Belief in goodness in all things drives C’estbon Cheese

Happy goats make for delicious chevre at C’estbon Cheese in St. Mary’s, Ontario.

“My story is simple, all I want to do is make cheese,” relates George Taylor on what now motivates him in life.  Strongly coupled with his “Believe in Goodness” mindset, as his company’s tagline readily affirms, that’s the promise Taylor wants to associate with C’estbon Cheese

It’s much more than a plainspoken sales slogan, it communicates the inherent integrity he strives to represent with the limited, artisan batches of premium, fresh goat’s milk chèvre cheese he turns out from his one-man operation located in St. Mary’s, Ontario.

Ironically, his thriving business has become a unique and prominent micro-dairy considered to be the gold standard for chèvre in Ontario by the restaurants and consumers who use it, after he said goodbye to a twenty-five year employ at The Sports Network (TSN) in Toronto for a more leisurely paced lifestyle.

“In 1999, I was looking to simplify my life by leaving the pressure cooker world of sports television to pursue farming full-time.  When it became apparent that I wasn’t going to die as required shortly into retirement, I decided I needed a more productive source of farm income than the stipend paid out to a gentleman farmer.”

The realization allowed for the prospect of other possibilities.  “Around this time I met Ruth Klahsen, now of Monforte Dairy, who was also exiting her chosen career.  She had a vision and wanted to experiment with cheesemaking beyond the restaurant kitchen; I had the farm, the technical and financial resources to build on, and a dairy goat herd to provide milk.  We agreed to collaborate in operating an on-farm cheese dairy where I would milk the goats and assemble and finance the project while she would make the cheese.”

The go-to chevre for restaurants and consumers.

But when that approach didn’t work out, Taylor, within the next year, developed his own philosophy and operating guidelines for what could be accomplished in the cheese industry, and C’estbon Cheese was born.  “I craft the milk with quality in mind always.  I do it right the first time, and then repeat.  I don’t pretend to make the perfect cheese, but if I don’t like it, it won’t leave my studio,” says Taylor of his discerning process.  “I could make more cheeses and in greater volumes, but to be truly artisan, I feel every cheese must have my fingerprint on it, figuratively and literally.  This I believe separates C’estbon from many of our peers.”

By personally making the cheese once a week by hand at the on-farm facility in a traditional method passed down by his father, Taylor’s plant was the first such approved in Ontario by both the Federal and Provincial governments to process its milk on-site, a worthy achievement that has helped subsequent farmers within the industry obtain the same consent.

Although the soft, unripened cheese was first created from a herd of 200 purebred Toggenburg and LaMancha goats, the production quickly evolved to needing more quality milk than his original herd could provide.  As a result, his current partnership with Ontario’s leading goat-milk supplier, Hewitt’s Dairy, before long commenced to ensure there would always be sufficient milk to meet his exacting standards.

Adding to its distinctive merit, he insists the price of his cheese be kept reasonable to guarantee this variety is accessible for everyone; his leading desire is to see chèvre as a staple on every table, not as a luxury product.

“Artisan, food scientist and magician, I wear all three hats,” shares Taylor about the future of his retirement-plan-turned-dairy-dream, “so C’estbon Cheese will exist as long as I continue to be inspired and remain in awe of the alchemy of milk transitioning into curd, then aging it at the hands of a craftsman into something greater than the sum of its parts.”

C’estbon Cheese is a Featured Cheesemaker at The Great Canadian Cheese Festival this weekend. Come. taste the cheese, meet George Taylor! Tickets are available online and the main entrance Saturday and Sunday.

C’estbon Cheese can be purchased in select Metro, Whole Foods, and Sobey’s stores and cheese shops.

—Christine Darragh

Cheese Gala: From Newfoundland with goat and curry

Chef Katie Hayes Katie of Upper Amherst Cove, Newfoundland.

Bonavista Goat Curry with Coriander-Whipped Fresh Chèvre, Partridgeberry Chutney on Wood-Fired Oven Pita

One of eight tasting dishes prepared by eight outstanding chefs from across Canada for the Cooks & Curds Gala at the 2012 Great Canadian Cheese Festival on Saturday evening, June 2, presented by Swallow.

The Gala is the culinary and social highlight of the Cheese Festival. The first sitting at 6:00 p.m. has SOLD OUT. Second sitting at 7:00 p.m. now on sale. Don’t delay ordering your tickets!

Chefs use Canadian cheeses to create mouth-watering tasting dishes that are paired with Canadian wine, craft beer and cider. The strolling dinner concludes with an after-dinner cheese board presented by Dairy Farmers of Canada, sweets and wine.

