Discovering Quebec cheese one wedge at a time

Vanessa Simmons passes her enthusiasm for cheese on to students at a Savvy Company tutored tasting.

It is hard to imagine someone with a greater enthusiasm for cheese and its appreciation than Vanessa Simmons.  “I’ve never met a cheese I didn’t like,” she insists, and I believe her. I met Vanessa on a Monday night in Ottawa as she led a cheese-tasting class presented by Savvy Company titled the Great Canadian Cheese Discovery. Held at Thyme and Again Food Shop, the class focused on Quebec artisan cheeses.

Vanessa is a Cordon Bleu-trained chef, whose passion for cheese first developed when she made her own feta during a cooking class. She says she was amazed that it seemed to take just “magic, faith and some TLC” in order to produce a great-tasting cheese. She was hooked.

Vanessa is now working toward her Cheese Education Guild certificate with Canadian cheese maven and author Kathy Guidi. Once a week, Vanessa leaves work early and drives five hours from Ottawa down Highway 401 in order to attend the cheese appreciation course in Toronto.

“My brother jokes I either need a boyfriend or a dog, because I spend way too much time with cheese,” Vanessa says with a laugh.

But Vanessa’s great enthusiasm for cheese makes for a tasting course that is both educational and inspired. She led her 18 guests through a selection of seven Quebec cheeses, all of which paired with two Ontario wines: Cattail Creek Chardonnay Musque and Niagara Teaching College Winery Cabernet Sauvignon.

We began our sampling with Le Joupon Frivole from Fromagerie Les Folie Bergeres in St-Sixte, a soft, rich surfaced-ripened sheep’s milk cheese.  It was fresh tasting and had a thick texture, forming a paste that coated the mouth. The milk used for Le Jupon Frivole is thermalized, a process commonly used in Quebec. Unlike the high heat of pasteurization, thermalization uses lower heat over a longer period of time. It is therefore gentler on the milk, and helps maintain its original flavours.

Our second cheese of the evening was Foin D’Odeur, produced by La Moutonniere in Sainte-Helene-de-Chester. When it was presented to us, this ripe cheese was melting all over the plate.  Foin D’Odeur is a bloomy rind sheep’s milk cheese. It had grassy, natural flavours, while the rind tasted mushroomy.

Nearly every cheese we tasted that night was packaged in a beautiful, hand-designed label, as Vanessa pointed out to the group. The unique labelling reflects the grassroots nature of Quebec cheesemaking. The labels serve as an indication of where the cheeses comes from, and speak to the personal attention they receive from their makers.

Our next sample was a knockout little cheese, and one of my two favourites from the evening’s selection. Le Pizy from Fromagerie La Suisse Normandie in Saint-Roch-de-L’Achigan comes in a tiny wheel, but packs a rich, buttery taste with a bit of a tang. A winner at Quebec’s Selection Caseus awards this year, this cow’s milk cheese is a standout.

Sein d’Helene with cheesemaker Lucille Giroux.

We then moved to the most playful cheese of the evening, Sein d’Helene from La Moutonniere. Literally “Helen’s breast,” this cheese is sold in a cone-shaped package, both to reflect its cheeky name and the mountainous region from where it hails. The cheese mixes sheep and cow’s milk; it is a fresh, earthy tasting cheese with a bit of acidity.

Our next selection was a goat’s milk cheese from Fromagerie La Petite Heidi in Saint-Rose-du-Nord called Tomme Le Rosee de Saguenay. The cheese presented barn aromas and had a sweet, tangy taste. It is dry and crumbly in texture with a yellow-coloured rind.

Next up was the second of my two favourites from the evening: Hercule de Charlevoix from Laiterie Charlevoix in Baie-St-Paul. The cheese is named for a legendary local figure, Jean-Baptiste Grenon, dubbed “Hercules of the North”.  According to local lore, when Grenon was captured by the English in the 1700s and hung, he fought so hard and so long, the English were so impressed they released him from the gallows. The cheese certainly exhibits some of that same strength with its powerful flavours. A thermalized cow’s milk cheese, it tastes of earth and nuts, with a rind that tastes of chocolate.

