Best bites: Outstanding cheeses of 2013

Ruckles from Salt Spring Island Cheese Company. Photo: Bob Chelmick.

Ruckles from Salt Spring Island Cheese Company. Photo: Bob Chelmick.

We bring the curtain down on 2013 with friends in fromage recalling the memorable cheeses that crossed their palates this year. In alphabetical order, mainly, here are 22 outstanding cheeses of the year just ending—plus new Canadian fondues and a pilgrimage cheese lovers must make.

Flavoured cheeses

It is surprising, even to me, that two of my three faves of 2013 are flavoured cheeses, which to me is a testimony to high-quality cheesemaking. Flavours that meld with the cheese substrate where the cheese and the flavour counterpart do a sublime dance.
—Janice Beaton, Owner, Janice Beaton Fine Cheese, FARM Restaurant

Ruckles, Salt Spring Island Cheese Company
David Wood knocks it out of the park, again. In a sea of so many pedestrian offerings of marinated goat cheese, Ruckles is in class all its own. Firm yet silkily textured cylinders of cheese are bathed in grapeseed oil which is speckled with a mix of thyme, rosemary, chives and garlic, in perfect proportion.

Chili Pecorino, The Cheesiry
The Chili Pecorino is one of my favourite offerings from Rhonda Zuk Headon’s repertoire. The balance of chilis embedded in this toothsome cheese provides a gentle heat that lingers on the palate while the nutty, olive flavour of this sheep milk cheese still holds its own. Not an easy accomplishment but Rhonda pulls it off!

Cheese fondues

Cheese fondue, the melted-cheese dish popular some years ago, is making a comeback—but without the classic ingredients of Comté, Beaufort, Gruyere or Emmental.

Four new ready-to-eat Cheese Fondues arrived on the market in 2013. All amazing, with either Louis d’Or, 14 Arpents or Victor et Berthold or the one from Charlevoix with both 1608 and Hercule in the box!
Alain Besré, Fromagerie Atwater and Aux Terroirs

One of my best bites was a fondue made from Victor et Berthold, a beautiful washed rind from Fromagerie Du Champ a la Meule in Québec. This cheese made one of the most delicious fondues of all time. It made me very happy.
—Wendy Furtenbacher, Blogger, CurdyGirl, Cheesemonger, Sobeys Queensway

 Outstanding cheese of 2013

Alfred Le Fermier (24 months), Fromagerie La Station de Compton
Alfred Le Fermier is a true, rustic, organic, raw cow’s milk farmstead cheese made in small batches, pressed and cooked, washed/turned by hand, as a way of life on the farm. It has a European style, but with local terroir, as a result of choosing closely the hay from their local Estrie region. Note heavy woodsy, herbal and mild floral aromas, with layers of milky, grassy and buttery complexity on the palette, more pronounced when aged for 24 months.
—Vanessa Simmons, Cheese Sommelier, Savvy Company

Beau’s Abbey Style Cheese, Gunn’s Hill Artisan Cheese
A delicious marriage of Gunn’s Hill Artisan Cheese of Woodstock, Ontario, with Beau’s All Natural Brewing of Vankleek Hill, Ontario. This sumptuous semi-soft cheese is washed with a seasonal beer from Beau’s. Beer and cheese together, pure bliss!
—Gurth Pretty, Senior Category Manager, Deli Cheese, Loblaw Companies

Brebichon, Les Fromages du Verger
I simply adore Brebichon, a farmstead sheep milk cheese that is oh so creamy, delicate and lucious. This apple juice washed cheese is an absolute must buy on every stop I make at Fromagerie Atwater in Montréal.
—Wendy Furtenbacher, Blogger, CurdyGirl, Cheesemonger, Sobeys Queensway

Chemin Hatley, Fromagerie La Station de Compton
Made with organic raw milk from a closed herd of fourth-generation family-farmed cows, this cheese readily fulfills its potential. Supple and fragrant, with yeasty and savoury aromas, and a long layered finish.
—Julia Rogers, Cheese Educator, Cheese Culture

