Wilton Cheese: As old as Confederation

Cheese curds: Never leave the WIlton Cheese Factory without them.

Cheese curds: Never leave the WIlton Cheese Factory without them.

Wilton Cheese is a family tradition built on artisan cheese manufacturing—ensuring old fashioned, full-bodied natural flavours are still present today when you have a bite. With a wide selection of cheddar and variety cheeses, each one has been made with the utmost care and attention to ensure a premium product for your palate. It is a taste that has not changed since Wilton started making cheese in 1867.

Sample its flavours at the biggest artisan cheese show in Canada, The Great Canadian Cheese Festival in Picton, Ontario, on June 4 and 5.

The Jensen family purchased Wilton Cheese, originally operated as a Farmer’s Cooperative, in the 1970s when one of the stipulations of the purchase was that the factory maintains its original name. The Jensen family has honoured that request. Still quaint in size, production in Odessa is rather large for this well-known cheese factory catering to retail outlets across Eastern Ontario and restaurants in Kingston.

Excellent Canadian cheddar: Mainstay at Wilton Cheese since 1867.

Excellent Canadian cheddar: Mainstay at Wilton Cheese since 1867.

A popular choice by many in the area, such as Chef Eric Brennan of Le Chien Noir Bistro in Kingston, the Wilton cheese curd is like no other with its creamy texture. Perfect to nibble on its own or indulge in a gooey poutine with shredded duck confit, the options are almost endless and we say it is darn good! But let’s not forget the aged cheddars that Wilton is also most commonly known for. Our favourite is Wilton’s aged white cheddar, a cheese that is aged naturally as it is placed underground in temperature-controlled storage coolers. A true delight, like wine, cheese generally improves with age.

A day trip to Wilton Cheese is well worth the journey along the Cheddar and Ale Trail, as it still remains one of Canada’s oldest cheese factory—using real milk, guided by master cheesemakers. As a culinary tourist who relishes in locavorism, do make sure to experience the several other artisanal variety cheeses such as Brick with Hot Pepper, Brick with Onion & Garlic, Brick with Olives, Colby and good old Marble! A key aspect to take note of is that Wilton Cheese does not use artificial dyes to add colour to the cheese. Instead, the pulp from the Annatto plant is used to give their cheddar the orange colour. How neat!

Don’t forget to visit Wilton this coming weekend as it will be one of three dozen artisan cheese producers sampling and selling cheese at The Great Canadian Cheese Festival in Picton. For complete information and tickets, please visit cheesefestival.ca.

—Rosalyn Gambhir
A food writer and photographer who calls Kingston home. She blogs about food, fashion and other good things life at www.rosalyngambhir.com.

Empire Cheese in strong showing at Royal Winter Fair

Cheesemaker Mark Erwin with two first-place cheddars. (Photo by Rebecca Crosgrey.

Cheesemaker Mark Erwin with two first-place cheddars. (Photo by Rebecca Crosgrey.

Even though it was up against Canadian cheese giant Agropur, Empire Cheese & Butter Co-op won two firsts, two seconds and two thirds in the cheddar competition at the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair—the best showing by an artisan producer. In fact, Empire’s Mild Cheddar was named Reserve Grand Champion in the judging, runner-up to Agropur Grand Cheddar 2 Year.

The Campbellford, Ontario, cheese producer, where Mark Erwin is the cheesemaker, took the following honours:

  • Empire Mild Cheddar – Reserve Grand Champion
  • Empire Mild Cheddar – First in class, Mild Cheddar 2-4 months
  • Empire Extra Mature Cheddar – First in class, Extra Mature Cheddar
  • Empire Medium Cheddar – Second in class, Medium Cheddar 6-8 months
  • Empire Extra Mild Cheddar – Second in class, Extra Mild Cheddar 1-2 months
  • Empire Marble Cheddar – Third in class, Marble Cheddar any age
  • Empire Stilton Shaped Cheddar – Third in class, Stilton Shapped Cheddar.