Our final cheese of the evening was the only bleu on our plate: Bleu Moutonniere from La Moutonniere dairy.  Vanessa has nicknamed this blue-veined sheep’s milk cheese “the converter” for its ability to change the minds of staunch anti-bleu cheese tasters. My neighbour at the table was one of these self-professed bleu haters, so I eagerly awaited her reaction to this cheese.  Bleu Moutonniere was a big performer at this summer’s American Cheese Society awards, claiming first prize in the “blue-veined sheep’s milk with rind” category. The cheese is smooth and creamy, with bright coloured blue veins snaking throughout the wheel. It is salty and earthy, and quite inoffensive for a bleu cheese. Bleu Moutonniere managed to live up to its name at the table, as my neighbour declared “this is the only bleu cheese I’ve ever been able to stomach!”

As the evening wound down, I finished up my wine, and mingled a bit with the crowd of satisfied cheese students. Finally, I made my way over to bid goodnight to Vanessa. Like a true cheese enthusiast, she was standing by the cheese table, making sure none of the evening’s offerings went to waste.

—Phoebe Powell

Phoebe Powell, CheeseLover.ca’s roving reporter, is currently based in Ottawa. Her last post was about pairing artisan cheese with craft beer.

Into the caves at Roquefort and other cheese news

The village of Roquefort-sur-Soulzon sits on a limestone plateau. Underneath the area are cheese caves. Photo by Roquefort Tourist Office.

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.

Roquefort, France: Where the blue blood of blue cheeses lives

La Belle Province rivals La France when it comes to great fromage

Mom to the Screaming Masses: Making Ricotta Cheese

As cheesemaking blooms, so can listeria

Quebecers warned of door-to-door cheese salesmen

Sue Riedl: mellow yellow Le Douanier cheese

Canada avoids lengthy list of cheese recalls in the U.S.

Cheese addiction: Vegan propaganda or real facts?

Bring out your inner cheesemaker

Pro-cheese policy thus runs counter to anti-cheese policy in the U.S.

David Lebovitz: The complete lowdown on Swiss-cheese fondue

Fifth Town recognized for excellence in sustainability

Petra Cooper, founder and president of Fifth Town Artisan Cheese, accepts Corporate Social Responsibility recognition from Lloyd Hipel, project manager, Enviro-Stewards.

For a woman dedicated to artisan cheesemaking—who famously chucked a high-level career in publishing to pursue her passion for cheese, it must have been a particularly sweet moment to learn that her tiny creamery beat out giant Kraft Canada for a prestigious national award.

Petra Cooper of Fifth Town Artisan Cheese was honored at a gala event hosted by Guelph Food Technology Centre (GFTC) to celebrate leadership in sustainability among food and beverage processing facilities.

The November 4 event signalled the release of key findings from a GFTC research project, “Raising the Bar for Sustainability Performance in Ontario’s Food and Beverage Processing Industry.”

Fifth Town Artisan Cheese, located in Ontario’s Prince Edward County, won the recognition plaque for the most prestigious overall category, Corporate Social Responsibility.  Cher Mereweather, director of GFTC’s sustainability consulting business unit, says what makes the win so impressive is that a small facility has been able to excel at incorporating sustainability.

“With fewer than 20 employees, Fifth Town Artisan Cheese Co. demonstrated that corporate social responsibility can be done well at any size,” says Mereweather.

Other facilities that were nominated in this category were Kraft Canada Inc. in Scarborough, Ontario; Hiram Walker and Sons Ltd. in Windsor, Ontario; and Cargill Value Added Meats – Foodservice Canada in London, Ontario.

Guelph Food Technology Centre is a world leader in food industry solutions, helping companies along the entire food value chain compete globally by strengthening the very foundations of their business: their products, processes and people. Each year, GFTC assists more than 1,500 companies, providing confidential services in food safety and quality consulting and auditing, training, product development, packaging, labeling and sustainability.

Lunch of champions for Festival worker bees

There was a planning session for The Great Canadian Cheese Festival scheduled over lunch for the week following the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair. When the question came up, “What shall we eat?” the answer was a no-brainer: “Let’s sample the champions and winners in the Royal’s cheese competition.”

Thus, it came to pass that we had one champion and five winners spread out before us on Friday, as you can see in the photo. We would have liked more champions but only Oka L’Artisan was available at St. Lawrence Market.

You’ll note the lack of wine glasses. After all, it was a working lunch. Just cheese, with sides of charcuterie, walnuts, grapes, bread, and, in the front right, Bleu d’Auvergne from France for dessert.

Here’s how the three of us informally ranked the award-winning Canadian cheese we tasted:

Cheddar, 5 year, Fromagerie Perron, $2.39/100g

Outstanding! If this what a cheddar that wasn’t even entered tastes like, we cannot wait to get our hands on Perron’s Doyen, Grand Champion, and 120th Anniverdsary Reserve, Reserve Champion.