Crottin à ma Manière, Fromagerie L’Atelier
The goat’s milk cheese Crottin à ma Manière from Simon Hamel at Fromagerie l’Atelier in the Bois-Francs region of Québec surpasses famed Chavignol of France, is much cheaper and it’s federally licensed.
Alain Besré, Fromagerie Atwater and Aux Terroirs

Dragon’s Breath Blue, That Dutchman’s Cheese Farm
A rare find and 2013 Canadian Cheese Grand Prix finalist, Dragon’s Breath Blue is a closely guarded family secret. Unique in shape and size, these small cylinders of blue cheese are aged only a few weeks then coated with wax for ripening another 2-6 months. The flavor and texture varies by season, more buttery/creamy in the summer months with higher fat content in the milk. Note sharp blue flavor, moist texture with fruity notes, and little blue veining depending on exposure to air. More than worth the shipping charges!
—Vanessa Simmons, Cheese Sommelier, Savvy Company

Figaro from Glengarry Fine Cheese. Photo: Vanessa Simmons.

Figaro from Glengarry Fine Cheese. Photo: Vanessa Simmons.

Figaro, Glengarry Fine Cheese
I choose Figaro from Glengarry–not that I don’t love (and love the Global award!) for the Lankaaster Aged but I kind of forgot about the amazingly fresh and delicate qualities. And we found each other again this year–lucky for me.
Sue Riedl, Cheese Columnist, The Globe and Mail 

Fleur des Monts, La Moutonnière
Not as consistent as one might want, though still an ambitious and expressive farmstead cheese modeled loosely after Manchego, but more floral, bright and pungent.
—Julia Rogers, Cheese Educator, Cheese Culture 

Grizzly Gouda, Sylvan Star Cheese
I’ve served the Grizzly Gouda from Sylvan Star many times at events or at home this year and it is outstanding in its complexity, looooong finish and “ability to wow” factor.
Sue Riedl, Cheese Columnist, The Globe and Mail 

La Sauvagine Réserve, La Maison Alexis de Portneuf
Somehow the cheesemakers at Alexis de Portneuf improved their already mouth-watering, soft, mixed rind La Sauvagine cheese. What did they do? Add cream to it, making it a triple crème. Grab some of this cheese while you can. A limited amount of this OMG mouth experience was created.
—Gurth Pretty, Senior Category Manager, Deli Cheese, Loblaw Companies

Laliberté, Fromagerie du Presbytère,
I have to start with Laliberté from Fromagerie du Presbytere–the triple cream that I could not stop eating, and made from organic milk to boot.
Sue Riedl, Cheese Columnist, The Globe and Mail

Lankaaster Aged, Glengarry Fine Cheese
Supreme Global Champion at the 2013 Global Cheese Awards, this firm to hard cow’s milk cheeses comes shaped in a loaf or wheel, covered in a waxy rind, and is a Gouda-style after Dutch farmstead cheeses. It’s a rich, dense, chewy cheese with intense buttery, fruity, caramelized nutty flavors that linger forever.
—Vanessa Simmons, Cheese Sommelier, Savvy Company

Le Vlimeux, Fromagerie Le Mouton Blanc
It’s not hard to see how this multiple Caseus award-winning cheese is smokin’ hot! Vlimeux is a firm, pressed, uncooked raw sheep’s milk cheese, with a hard, waxy, glossy, caramel-hued rind. Smoke, salt and nut permeate the interior overlaying the cheese’s natural sweet milky flavors in a perfect complement.
—Vanessa Simmons, Cheese Sommelier, Savvy Company

Maple Cheddar, Black River Cheese
What could be more Canadian than Black River’s Maple Cheddar? This cheese provides a bite that is perfectly balanced between sweet and savoury, and just —Wendy Furtenbacher, Blogger, CurdyGirl, Cheesemonger, Sobeys Queensway

Parmigiano-Reggiano rinds
Okay, this is part of the cheese but my wife and I cannot resist adding small cubes of it into our soups, chili, tomato sauce and risotto. The dried rind softens in the broth, releasing its flavour and becomes chewable. We love it so much that we actually have to buy some from our local grocery store.
—Gurth Pretty, Senior Category Manager, Deli Cheese, Loblaw Companies

