Best Bites: Ten most memorable Canadian cheeses of 2018

It’s time to bring the curtain down on another year and to recall the memorable Canadian cheese tasted during 2018—with the help of friends in fromage.

Plus an outstanding butter, one of several grass-fed butters that have appeared on the market this year.

Vanessa Simmons, cheese sommelier at Savvy Company and Savvy Cool Curds, the first artisan cheese-of-the-month club featuring hard-to-come-by cheese made across Canada, selected five very different cheeses:

Hatley Road – Fromagerie La Station, Compton, Québec

Hatley has been showing beautifully in 2018 on cheeseboards as a rich, full flavour washed-rind cheese made with organic farmstead milk. A blend of milky, fruity and nutty flavours balanced with salt. As far as award winners go, it’s not hard to see why!

Fleuron – Fromagerie de la Table Ronde, Sainte-Sophie, Québec

A natural, rustic, salt and pepper looking rind covers this elegant, tall column-shaped organic cow’s milk blue cheese. Inside hides a soft, often oozy, pale ivory paste with slate-grey veining, concentrated closer to the centre of the cheese. Earthy, woody and fungal aromas blend nicely with vegetal, creamy and slight salty flavours, making it the perfect mid-range blue for tasting pleasure.

Figaro – Glengarry Fine Cheese, Lancaster, Ontario

Ever since I started in the Canadian cheese industry, Figaro has made and remained on my Top 10 list.  Yeasty and rich, lactic, full of creamy, tangy flavour, it’s always a crowd-pleaser, disappearing in minutes!

Cranberry Chèvre – Mariposa Dairy, Lindsay, Ontario 

Cranberry Chèvre is nothing short of “wow” as a perfect blend of both sweet and savoury flavours where fruity goodness meets tarty tang rounded off by the mild spicy hint of cinnamon. As a final step in making the cheese, plump cranberries are hand-rolled onto the fresh chèvre logs to ensure full coverage and less damage to the fruit—guaranteeing a gorgeous display for your holiday cheese board.

Maggie’s Cheese Ball – Fromagerie Les Folies Bergères, Saint-Sixte, Québec

This holiday treasure is only available locally, and seasonally at Christmas time—made with love by Maggie Paradis. A blend of her local cow, goat and sheep milk cheeses, it’s a savoury sensation rolled in crushed pecans, rich and velvety in texture and sharp with a mild onion flavour.

Here are two picks from Jackie Armet, cheese co-ordinator at Canadian Cheese Awards and The Great Canadian Cheese Festival:

Grey Owl – Fromagerie Le Détour, Témiscouata-sur-le-Lac, Québec

At every meeting of the Awards and Cheese Festival organizing committee, I’m asked to bring a selection of Canadian cheeses for us to graze on while planning our cheese events. One cheese that stopped the discussion was Grey Owl. It was in perfect condition, with its beautiful contrast in paste and rind, and a dazzling flavour of lemon and tang in your month. It took us 20 minutes to get back to our meeting. It is cheese that always starts a conversation.

Mountainoak Farmstead 2-year Aged Gouda – Mountainoak Cheese, New Hamburg, Ontario

Everyone needs a go-to cheese. With a texture like parmesan, the subtle crunch, quality milk and consistency, you can’t help snacking on this cheese. Well done, Mountainoak!

For Janice Beaton of Janice Beaton Cheese Partners, there is only a single highlight:

Big Momma – Monforte Dairy, Stratford, Ontario

Hands down for me this year’s Best Bite was Big Momma, from Ruth Khlasen and Monforte Dairy. It blew me away. Perhaps I had the good fortune of tasting from a sublime piece—lucky me! The combination of pillowy, creamy smooth texture and the outstanding flavour of water buffalo milk, it t was all sweetness and light. With a good measure of enduring flavour underpinning the whole experience: gently lactic and subtly earthy. Wowza! It’s been a while since I’ve been transported when cheese hits my palate. Big Momma took me there!

Whenever we visit La Belle Province, we seek out outstanding cheese that we cannot find in Ontario, fromage that is provincially licensed and thus not available outside Québec. At Yannick Fromagerie, in the Vieux Limoilou neighbourhood of Québec City, Nathalie Filion, introduced us to one such cheese:

Kénogami – Fromagerie Lehmann, Hébertville, Québec

Kénogami, a soft washed-rind beauty made by Fromagerie Lehmann with thermized milk from Brown Swiss cows in the Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean region. It presents a wonderful soft, herbal aroma and tastes of cream, butter and nut.