Fromagerie Perron definitely will be on our list of cheesemakers to visit when we next travel on the north shore of the St. Lawrence River in Quebec. Fromagerie Perron is located on Lac Saint Jean in the Saguenay region.

Champfleury, Agropur, $4.00/100g

It didn’t take us long to consume the entire small wheel of Champfleury. We loved the fruity creaminess of this washed-rind soft cheese but were stunned afterward to read on the label that modified milk ingredients (MMI) are used in making the cheese.

Champfleury is marketed as an “authentic fine cheese” in the Agropur Signature collection. Hmmm . . .

Bonnie & Floyd, Fifth Town Artisan Cheese, $7.69/100g

No MMIs come anywhere near this excellent cave-aged sheep cheese made in Prince Edward County by the greenest creamery in Canada.

Oka L’Artisan, Agropur, $3.58/100g

No longer made by Trappist monks but still one of Canada’s most recognizable and noteworthy cheeses. Agropur cheesemakers make the cheese in the former Cistercian abbey. Whether the recipe is the original is arguable.

Cape Vessey, Fifth Town Artisan Cheese, $6.99/100g

Goat’s milk does have it distinctive lemony tang but Fifth Town has earned many awards with this washed-rind cave-aged cheese that has broad appeal.

Chevrita, Agropur

Snow white and satin-like to the touch, Chevrita is pure goat cheese.

Oka, Woolwich and Perron judged Grand Champions at the Royal

Fromagerie Perron produces the 2010 Grand and Reserve Champions of cheddars in Canada.

Here are the winners in the cheese competition at Royal Agricultural Winter Fair which runs in Toronto this week until Sunday.

Agropur and Parmalat, Canada’s two giant cheese producers, dominated the results with six wins apiece but relatively tiny Fifth Town Artisan Cheese and Glengarry Fine Cheese, with five and three wins each, garnered more than their share of honours.

Fromagerie Perron dominated the cheddar cheese judging. Quality Cheese had four wins including a first for its new Water Buffalo Mozzarella.

VARIETY CHEESE – 95 entries – Judges: Thierry Martin and Jean-Jacques Turgeon

GRAND CHAMPION: OKA L’Artisan ~ Agropur Fine Cheese

RESERVE CHAMPION: Cendré De Lune ~ Fromagerie 1860 DuVillage

HARD – PARMESAN, GANA, ROMANO, ETC ~ 1st – Extra Aged Lankaaster ~ Glengarry Fine Cheese ~ Wilma Klein Swormink, Marie-Benedicte Pretty, Margaret Peters-Morris, cheesemakers

Giuseppe Garsito: Buratta and Buffalo Mozzarella cheesemaker at Quality Cheese.

PASTA, FILATA – BOCCONCHINI, MOZZARELLA, CACIOCAVALLO, PROVOLONE, CACIOTTA ~ 1st – Water Buffalo Mozzarella ~ Quality Cheese

FIRM – BRICK, COLBY, ETC ~ 1st – Black Diamond American Mozzarella~ Parmalat Canada

Glengarry cheesemakers: Marie-Benedicte Pretty, Wilma Klein Swormink, Margaret Peters-Morris. Photo by André Dumont/AGRICOM

INTERIOR RIPENED – EDAM, GOUDA, ASIAGO ~ 1st – Lankaaster Medium~ Glengarry Fine Cheese ~ Wilma Klein Swormink, Marie-Benedicte Pretty, Margaret Peters-Morris, cheesemakers

SURFACE RIPENED – FONTINA, OKA, MUNSTER, ST PAULIN ~ 1st – Champfleury ~ Agropur Fine Cheese

MOLD RIPENED – BRIE, CAMEMBERT ~ 1st – Cendré De Lune ~ Fromagerie 1860 DuVillage

Ema Tema: Ricotta cheesemaker at Quality Cheese.

Marcelo Lozano: Ricotta cheesemaker at Quality Cheese.

