l’Élizabeth is much more than that. As Kathy Guidi writes in Canadian Cheese: A Pocket Guide, “The flavour, initially sweet with balanced salt and a piquant finish, is impeccable.”

Indeed, Bleu l’Élizabeth is a beauty, and unusually creamy and rich, with prominent Penicillium roqueforti veins that are blue, or green, according to the eye of the beholder. In 2009, it was declared the gold standard in Selection Caseus, the chief cheese competition in Quebec.

A former rectory houses Fromagerie du Presbytère in Sainte-Élizabeth de Warwick.

The cheese is made in Sainte-Elizabeth de Warwick in central Quebec at Fromagerie du Presbytère housed in the former rectory of the village Roman Catholic church. Across the street is La Ferme Louis d’Or where Holstein and Jersey cows provide the organic raw milk for cheesemaking, after feasting on clover, bluegrass and other organic grains in season, dry hay in the winter.

Brothers Louis and Dominique are the fourth generation of the Morin family to run the dairy farm. Louis started cheesemaking almost 20 years ago, under the Fromagerie du Presbytère label four years ago this month.

Bleu l’Élizabeth is a true farmstead cheese, generally aged two to three months. $6.99/100g @ Chris’s Cheesemongers

Louis d’Or, the Alpine-style cheese that won Caseus 2010, is also made at Fromagerie du Presbytère as is buttery Le Champayeur, a soft-ripened cheese.

The question is, after two gold medals in the Caseus competition, how will Jean Morin next knock our socks off?

—Georgs Kolesnikovs

Georgs Kolesnikovs, Cheese-Head-In-Chief at CheeseLover.ca, plans to visit Fromagerie du Presbytère again in the next month or three to seek the answer.

Quick-and-tasty two-cheese casserole to go with Thanksgiving turkey

So simple, so delicious: Broccoli, cauliflower, Empire Extra Old Cheddar, mayonnaise, eggs, mushroom soup, breadcrumbs, and a sprinkling of Grano Padano. Oh, Happy Turkey Day!

Here are the recipes that inspired Significant Other to make our Thanksgiving casserole:

Use them as the starting point for your own cheese casserole. Let us know how well you succeeded.

Tasting the best of Quebec cheese from Caseus 2010

Georgs Kolesnikovs and Kathy Guidi taste and talk cheese outside A Taste of Quebec in Toronto. Photo by Tetsuto Ozawa.

You can tell two people meeting for an informal cheese tasting are head-over-heels in love with cheese when they both show up with cheese board and cheese knives in hand.

Kathy Guidi and I had a chuckle about that when we met at A Taste of Quebec in Toronto’s Distillery District to sample the gold and silver medalists in Selection Caseus 2010, the chief cheese competition in Quebec. (We used her board as it was larger.)

Kathy, who has forgotten more about cheese than most of us will ever know, is the author of the newly published Canadian Cheese: A Pocket Guide and a long-time cheese educator and consultant to cheesemakers and cheesemongers.

The Caseus 2010 overall winners are:

The first two are generally available at A Taste of Quebec managed by Thomas Sokoloski and other cheese shops. The third I’ve had to order from Leslieville Cheese Market; more on Le Monnoir in a future post.

The dairy goodness of Louis d'Or tastes as good as it looks.

Louis d’Or is a relatively new firm cheese made by Jean Morin, a fourth-generation dairy farmer, at Fromagerie Presbytère housed in a former rectory across the street from the Morin organic dairy farm in tiny St. Elizabeth de Warwick, about two hours east of Montreal.

When I visited Fromagerie du Presbytère last summer, Jean Morin told me he was proudest of Louis d’Or of all the cheese he makes, and that includes Bleu d’Élizabeth, a favourite at CheeseLover.ca, which was the Caseus gold medalist in 2009.

“It’s a beautiful cheese,” Kathy said of Louis d’Or, nutty, with floral notes. Me, I love the milky richness of the cheese, a testament to the organic raw milk provided by the Morin family’s Holstein and Jersey cows. The Louis d’Or we had was maybe a tad dry as it didn’t quite have the knock-your-socks-off quality that I recall from last summer.

Flavourful Hercule de Charlevoix is one of the many outstanding Quebec cheeses.

There was no question our Hercule de Charlevoix was at the top of its game. Fruity, creamy, complex, with a delicious rind. One of the great cheeses of Quebec, no doubt about it. Another example of what a powerhouse of gastronomy the Charlevoix region of Quebec is—and how Jersey cows often lead to superb cheese.

“Don’t let the bold aromatics intimidate you from trying Hercule,” Kathy writes in her book. The flavour is actually quite refined.

Bleu de la Moutonnière is an amazing blue made by Lucille Giroux.

For our third cheese, Kathy recommended we try Bleu de la Moutonnière—and I am so glad she did!

If you believe a blue cheese must be soft, creamy and veined, you might be put off by the appearance of this Bleu. It looks more like a clothbound cheddar than a blue, although bursts of blue are clearly visible. But so much taste, so much flavour, and very blue indeed. Kudos to cheesemaker Lucille Giroux and her partner Alistair MacKenzie.

In her book, Kathy says, “This distinctive blue offers the epitome of zesty blue piquant and salt flavour balance while allowing other mores subtle, sweet, grassy cheese flavours to shine through.”

When I gave two budding caseophiles a taste of all three cheeses a few days later, they could not say which one was their favourite because all three seemed so outstanding to them, each in its own distinctive way.

That’s the sign of memorable cheese plate, isn’t it? All cheeses so tasty you cannot pick only one as a favourite.

—Georgs Kolesnikovs

Three months after his last visit to Quebec, Georgs Kolesnikovs, Cheese-Head-in-Chief at CheeseLover.ca, says he’s overdue for another trip to La Belle Province.

Farm House Kabritt and other cheese news

B.C. cheesemaker Debra Amrein-Boyes and husband George Boyes: Honouring aid workers in Haiti.

Cheese makes news every day. That’s why we’ve started collecting links to the most interesting news reports of the week on a special page under the News tab at the top of the blog. Check it whenever you visit CheeseLover.ca.

Go to B.C. if you want to taste this natural goat cheese (Photo above)

Finally, a recipe for cheesy cookies

New York’s Artisanal Cheese names new director of sales

Beer vs. wine debate rages on for which is the better suitor for cheese

World’s most expensive cheese sandwich

Man vs. Food feels the thrill of grilled cheese

Homemade cheddar from down on the farm

Barely Buzzed cheese rubbed with coffee and lavender

Five must-buy cheeses while in France: Max Shrem

The bluer the cheese the better: San Diego football hero