Maple Dale Cheese of Plainfield, Ontario, won the following:

  • Maple Dale Stilton Shaped Cheddar – Second in class, Stilton Shapped Cheddar
  • Maple Dale 2 year – Third in class, Extra Mature Cheddar.

Ivanhoe Cheese of Madoc, Ontario, won second in the Extra Mature Cheddar class with Ivanhoe Classic Cheddar made May 15, 2011.

Four of the seven cheddar classes were won by Agropur, one of Canada’s biggest co-operatives owned by 3,400 dairy farmers. Among its 15 dairy divisions is Oka, Canada’s iconic cheese brand that dates back to 1893 when Trappists made it.

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.

Video: How clothbound cheddar is made in P.E.I.

Welcome to Video Wednesday at CheeseLover.ca!

Today’s clip shows how Avonlea Clothbound Cheddar is made at Cows Creamery in Prince Edward Island under the guidance of head cheesemaker Armand Bernard.

Famously, Cows Creamery has been making ice cream since 1983. In 2006, Cows expanded into cheddar cheese after Cows owner Scott Linkletter visited the Orkney Islands in Northern Scotland where he was taken by the local cheese.  A Scottish cheesemaker provided the recipe which became the foundation for Cows signature cheese, Avonlea Clothbound Cheddar. While developing the recipe for the clothbound cheddar, Linkletter and cheesemaker Bernard created a second cheese, PEI Cheddar.

Cows makes Avonlea Clothbound Cheddar in 10 kilograms wheels, and ages it for 12 months. The award-winning cheese gets the “clothbound” name from the traditional cheddar-making technique of wrapping it in cheese cloth, a method that originated in Somerset, England (the town of Cheddar, where cheddar cheese gets its name from is in Somerset). The name Avonlea comes from link between Prince Edward Island and Anne of Green Gables.

You’ll be able to taste—and purchase—Avonlea Clothbound Cheddar at The Great Canadian Cheese Festival where Cows Creamery will be represented by Cole Snell of Provincial Fine Foods.

Restos take note: All cheese is not created equal

It's a lovely dish at Currah's Cafe & Restaurant in Picton but the baked "brie" is pedestrian.

I’m not a cheese snob. Sure, I have a preference for farmstead and artisan cheese, but several industrial cheeses are among my favourites. Having said that . . . here comes the big BUT:

All cheese is not created equal. Two restaurants recently demonstrated that.

At Currah’s Cafe & Restaurant in Picton, Ontario, we ordered baked brie. The menu said the brie was Canadian, so we asked the waiter who the producer was. At first he said he did not know. We had to prod him to ask the kitchen. Off he went, and back he came: “It’s Danish brie.”

“Oh,” we said, “the menu says it’s Canadian.”

“No, it doesn’t,” he replied.

“Oh, yes, it does,” we insisted, and off he went to look at a menu.

“You’re right,” he said. “Someone in the kitchen lied.”

“Well . . . could you please ask who the producer is? We like to know what we’ll be eating.”

After a few minutes, he returned with the news: “It’s from Montreal.”

“OK, that’s a big city. Who or where in Montreal?”

“All they know is it says ARS on the package.”

Hmmm, never heard of a cheesemaker in Quebec called ARS. (Later, thanks to Google, we discover ARS Foods, a specialy foods supplier.) When the dish arrived, the presentation was lovely and the onion marmalade quite nice, but the cheese was, well, pedestrian.

With so many stunning soft cheeses in Quebec that will easily match genuine Brie from France, why would Currah’s, which clearly aims to play with the big boys on the resto scene in Prince Edward County, chose to go with a no-name pretender?

It's a good-looking poutine at Rubbs Barbecue Bistro in Campbellford but the cheese curds are blah.

In Campbellford, a half-hour north of Picton, Rubbs Barbecue Bistro serves a good-looking poutine. The fries are chunky, the gravy beefy, and the cheese curds are layered through the dish. Here’s the but again: When one asks about the source of the cheese, “Sysco” is the response.