UNFLAVOURED FRESH CHEESE ~ 1st – Ricotta Cheese ~ Quality Cheese

FLAVOURED FRESH CHEESE ~ 1st – Délicreme Ail et Fines Herbes~ Agropur Fine Cheese

BLUE VEINED CHEESE ~ 1st – La Roche Noire ~ La Fromagerie Alexis de Portneuf

SWISS OR EMENTHAL CHEESE ~ 1st – OKA L`Artisan ~ Agropur Fine Cheese

FLAVOURED CHEESE ~ 1st – Flavoured Lankaaster Chive ~ Glengarry Fine Cheese ~ Wilma Klein Swormink, Marie-Benedicte Pretty, Margaret Peters-Morris, cheesemakers

Dipesh (Dan) Patel: Buratta and Buffalo Mozzarella cheesemaker at Quality Cheese.

OPEN CLASS ~ 1st – Bella Casara -Burrata Cheese ~ Quality Cheese

ANY CHEESE MADE WITH SHEEP’S MILK ~ 1st – Bonnie & Floyd ~ Fifth Town Artisan Cheese ~ Stephanie Diamant, cheesemaker

FETA _ 1st – 3 kg Black Diamond Feta in brine ~ Black Diamond

GOAT CHEESE – 29 entries – Judges: Thierry Martin and Jean-Jacques Turgeon

GRAND CHAMPION: Woolwich Dairy Elite Roasted Red Pepper ~ Woolwich Dairy

RESERVE CHAMPION: Premium Goat Milk Cheddar ~ Fifth Town Artisan Cheese ~ Stephanie Diamant, cheesemaker

HARD – PARMESAN, GRANA, ROMANO ~ 1st – Charlton ~ Thornloe Cheese

FIRM – CHEDDAR, MOZZARELLA, CAPRANO ~ 1st – Premium Goat Milk Cheddar ~ Fifth Town Artisan Cheese ~ Stephanie Diamant, cheesemaker

Fil Dutra is a member of the award-winning cheesemaker team at Woolwich Dairy.

INTERIOR RIPENED – GOUDA, FRIULAN, MANCHEGO, ETC ~ 1st – Woolwich Dairy Goats Milk Feta ~ Woolwich Dairy

SURFACE RIPENED – OKA STYLE, ST PAULIN, TILST, ETC ~ 1st – Cape Vessey ~ Fifth Town Artisan Cheese ~ Stephanie Diamant, cheesemaker

MOLD RIPENED – BRIE, CAMEMBERT, TRE FRATELLO, ETC ~ 1st – Chevrita ~ Agropur Fine Cheese

UNFLAVOURED FRESH-CREAM CHEESE, GHAGE, QUARK, ETC ~ 1st – River’s Edge Chevre ~ River’s Edge Goat Dairy

FLAVOURED FRESH CHEESE ~ 1st – Woolwich Dairy Elite Roasted Red Pepper ~ Woolwich Dairy

Thornloe cheesemakers: Laurent Jubinville (left), John Leveille and Denis Jubinville.

BLUE VEINED CHEESE ~ 1st – Harley Goat Blue Cheese ~ Thornloe Cheese

FLAVOURED CHEESE – SMOKED, JALAPENO ~ 1st – Applewood Smoked Premium Goat Milk Cheddar ~ Fifth Town Artisan Cheese ~ Stephanie Diamant, cheesemaker

INNOVATION – MIXED MILK CHEESE ~ 1st – Doucerel ~ Agropur Fine Cheese

CHEDDAR CHEESE – 36 entries – Judges: Norm Matte and Gilles Sabourin

GRAND CHAMPION: Doyen ~ Fromagerie Perron ~ Stephane Marchand, cheesemaker.

RESERVE CHAMPION: 120th Anniversary Reserve ~ Fromagerie Perron ~ Stephane Marchand, cheesemaker.

THE SILVER TRIER AWARD/Highest aggregate score for cheddar cheese: Parmalat Canada

EXTRA MATURE CHEDDAR 24 MONTHS OR LONGER ~ 1st – Perron Doyen ~ Fromagerie Perron ~ Stephane Marchand, cheesemaker.

MATURE CHEDDAR – 12-24 MONTHS ~ 1st – 120th Anniversary Reserve ~ Fromagerie Perron ~ Stephane Marchand, cheesemaker.

MEDIUM CHEDDAR – 6-8 MONTHS ~ 1st – Medium Cheddar ~ Fromagerie Perron ~ Stephane Marchand, cheesemaker.

MILD CHEDDAR – 2-4 MONTHS ~ 1st – Balderson Mild ~ Parmalat Canada

EXTRA MILD CHEDDAR – 1-2 MONTHS ~ 1st – Balderson Extra Mild ~ Parmalat Canada

MARBLE CHEDDAR – ANY AGE ~ 1st – Balderson Marble ~ Parmalat Canada

STILTON SHAPED CHEDDAR – TWO COLOURED OR WHITE ~ 1st – Black Diamond Cheddar ~ Parmalat Canada

Complete results are posted at the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair website.