Food Network celebrity chef Bob Blumer will make a guest appearance to prepare his signature blue-cheese cappucino made with Alpindon from Kootenay Alpine Cheese and Devil’s Rock Creamy Blue from Thornloe Cheese.

Ivy Knight, editor-in-chief of Swallow, the new online food and drink magazine, serves as Gala Co-ordinator.

Vancouver Island produces a world-champion brie

Comox Brie from Natural Pastures Cheese of Vancouver Island.

It takes a big person to admit a big mistake.  And I’m, um, a big person.  I can’t believe it! I have made a grievous cheese-based error.  I have somehow overlooked the World Championship Cheese Contest gold medalist—even though it’s made in my own backyard.  Forgive me, cheese gods!

I was in my local market in Vancouver the other day, checking out the cheese—as I always do—when something caught my eye on the package of Comox Brie.  That something was a Gold medal. Yikes! A cheese Gold medal.  You see, I purposefully overlooked this cheese BECAUSE it’s always at my local market. I made the mistake of assuming that anything that could be widely purchased was crap, and that’s just foolish snobbery on my part. Do not be trapped into this assumption. I can’t tell you how many “artisan” type handmade cheeses I have tried that were just kind of meh, and how many widely available cheeses I have tried that really rocked.  I know, it seems wrong, but I must speak the cheese truth.

Comox Brie comes from the town of Courtenay, a small town on Vancouver Island with a close connection to my own hometown, Powell River.  I spent many days in my youth wandering the little streets of this town. Comox is an even tinier little town near Courtnenay. Comox Brie takes its name from this town.  Sweet. I feel almost like cousins.

Natural Pastures Cheese Company is a family owned affair.  The Smith family makes only “artisan cheeses,” all hand-made under the guidance of their very own Swiss  Master Cheesemaker Paul Sutter, originally from Switzerland where he received traditional Swiss training and professional accreditation. For the record, I also would like my very own Master Swiss cheesemaker!

Guest blogger and author Willow Yamauchi.

Natural Pastures sources all the milk from its own farm, Beaver Meadow, as well as a handful of other local farms, all on Vancouver Island. Thus the “terroir” of the  coastal valley environment is evident in this cheese—all the milk coming from a single area.  Interestingly, when I was a child we sometimes ate bear.  If the bear had been feastin

g on berries, the meat was sweet and succulent.  If, however, the bear had been feasting on salmon, the meat was, well, fishy.  This is an example of terroir that I just wanted to share with you, because it’s my blog, and I can say whatever I want!  Ha!

I digress.  The Smith family turned to cheesemaking in 2001 and have made a big splash on the cheese world winning 40-plus prestigious national and international awards. How did I miss this?  Scratches head.  Interestingly, the farms they work with, “Heritage Dairy Farms,” are committed to environmental sustainability including natural wildlife habitat. Their  enhanced stream habitats raise thousands of wild Coho Salmon each year which could be eaten by bears causing a unique salmon terroir.  See, full circle logic.

I digress again.  Natural Pastures Cheese Comox Brie earned the pinnacle World Championship Gold Medal in the 27th biennial World Championship Cheese Contest, a technical evaluation of cheese by an international panel of 22 judges, experts in cheese evaluation. Again, I shall volunteer to be a judge at this event.  It saddens me that I have not been called upon to judge cheese, as I am so clearly qualified!

I digress yet again.  As the first World Championship cheese ever produced from Vancouver Island and the first WCC gold medal Brie ever from western Canada, scoring 98.95, Comox Brie edged out Damafro’s double crème from Quebec (which I previously reviewed and ADORED, OMG, so good).   Comox Brie begins with milk from a herd of Ayrshire cattle raised by Guy Sim, a Canada Master Breeder. Wow, this cheese and the cows all have their own pedigree! I’m assuming this is a pasteurized cheese, but I can’t be sure. I’m about 99.99% certain of this, but as the wrapper has disappeared and it doesn’t say on the website, it’s an educated guess at this point.

I have actually had a hard time reviewing Comox Brie, chiefly because everyone in my family kept eating it before I was ready to sample it.  My small wedge—which was much larger before the swarm of locusts known as my family descended upon it—is a typical white-looking brie: penicillium mold on the outside (yup, the white stuff is mold, deal with it) and creamy buttery interior.  I have wisely chosen to taste this one right before the best before date, when the brie is perfect.  Like women, brie really must be aged in order to achieve true greatness.  You can tell a brie is ready if it’s gooey inside. If it’s kind of dry and chalky, you have a young brie. Put it back! This Comox Brie is gorgeous looking, so creamy and succulent, it smells  faintly of ammonia, mushroom and um, adult pleasures . . . shall I leave it at that?

Here goes….