The Lehmann family is very conscientious about the care they provide both to their animals and to their pasture. The farm uses no GMOs, no pesticides and no chemical fertilizer. They rely on a variety of wild plants to feed the small herd in the summer and in the winter they feed them hay and grain produced on the farm.

Curé-Hébert – Fromagerie l’Autre Versant, Hébertville, Québec

There is something special about the climate and the soil in the Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean region as the final outstanding cheese of the 2018 Top 10 comes from a fromagerie a few kilometres from Fromagerie Lehmann.

Curé-Hébert is semi-soft, washed-rind farm cheese made with raw milk drawn from the Fromagerie l’Autre Versant’s herd of Ayrshire cows. Its orange-brown rind is partially covered by a fluffy white coat. Curé-Hébert features a mild aroma of cream, butter, mushroom and a hint of sweetness (honey or caramel). It tastes very slightly rustic and sweet.

Andy Shay, a long-time friend in fromage who recently moved from Sobeys Ontario to oversee cheese and charcuterie at Jan K Overweel Ltd., threw us a curve, albeit a welcome one:

Can-Dairy founders Mitch Yurkiw and Drew McIver.

Actually, mine is not cheese, but butter, and a tiny amount of cheese. Emerald Grasslands sets a new benchmark in the fast-growing Canadian butter category. Clarksburg-based Can-Dairy founders Mitch Yurkiw and Drew McIver are trying to make the world a better place, one delicious pat of butter at a time!

They contract milk only with Jersey cow farmers, known for their extra thick and yellow cream. But these are not just ordinary Jersey cows, they are certified grass fed on regenerative (sustainable) organic farms. With this amazing milk, Emerald Grasslands churns, a more gentle process on the fat structure, the butter and produces 84% MF butter—perfect for baking pastries.  For their salted version they sourced hand-harvested sea salt from Vancouver Island Salt Company, near Courtenay, British Columbia.

The result of all this care in sourcing and production is a mind-blowing, super-creamy butter that is rich and with floral notes, a rusticity of cows and just the right hint of salt. Truly. the way to make the most of an artisan crusty bread.  We rarely have a chance to taste the wonders of Echire or Isigny St. Mere, but now, maybe that is OK.

Rich and Drew are next using some of their milk for making Cheddar. I had the chance to taste an early prototype and as a guy who buys Iles aux Grues 2-year cheddar by the 40 lb block, I can tell you we should all hope to see this cheese in a store one day soon!

—Georgs Kolesnikovs, cheese-head-in-chief at CheeseLover.ca, is the founder of Canadian Cheese Awards and The Great Canadian Cheese Festival.

Louis d’Or: Canadian Cheese of the Year 2018

Louis d’Or, made by Jean Morin of Fromagerie Presbytere, is the 2018 Cheese of the Year.

Louis d’Or, an outstanding Alpine-style cheese made by Jean Morin of Fromagerie du Presbytère in Sainte-Élizabeth-de-Warwick, Québec, was named the 2018 Cheese of the Year in the biennial Canadian Cheese Awards, the biggest cheese judging and competition in the country.

The 2018 Canadian Cheese Awards program, which started at University of Guelph, Food Science Department, with the judging of 375 submitted cheeses in late February, culminated June 6 with a presentation ceremony and tasting gala at historic St. Lawrence Market in Toronto.

Loblaw Companies is Marque Sponsor of Awards while Dairy Farmers of Canada is Principal Partner, Cow Milk Cheese.

Complete list of winners by categories:

CHEESE OF THE YEAR/FROMAGE D’EXCEPTION

BEST FRESH CHEESE/MEILLEUR FROMAGE FRAIS

BEST FRESH PASTA FILATA CHEESE/MEILLEUR FROMAGE À PÂTE FILÉE

 BEST SEMI-SOFT CHEESE/MEILLEUR FROMAGE À PÂTE  SEMI-FILÉE

BEST FETA/CHEESE IN BRINE/MEILLEUR FETA/FROMAGE EN SAUMURE

  • Krinos Traditional Feta – Krinos, Vaughan, Ontario

BEST FETA/CHEESE IN BRINE/MEILLEUR FETA/FROMAGE EN SAUMURE

—Private Brands Division—

BEST FIRM CHEESE/MEILLEUR FROMAGE À PÂTE FERME

BEST FIRM CHEESE WITH HOLES (Swiss-style)/MEILLEUR FROMAGE À PÂTE FERME AVEC OUVERTURES

BEST WASHED RIND CHEESE/MEILLEUR FROMAGE À CROÛTE LAVÉE

BEST MIXED RIND CHEESE/MEILLEUR FROMAGE À CROÛTE MIXTE

BEST MIXED RIND CHEESE/MEILLEUR FROMAGE À CROÛTE MIXTE

—Private Brands Division—

BEST BLOOMY RIND CHEESE/MEILLEUR PÂTE MOLLE À CROÛTE FLEURIE

BEST BLOOMY RIND CHEESE/MEILLEUR PÂTE MOLLE À CROÛTE FLEURIE

—Private Brands Division—

BEST LACTIC RIPENED CHEESE/MEILLEUR FROMAGE LACTIQUE À CROÛTE FLEURIE

BEST MILD & MEDIUM CHEDDAR (aged up to 9 months)/ MEILLEUR CHEDDAR DOUX & MOYEN (maximum de 9 mois d’affinage) 

BEST OLD CHEDDAR (aged from 9 to 18 months)/MEILLEUR CHEDDAR FORT (entre 9 et 18 mois d’affinage)

BEST AGED CHEDDAR (aged more than 18 months)/MEILLEUR CHEDDAR VIEILLI (plus de 18 mois d’affinage)

  • Cows Creamery 3 Year Old CheddarCows Creamery, Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island

BEST GOUDA CHEESE/MEILLEUR FROMAGE GOUDA

BEST BLUE CHEESE/MEILLEUR FROMAGE À PÂTE PERSILLÉE

BEST FLAVOURED CHEESE/MEILLEUR FROMAGE AROMATISÉ

BEST FLAVOURED FRESH CHEESE/MEILLEUR FROMAGE FRAIS AROMATISÉS

  • Chevrai Roasted Garlic Soft Fresh Goat Cheese – Woolwich Dairy, Orangeville, Ontario

BEST FLAVOURED FRESH CHEESE/MEILLEUR FROMAGE FRAIS AROMATISÉS

—Private Brands Division—

BEST SMOKED CHEESE/MEILLEUR FROMAGE FUMÉ

  • Appletree Smoked Cheddar – Cows Creamery, Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island

BEST GRILLING CHEESE/MEILLEUR FROMAGE À GRILLER

  • Queso Fresco – Sabana, Oakville, Ontario

BEST COW’S MILK CHEESE/MEILLEUR FROMAGE DE LAIT DE VACHE

  • Cows Creamery 3 Year Old Cheddar – Cows Creamery, Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island

BEST GOAT’S MILK CHEESE/MEILLEUR FROMAGE DE LAIT DE CHÈVRE

BEST SHEEP’S MILK CHEESE/MEILLEUR FROMAGE DE LAIT DE BREBIS

BEST WATER BUFFALO MILK CHEESE/MEILLEUR FROMAGE DE LAIT DE BUFFLONNE

BEST BLENDED-MILK CHEESE/MEILLEUR FROMAGE DE LAIT MIXTE

BEST FARMSTEAD CHEESE/MEILLEUR FROMAGE FERMIER

BEST ORGANIC CHEESE/MEILLEUR FROMAGE BIOLOGIQUE

BEST RAW-MILK CHEESE/MEILLEUR FROMAGE DE LAIT CRU

BEST NEW CHEESE (Introduced to market during 2017) MEILLEUR NOUVEAU FROMAGE (Mis en marché en 2017)

BEST B.C. CHEESE/MEILLEUR FROMAGE DE LA COLOMBIE BRITANNIQUE

BEST WEST CHEESE/MEILLEUR FROMAGE DE L’OUEST (Alberta, Saskatchewan et Manitoba)

BEST ONTARIO CHEESE/MEILLEUR FROMAGE DE L’ONTARIO

BEST QUEBEC CHEESE/MEILLEUR FROMAGE DU QUÉBEC

BEST ATLANTIC CANADA CHEESE/MEILLEUR FROMAGE DES PROVINCES ATLANTIQUES

  • Cows Creamery 3 Year Old Cheddar – Cows Creamery, Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island

Biggest cheese competition in Canada

Judging by a jury of 14 cheese experts took place at University of Guelph, Department of Food Science, in February. A total of 117 finalists were selected from the 375 cheeses entered by producers from Newfoundland to British Columbia.

The 2018 Canadian Cheese of the Year and champions in 33 categories were announced at the Awards Ceremony on June 6 at St. Lawrence Market in Toronto followed by an Awards Tasting Gala. The next day, winners were featured at Canadian Cheese Expo for the trade followed by Canada’s first Artisan Cheese Night Market open to the public.