Now, there is absolutely nothing wrong with Sysco, which helps serve millions of meals in restaurants, hotels and others across Canada, but just a few minutes down the road from Rubbs is one of the finest producers of cheese curd and cheddar in Ontario: Empire Cheese & Butter Co-op.

At Empire, which dates back to 1870, cheese is made in the traditional way in open-style vats, with no additives to boost production and no flavours added.

All cheese is not created equal. All restaurants are not either.

—Georgs Kolesnikovs

Georgs Kolesnikovs, Cheesehead-in-Chief at CheeseLover.ca, will gladly return to Currah’s and Rubbs when they bring the cheese they serve up a notch.

Ontario fetish: Sampling cheese and sipping wine

Spending an evening tasting and discussing Ontario artisan cheeses under the guidance of a passionate professional is a wonderfully indulgent experience. Adding expertly paired VQA Ontario wines to the mix only serves to increase the decadence of the experience.

Sherinne Quartermaine talks wine at Culinarium.

Culinarium hosted an evening of wine and cheese tasting last week that adhered to the Toronto gourmet food shop’s mantra “All Ontario, all the time.” Kathleen Mackintosh, founder of Culinarium, chose the evening’s cheeses, and she guided the eight eager students in attendance through the process of cheese tasting.

The Wine Rack provided the VQA wines, and Sherinne Quartermaine, the store’s manager, selected a variety of Ontario wines to pair with Kathleen’s four cheese choices. Both Kathleen and Sherinne gave their students general guidelines for tasting cheese and wine, but ultimately, they agreed tasting is a personal experience. They encouraged everyone to approach tasting in whatever way worked for them.

We started each pairing by tasting the cheese on its own, then the wine on its own. We discussed the flavours and characteristics of each, and then we tasted the cheese and wine together. First, we had a bite of the cheese followed by a sip of the wine, and we noted the ways in which the flavours changed, became more apparent, or were lost with the pairing. We then reversed the steps, tasting the wine first and then the cheese.

The first cheese we sampled was a sheep’s milk cheese produced by Fifth Town Artisan Cheese in Prince Edward County near Picton, Ontario. The cheese, Lemon Fetish, was a firm, dry, feta-style cheese with citrus flavours.

Lemon Fetish was paired with Strut Sauvignon Blanc. When the cheese was sampled first, followed by the wine, the sauvignon blanc mellowed out the strong citrus flavours in the cheese, while the saltiness of Lemon Fetish made the Strut wine taste sweeter.

Kathleen Mackintosh talks cheese.

The tasting group as a whole agreed that when the approach was reversed, and the wine was followed by the cheese, the subtleties of the wine were lost to the strong flavours of the cheese. This was the case for most of the combinations sampled that evening, with the exception of the second pairing, which featured a bold Inniskillin Two Vineyards Merlot. The merlot was paired with a sharp 5-year cheddar produced by Maple Dale Cheese. The two paired nicely as neither overpowered the other.

During the evening’s tasting, the passion of both Kathleen and Sherinne for the craft of Ontario’s cheese and wine producers became apparent. Kathleen explained the human quality of artisan cheesemaking, describing it as a “hand-touched” and “human-tended” craft that required patience and care on the part of the cheesemaker.

Kathleen insisted this handcraft deserved the respect of the taster.

She argued that a taster should never ignore the rind of a cheese. As the only part of the cheese the maker can really affect, Kathleen believes we should taste the rind of every cheese we buy, out of respect for the cheesemaker.

We all gamely tried the rind of the Comfort Cream Camembert made by Upper Canada Cheese in the Niagara Peninsula. The bloomy rind added another dimension to the nutty flavours of this cheese. It was paired with a Jackson Triggs Reserve Cuvee Close, and they worked well together. The cheese made the wine taste creamier and sweeter.