Mmmmm . . . Oh my lord, now this is a great brie. Like, really, really great. It’s perfectly ripened, look at the picture above, see how it’s gooey all the way through, that’s what you want!  It’s making love to my teeth and tongue.  It’s salty and creamy and slightly uric and carnal . . . Oh yes, this is a carnal little cheese. This is actually quite a naughty little cheese. This is the way I always want brie to be but it rarely is.  It’s absolutely divine.  Yes, this is a Gold Medal winner—all the way.  Scrumptious!  Go and get yourself some of this, stat.  Let it ripen up until the best before date and go for it. You’ll thank me later.

—Willow Yamauchi

Guest blog courtesy of Willow Yamauchi, creater of My Blog of Cheese: My 100-day gastronomic journey into fromage—one day at a time—one cheese at a time. Comox Brief was her 113rd cheese in an ongoing quest for pleasure.

Natural Pastures Cheese is a Featured Cheesemaker at the second annual Great Canadian Cheese Festival taking place this weekend in Picton, in Ontario’s Prince Edward County. Doug Smith, one of three brothers operating Natural Pastures, will be featured in the Breakfast of Champions presentation.

Festival tickets are available online. Buy in advance and save money for cheese purchases.

Cheese Gala: Manitoba chef meets Ontario ricottta

Chef Talia Syrie of Winnipeg, Manitoba

Ricotta-Stuffed Blintzes, Wine-Braised Leeks, House-Smoked Walnuts and Berry Compote:

One of eight tasting dishes prepared by eight outstanding chefs from across Canada for the Cooks & Curds Gala at the 2012 Great Canadian Cheese Festival on Saturday evening, June 2, presented by Swallow.

The Gala is the culinary and social highlight of the Cheese Festival. The first sitting at 6:00 p.m. has SOLD OUT. Second sitting at 7:00 p.m. now on sale. Don’t delay ordering your tickets!

Chefs use Canadian cheeses to create mouth-watering tasting dishes that are paired with Canadian wine, craft beer and cider. The strolling dinner concludes with an after-dinner cheese board presented by Dairy Farmers of Canada, sweets and wine.

Food Network celebrity chef Bob Blumer will make a guest appearance to prepare his signature blue-cheese cappucino made with Alpindon from Kootenay Alpine Cheese and Devil’s Rock Creamy Blue from Thornloe Cheese.

Ivy Knight, editor-in-chief of Swallow, the new online food and drink magazine, serves as Gala Co-ordinator.

Volunteering at Cheese Festival: Memorable in many ways

Meet Mark and Helena Litherland, two of the many volunteers who help the annual Great Canadian Cheese Festival run so smoothly. It’s not too late to sign up as a volunteer for this year’s Festival next weekend. Just click here.

Questions asked, answers provided by Mark:

Do you like cheese?

Do we like cheese? No, we love cheese! I was (Mark) lucky to have been exposed to great Canadian cheeses when I worked for an Ontario winery in the 1990s. During that time I knew that Quebec produced a diverse range of cheeses but what I did not expect was the variety and quality of cheeses from other areas of Canada like Manitoba, Ontario and BC. When Helena and I have visited Europe, Mexico and North Africa, each time we have experienced new types and flavours of cheese. This exposure to cheese has encourage us to seek out equally great and diverse Canadian cheeses. In addition, I have taken a number of culinary courses and this in turn has broadened my experiences in cheese heaven.

Why did you volunteer?

I truly believe that Canada can and does produce great culinary treasures and the best way to experience these is by seeking out opportunities to be exposed, not only to the products, but the individuals who have produced them. Fine food is like a great book. There is always an interesting story to tell. Knowing the story increases my appreciation for the product and enables me to be a fellow ambassador. I am a proud Canadian who has a strong interest in all foods, cheese just happens to be one of my favourites. Volunteering allows me to be side by side with the individuals and companies that are creating this new found confidence and appreciation  of Canadian cuisine. Lastly, I always get more out of volunteering than I give and feel good that I have helped my community.

What tasks were you given?

Helena and I were assigned to assist with registration at the entrance initially. Before long, weassisted in the setup for lunch and seminars about cheese. There were three keynote speakers and we distributed their respective cheeses. Later on that day we each had the opportunity to help at an additional cheese seminar which had specific themes.

What did you get out of the experience?

I took away an increased sense of awareness, appreciation and education for Canada cheese, wine and the culinary capabilities of our chefs. The exposure to these great products only drives me to seek out additional quality products created right here in our own backyard of Canada. It is always great fun to meet similar-minded people.

The second annual Great Canadian Cheese Festival takes place June 1-3 in Picton, Prince Edward County, Ontario’s fastest growing food-and-drink destination.

