Fifth Town reopens in time for Cheese Festival in June

Under new owners, Fifth Town Artisan Cheese in Prince Edward County will open its retail shop on May 30, the day prior to a visit by participants in the County Cheese Tour held in conjunction with The Great Canadian Cheese Festival that runs June 1-2 in Picton.

Cheesemaker Laura Todd will speak to the tour group on Fifth Town’s history and plans for the future.

The cheese factory will remain closed as the processing facility is re-approved for production, the company said in a statement. The retail store will sell “fine cheese inspired by Fifth Town artisan cheeses that consumers came to love.”  The shop will carry local foods, such as charcuterie, honey, and preserves, that have been selected to pair with the cheese that will be offered for sale.

Patricia Secord and Dr. Hugo Bertozzi, third generation producers, affineurs and purveyors of artisan cheeses, historically in Italy, and now in Canada, purchased Fifth Town Artisan Cheese in November 2012.  The transition period between shutdown and start-up is a long process, the company said, but will ultimately lead to a refurbished manufacturing facility and world-class cheese.  The factory is set to be producing Fifth Town favourites, like Cape Vessey, by early 2014.

Fifth Town is opening the shop in order to support the company during the transition, the statement said. “The shop will feature unique products honoring the new owners’ Italian roots and the incredible food produced in Prince Edward County.  We are excited to continue our tradition of partnering with small-scale food producers to showcase unique local flavors and help this agricultural region thrive.”

Fifth Town was founded by Petra Kassun-Mutch in 2004. After several years in design and development, construction began 2007 and the dairy opened June 2008 with then only five employees and three farms as suppliers. Before it was shut down last year when it ran into financial difficulties, Fifth Town had grown to more than 16 employees with seven farm suppliers and generated $1.5M in revenues annually.

Fifth Town has won more than 35 prestigious national and international awards including Grand Champion on several occasions for its unique cave-aged goat, sheep and cow milk cheeses. It took five of the 21 awards given to Ontario dairies at the recent American Cheese Society competition in Montreal.

Two cheese tours to tempt your palate

Lori Smith with one of her 200 charges at the Ontario Water Buffalo Company in Stirling.

Lori Smith with one of her 200 charges at the Ontario Water Buffalo Company in Stirling.

For cheese lovers interested in an extra day of cheese-learning and cheese-tasting, a second itinerary has been added to the guided cheese tours offered on the Friday before the third annual Great Canadian Cheese Festival.

The new Quinte Cheese Tour will visit two award-winning cheese producers, Empire Cheese and Maple Dale Cheese, with a lunch stop and tour of Ontario Water Buffalo Company, a pioneering water-buffalo dairy farm. A craft brewery, Church-Key Brewing, and a chocolate maker are also on the itinerary.

The popular County Cheese Tour continues, with stops at Black River Cheese, in operation since 1901, and the new County Cheese Company where cheesemaking will start this summer. Fifth Town Artisan Cheese will be added, if it has re-opened by May 31.

The third annual Great Canadian Cheese Festival takes place Saturday and Sunday, June 1-2, in Crystal Palace on the Prince Edward Fairgrounds in Picton, in the heart of Prince Edward County in Ontario’s Bay of Quinte Region. Cheese tours and a class on cooking with artisan cheese are offered on Friday, May 31.

The Great Canadian Cheese Festival is a multi-faceted event that annually attracts thousands of consumers to meet, learn, taste and buy the best in artisan cheese and fine foods and sample fine wine, craft beer and crisp cider.

Dairy Farmers of Canada is the lead sponsor, presenting seminars throughout the day in the All You Need Is Cheese® Annex.

Bay of Quinte Region is a major sponsor. It will host a guided tasting of Quinte cheeses paired with local wines and beers to help promote the Bay of Quinte Cheese Route.

Taste and buy artisan and farmstead cheese at the biggest cheese show in Canada.

Taste and buy artisan and farmstead cheese at the biggest cheese show in Canada.

The Artisan Cheese & Fine Food Fair features a Dairy Farm display for the enjoyment of young and old. Also on the program are Tutored Tastings where experts offer guidance on a variety of cheese topics. At From the Farm Cooking School, Cynthia Peters leads a hands-on class in cooking with artisan cheese.

Outstanding wine and-dine-with-cheese experiences are offered on Saturday evening. Winners of the Canadian Cheese Grand Prix are on the menu as the cheese course at Gastronomy on the Farm with Jamie Kennedy. Cheesemaker Ruth Klahsen is paired with Chef Michael Hoy for Wine & Dine at Huff Estates Winery. Additional chef-driven events are still to be announced.

Advance ticket sales are under way at www.cheesefestival.ca.

Last year, close to 100 exhibitors and vendors and more than 3,000 consumers made the event the biggest cheese show in Canada representing producers from coast to coast. One-third of the participating cheese producers come from Québec, the leading artisan cheese region in Canada.

Oh, happy day, Spring has sprung!

Pilgrimage to a Canadian cheese lover’s Mecca

Vanessa and I stopped shopping for cheese and charcuterie at Marché Jean-Talon when we were left with nothing but coins in our pockets. Photo by SO.

When they want to pay homage to fromage, cheese lovers in Europe make a pilgrimage to France. In the U.S., the destination is Vermont or California. In Canada, there is only one choice: Québec.

Despite much progress in Ontario and British Columbia in the last decade, Québec remains Canada’s leading artisan-cheese region. With about half of Canada’s 180 cheese producers based in Québec, its leading role isn’t likely to end anytime soon.

For Canadian cheese lovers, the easiest way to find Mecca in Québec is to visit Marché Jean-Talon in Montréal. Which is what Significant Other and I did with a great friend in cheese, Vanessa Simmons, cheese sommelier at Savvy Company in Ottawa. We have many friends who love cheese, many friends who love food, but only in Vanessa do SO and I find an appetite for food, drink and adventure to match ours.

We warmed up for Marché Jean-Talon by visiting Complexe Desjardins in downtown Montreal to say hello to cheesemakers taking part in the annual La Fête des fromages d’ici. It was good to see so many producers represented by Plaisirs Gourmets at the show. SO and I sampled our way around for several hours and then caught up with Vanessa to compare notes and purchases. No surprise that our wallets were $150 lighter and bags similarly heavier.

What makes Marché Jean-Talon such a perfect Mecca for cheese lovers is that here one finds:

and across the lane:

Short of spending weeks driving from cheesemaker to cheesemaker around Québec, it doesn’t get much better than this.

Two hours and more than $350 later, here’s what we had in our cooler bags:

OUR HAUL

IN VANESSA’S COOLER

CHARCUTERIE

Smoked meat at Schwartz's, fatty and fabulous.

Smoked meat at Schwartz’s, fatty and fabulous. Photo by VS.

And if all that wasn’t enough, Vanessa forced us to accompany her to Schwartz’s Montréal Hebrew Delicatessen for lunch of the most famous smoked meat in Canada. Oh, the agony!

 —Georgs Kolesnikovs

Georgs Kolesnikovs, cheesehead-in-cheef at CheeseLover.ca and director of The Great Canadian Cheese Festival, lived in Montréal when Oka was still made Trappists at Oka. Way back then, his smoked-meat emporium of record was Bens De Luxe Delicatessen & Restaurant founded in 1908 by Latvian immigrants Ben and Fanny Kravitz.