Sherinne told the group of tasters the price of a wine is often a reflection of the care a grape receives. For that reason, she explained, ice wines are often pricier than other varieties. She described the labour of ice-wine making, in which pickers hand pick the frozen grapes in the middle of the night, in temperatures below minus 8 degrees Celsius.

In the case of Inniskillin Vidal Ice Wine, the hard work certainly paid off. The 2006 vintage we sampled is a multiple gold medal winner, and an older vintage of Inniskillin’s Vidal ice wine was served to President Barack Obama at his Nobel Peace Prize Dinner.

The ice wine was paired with Glengarry Fine Cheese’s Celtic Blue. The two paired nicely. While on its own, the ice wine was a bit syrupy and sweet for my liking (with a sugar code of 24), when paired with the sharp, tangy blue, I appreciated the sweetness of the ice wine.

Fifth Town's Lemon Fetish.

When our four pairings had all gone down, and our taste buds were thoroughly satisfied, the night began to wind down. My tasting companion and I lingered in the store a bit longer, admiring the cheese selection. We finally took advantage of the 10 per cent discount offered to the guests, and picked up Fifth Town’s Lemon Fetish.

Perhaps we will be inspired to experiment with some wine pairings of our own.

—Phoebe Powell

A journalism graduate and budding turophile, Phoebe Powell last wrote for CheeseLover.ca about Monforte Dairy morphing into an art gallery.

Swiss Gruyere named best-of-show at World Championship

And the winner is . . . Gruyere AOC from Switzerland!

The two largest Canadian cheese producers won all five of Canada’s gold medals in the 2010 World Championship Cheese Contest held in Madison, Wisconsin.

Saputo Dairy Products Canada won three golds while Agropur Cooperative garnered a pair.

Twenty countries entered 2,318 cheeses in the competition. The U.S. swept the lion’s share of gold medals. Canada and the Netherlands tied for second with five golds apiece. Best-of-show honors went to a Gruyere made by Fromagerie de La Brévine in Switzerland.

The Canadian cheeses awarded golds are:

Rindless Swiss-style cheese – La Fromagerie, Saputo Dairy Products Canada of Saint-Laurent, Quebec. The Cogruet scored 99.15 out of a possible 100 points.

Camembert and other surface-ripened cheeses – La Maison Alexis de Portneuf, Saputo Dairy Products Canada, Saint-Laurent, Quebec. The Saint-Honore scored 98.95.

Smear-ripened soft cheese – La Maison Alexis de Portneuf, Saputo Dairy Products Canada won again for it’s Le Sauvagine scoring 99.45.

Cheddar, Mild – Agropur Cooperative of Bon-Conseil, Quebec. Its cheddar scored a 99.45.

Cheddar, Sharp – Agropur Cooperative, Bon-Conseil, Quebec. An older cheddar scored 99.5.

Judges at work at the Worlds.

Saputo Dairy Products Canada was founded in 1954 in Montreal by an immigrant Italian family headed by cheesemaker Giuseppe Saputo. It processes 6 billion litres of milk annually in 46 plants in Canada, the U.S., Argentina, Germany and the United Kingdom, with 26 plants in Canada. Saputo products are sold in more than 40 countries under brand names such as Saputo, Alexis de Portneuf, Armstrong, Baxter, Dairyland, Danscorella, De Lucia, Dragone, DuVillage 1860, Frigo Cheese Heads, Kingsey, La Paulina, Neilson, Nutrilait, Ricrem, Stella, Treasure Cave, HOP&GO!, Rondeau and Vachon.

Founded in Quebec in 1938, Agropur Cooperative has 3,533 members and 5,225 employees at 27 plants and distribution centres and offices across Canada, the U.S. and Argentina. It processes 3.1 billion litres of milk on an annualized basis and offers products such as Québon, Oka, Sealtest, Natrel, Island Farms, Yoplait, La Lacteo, Trega and Schroeder.