Cheese Gala: A cook and curds from British Columbia

Chef Jimmy Stewart of Whistler, British Columbia.

Aerated Triple Cream Camembert with Phyllo Crisps and Spiced Almonds

One of eight tasting dishes prepared by eight outstanding chefs from across Canada for the Cooks & Curds Gala at the 2012 Great Canadian Cheese Festival on Saturday evening, June 2, presented by Swallow.

The Gala is the culinary and social highlight of the Cheese Festival. The first sitting at 6:00 p.m. has SOLD OUT. Second sitting at 7:00 p.m. now on sale. Don’t delay ordering your tickets!

Chefs use Canadian cheeses to create mouth-watering tasting dishes that are paired with Canadian wine, craft beer and cider. The strolling dinner concludes with an after-dinner cheese board presented by Dairy Farmers of Canada, sweets and wine.

Food Network celebrity chef Bob Blumer will make a guest appearance to prepare his signature blue-cheese cappucino made with Alpindon from Kootenay Alpine Cheese and Devil’s Rock Creamy Blue from Thornloe Cheese.

Ivy Knight, editor-in-chief of Swallow, the new online food and drink magazine, serves as Gala Co-ordinator.

Salumi maker hosts artisan food festival Saturday

It’s not cheese but the mouth waters at the sight of charcuterie from Seed to Sausage.

Michael McKenzie, owner and chief salumi maker of Seed to Sausage, is one of hundreds of businesses around the world paying tribute to Food Revolution Day, an international movement sponsored by the Jamie Oliver Foundation to inspire change in people’s food habits.

This Saturday, May 19, McKenzie hosts a food festival in Sharbot Lake, Ontario, featuring hand-crafted artisan salumi and deli meats from his charcuterie, fire-roasted lamb and pork, artisan pizza, local and area artisan cheese, fresh oysters, micro-beer and local wine.

“I wanted to do something special to mark the opening of our retail operation and what better way than to recognize Food Revolution Day and celebrate the joy of eating wonderful food with your friends, family and those who have helped support us over the last year,” says McKenzie.  The event runs from 11 a.m. until 4 p.m. and will move indoors in the event of rain.

Joining McKenzie are a host of well-known chefs and from Kingston and Ottawa, including Kingston Chef Derek MacGregor of Chien Noir and Chef Stev George of Olivea who will prepare whole roasted lamb and pork. Also in attendance is The Whales Bone Oyster House from Ottawa who will be shucking oysters, Kyle Christofferson, Chef de Cuisine of Brookstreet Ottawa will be running a food truck, St. Amboise microbrewery from Montreal and Sandbanks Winery from Prince Edward County.

Food and beverage prices will range from $5 to $10. Sharbot Lake Community Living will volunteer to help out during the event.  Seed to Sausage is located at 12821 Highway 38 in Sharbot Lake, 10 km south of Highway 7, 60 km north of Kingston, 130 km west of Ottawa and 100 km east of Belleville.

Since starting his enterprise in 2011, McKenzie has discovered that he is ideally situated to service his customers in Ottawa, Kingston and Toronto.  “This is a wonderful location as it also allows me to purchase pork and other meat products from within a 100 mile radius,” he says.

Michael McKenzie, chief salumi maker and proprietor, Seed to Sausage. Photos by Tim Forbes.

He is an enthusiastic supporter of a unique eastern Ontario economic development partnership called Food and Beverage (FAB) region that involves the counties of Hastings, Lennox & Addington, and Prince Edward and the Frontenac Community Futures Development Corporation (FCFDC).

“With a strong history in artisanal food and beverage production, combined with a growing global market for artisanal food and beverages, we formed this historic relationship to pool our resources and work together to develop and attract additional artisan food and beverage producers to the region,” says Anne Prichard, Executive Director, Frontenac Community Futures Development Corporation (FCFDC) and FAB partner.  “Mike’s charcuterie is a prime example of an artisan business that can thrive in our region. We are delighted with his success.”

Seed to Sausage sells a range of hand-crafted cured meats including speciality items such as pancetta, guanciale, fermented salumi, bacon and deli-style meats.  The company wholesales to 35 restaurants and specialty shops in Ottawa, Kingston, Perth and Toronto and will operate its retail shop over the summer months.  To learn more about the company, visit www.seedtosausage.ca. More information about the FAB region can be found at www.fabregion.ca.

If you cannot make it to Sharbot Lake, Seed to Sausage is a Featured Artisan Producer at the upcoming Great Canadian Cheese Festival in Picton, Ontario.

Food and Beverage (FAB) region is Gold Sponsor of the Festival and will also have a booth to offer information on its initiatives.

Photography by Tim Forbes.