Raw-milk-cheese battle in Missouri and other cheese news

Morningland Dairy refuses to destroy $250,000 of raw-milk cheese.

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.

Supporters of gourmet cheese made from raw milk square off against U.S. government

Missouri dairy defies order on raw-milk cheese

Stock market undecided about Saputo prospects

Turning waste from cheese production into ethanol fuel in Wisconsin

DFA enters ethnic cheese market in U.S.

High cheese prices boost Saputo profit

Canada’s wine and cheese has come a long way

What’s the diff between cheese food and cheese product?

Ending world hunger, one grilled-cheese sandwich at a time

Canada’s biggest ricotta producer gets public funding to renovate its packaging and production space

British dairy farmers call for country-of-origin labelling for cheese

World’s first cheese billboard revealed in London

Artisan cheesemaking brings a new slice of life to California dairy farmers

Missouri dairy farm ordered to destroy 50,000 pounds of raw-milk cheese

Armenian cheese program will promote Armenian brand internationally

Starbucks tests alcohol, cheese offerings

Guinness World Record set for world’s largest Mac & Cheese: 2,469 pounds

First World Championship Cheese Dip Competition

Breaking news: Why is cheese so hard to remove from the pot after cooking?

Limburger produced by only one cheesemaker in the U.S.

Say bonjour to cheese gougeres

Okanagan goat cheeses that ooze with family values

Without cheese, there is no fun!

Un fromage unique à Racine

Natalie MacLean harvests prestigious writing award

Natalie MacLean: Wine smarts and wicked humour propel her to the top.

Natalie MacLean, a Cape Breton lass who’s become Canada’s leading sommelier and internationally acclaimed wine writer, has won first prize in the M.F.K. Fisher Awards for Excellence in Culinary Writing competition sponsored by Les Dames d’Escoffier International. It has been said that she writes about wine “with a sensuous obsession” and is “laugh-out-loud funny.”

MacLean credits the long Scottish line of hard drinkers from whom she descends for her ability to drink like a fish—and for the motivation to write about it in a transparent attempt to make drinking look respectable.

“Getting paid to drink, now that’s a gig!” is how she describes her occupation.

The M.F.K. Fisher Award is only the most recent in a long list of awards and honours the Ottawa wife and mother has garnered since her debut as a wine writer in the now-defunct President’s Choice magazine in 1998. At the World Food Media Awards in Australia in 2005, MacLean was named the World’s Best Drink Writer. She has also won four James Beard Awards and six Bert Greene Awards.

MacLean won with an Internet entry, Flying High, on her website www.nataliemaclean.com. Her story, about Featherstone Winery in Niagara, chronicles the winery’s battle to protect the vineyards from airborne predators and weeds without using synthetic chemicals. It’s also the story of a husband and wife team who dream of creating a benchmark wine despite a harsh climate.

“Winning this award is something you must live up to rather than something you deserve. The point is to remember and honor M.F.K. Fisher and her gloriously sensuous prose,” MacLean said, in accepting her award at a Les Dames d’Escoffier International gala honoring M.F.K. Fisher in Palm Springs, California.

Mary Frances Kennedy Fisher, one of America’s finest food writers, was described by the poet W.H. Auden as the best prose writer of her time. She wrote more than 20 books before her death in 1992.

MacLean is a leader in social media for the wine industry. You can find her at www.twitter.com/nataliemaclean and www.facebook.com/natdecants. More than 10,000 websites and blogs have posted her Wine & Food Matcher.

The matcher—available for free download as an app for iPhone and other smartphones—features thousands of wine and food pairings including 219 different cheese types. (Want to know the best pairing for cottage cheese? Vodka.)

Her columns have appeared in more than 60 newspapers and magazines; more than 115,000 subscribers get her free monthly newsletter. In her book Red, White and Drunk All Over, MacLean chronicles three years of sipping, spitting and slogging her way through the international wine world. The book was chosen the Best Wine Literature Book in the English language at the Gourmand World Cookbook Awards.

An entrepreneur since her Cape Breton days, MacLean put herself through university by teaching Highland dancing: “Before I left to work on my MBA at University of Western Ontario, I had 300 students and five teachers working for me, and was able to put myself through university without debt.”