Fifty-six of the 117 nominations went to 22 Québec cheese producers led by Fromagerie La Station, 7 finalists, Laterie Charlevoix, 6, and Fromagerie du Presbystere, 5.

Sixty-one of the 117 nominations went to 23 producers in English-Canada, led by Cows, 12 finalists, Glengarry Fine Cheese, 5, and Amalgamated Dairies, Cross Wind Farm and Mountainoak Cheese, 4 each.

Canadian Cheese Awards is the only pan-Canadian cheese competition open to all milks used in cheesemaking—cow, goat, sheep and water buffalo—with only pure natural cheese accepted for judging. That means no artificial colours, flavours or preservatives, and no modified milk ingredients.

“We aim to honour and celebrate 100% pure natural cheese that has achieved technical excellence and exhibits the highest aesthetic qualities,” says Georgs Kolesnikovs, Awards Chairman.

The biennial Canadian Cheese Awards is produced by Cheese Lover Productions with the support of Loblaw Companies as Marquee Sponsor and Dairy Farmers of Canada as Principal Partner, Cow Milk Cheese.

The Great Canadian Cheese Festival in Picton, Ontario, is on hiatus in 2018 to allow resources to be devoted to the launch of Artisan Cheese Night Market and related events.

Avonlea Clothbound Cheddar: Canadian Cheese of the Year 2016

Baluchon: Canadian Cheese of the Year 2014

A Very Dairy Christmas to one and all!

From our house to yours, all the best of Christmas! May much good Canadian cheese be with you in 2019!

—Georgs Kolesnikovs

Thornloe in Northern Ontario makes Grand Champion butter

Second-generation dairy farmer Steve Runnulls shown in pasture with one of the Holstein cows on his farm in the heart of the Temiskaming Valley. Hard to believe that such lush green pastures can be found in Northern Ontario, some 500 kilometres north of Toronto.

It never ceases to amaze how far north in Ontario dairy farming and cheesemaking prosper. Now comes news that Thornloe Grass Fed Butter has received the Grand Champion Award in the butter division at the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair.

The taste is simply stunning. Once you’ve tasted Thornloe Grass Fed Butter, regular butter tastes flat.

Farmer-owned Thornloe Cheese near New Liskeard—some 500 km north of Toronto—introduced grass-fed butter products in salted and unsalted formats in the summer to meet the growing demand for grass-fed dairy products.

Grass-fed cheeses were introduced by Thornloe in 2017.

“The company has worked with local farmers who pasture cows when weather permits and feed a grass-based diet for the rest of the year to produce butter and cheeses with the health benefits derived from elevated levels of omega-3 associated with grass-fed diets,” says Thornloe Cheese general manager Rhonda Wood. “This is an incredible achievement for Thornloe, their farmer-owners, and the Northeastern Ontario farming region.“

In the Royal Winter competition, says Pamela Hamel, Thornloe brand ambassador, “butter is judged on flavour, texture, incorporation of moisture, color and salt or packaging. We believe our win in the Innovation Category, and our salted as a second in this class is a testament to the quality of the grass-fed feeding and farming standards developed by the Dairy Farmers of Ontario. The high score in this category, enabled the butter to move to the top of all classes, earning the Grand Champion Award.”

“Happy cows, pasture-grazing in Northern Ontario, how can it not be good?”

Fourteen farms supply milk to Thornloe from the northeast region of Ontario, with project roots in Temiskaming, hence, the name of the butter, Temiskaming Valley Butter. The region is located 500 km north of Toronto, in the clay belt region known for its farming culture.

Thornloe Grass Fed Butter received the Grand Champion Award in the butter division at the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair.

Thornloe Grass Fed Butter and Cheeses are available through cheese shops, grocery stores and foodservice providers.

Thornloe Cheese Inc. is a wholly farmer-owned, artisanal cheese producer. It has earned several national awards and a reputation for quality cheese and creamery products for more than 75 years. Its most popular products include traditional cheddars, poutine curds, fine cheeses and the iconic blue cheese named Devil’s Rock.

Website: www.thornloecheese.ca

Thornloe is farmer owned, a subsidiary of EASTGEN, a farmer owned company located in the Guelph region.

In 2017, Thornloe won the Food in Canada community and industry leadership award for its role in the innovation and collaboration bringing to market Canada’s first verified grass-fed feed and pasturing standards.

 

Video Wednesday: Brief history of cheese

Award-winning cheese board for holidays, or any occasion

Here are five sure bets for an outstanding cheese board at Christmas. They are the five highest-scoring cheeses in the final round of judging at the 2018 Canadian Cheese Awards, the biggest cheese judging and competition in the land.

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