Pont Blanc, Fromagerie Au Grés Des Champs
Pont Blanc is a soft, lactic, surface ripened cow milk cheese. A rare find outside the farmstead retail store, the skin-like rind on this beauty reminds of intricate ivory lace, while the dense interior has the texture of a soft cream sandwich and moist piece of cheesecake. Note pronounced flavors and aromas of fresh sweet milk, and grass that linger and linger.
—Vanessa Simmons, Cheese Sommelier, Savvy Company

Ricotta, Quality Cheese
The 2013 Canadian Cheese Grand Prix Grand Champion, the humble Ricotta from Quality Cheese reigned supreme, winning against more than 225 of Canada’s best cheeses, a first ever for both an Ontario cheese and a fresh category cheese. Fresh, creamy, melt in your mouth Ricotta (which means re-cooked in Italian, as it’s made from the leftover whey after making other cheese). Very light, but rich, and very versatile as a simple cheese to eat with a variety of garnishes/condiments or used in cooking.
—Vanessa Simmons, Cheese Sommelier, Savvy Company 

Taleggio, Northern Italy
Taleggio (1996 Italian DOP) has and will always be in my Top 10. It’s a semi-soft, washed rind, smear-ripened Italian cheese that is named after Val Taleggio where it has been made since the 10th century. The cheese has a thin crust and a strong aroma, but its flavour is comparatively mild with an unusual fruity tang.
Alain Besré, Fromagerie Atwater and Aux Terroirs

Water Buffalo Mozzarella, Old West Ranch

James Meservy deserves a medal for perseverance! He has faced many challenges in the last two years in his attempt to bring high quality Old West Ranch Water Buffalo Mozzarella to the artisan Canadian cheese market. When it is in its finest form, it is dense and velvety without being the least bit rubbery and sweetly milky with a tangy underpinning that keeps us reaching for more.
—Janice Beaton, Owner, Janice Beaton Fine Cheese, FARM Restaurant

Only one imported cheese—Taleggio—made the 2013 most memorable list, but Julia Rogers offers this recommendation:

As far as international picks go, I’d suggest that any cheese lover make a pilgrimage to Neil’s Yard Dairy in London. The pleasures are too many to enumerate, but this is mecca, without a doubt. Here’s just one photo. And, yes, I tasted virtually everything in the shot.
—Julia Rogers, Cheese Educator, Cheese Culture

Neal's Yard Dairy: Mecca for cheese lovers. Photo: Julia Rogers.

Neal’s Yard Dairy: Mecca for cheese lovers. Photo: Julia Rogers.

See also:

Canadians produce 30 of the best cheeses in the Americas

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Quality Cheese of Vaughan, Ontario, which won the Canadian Cheese Grand Prix with its cow’s milk Ricotta, won the category of fresh unripened cheese made from sheep or mixed milk with its Bella Casara Buffalo Ricotta.

Canadian cheesemakers won 30 ribbons in the 2013 American Cheese Society Judging & Competition in Madison, Wisconsin, in early August, competing against 1,794 cheeses submitted by 257 producers in the Americas—the largest competition in the history of the ACS.

Twenty-three of the 30 ribbons were won by 10 Québec cheesemakers, four being first-place ribbons, two for Agropur Fine Cheese and one each for Fromagerie Fritz Kaiser, represented by Fromages CDA, and La Moutonnière.

Two Ontario producers, Mariposa Dairy, represented by Finica Food Specialties, and Quality Cheese, won first-place ribbons as well.

Best of Show was won by Cellars at Jasper Hill Farm in Vermont with the Winnimere, an extraordinary take on the French mountain classic Vachering Mont d’Or. Made with raw milk from the farm’s Ayrshire cows, Winnimere is wrapped in cambium cut from the spruce trees on the farm and washed in a beer from a neighbouring brewery. It’s available only January through June.

2013-Winner-Low-Res

Here are the Canadian winners:

OPEN CATEGORY – FRESH UNRIPENED CHEESES – MADE FROM SHEEP’S MILK OR MIXED MILKS

1st    Quality Cheese, Ontario
Buffalo Ricotta Bella Casara

3rd    La Maison Alexis de Portneuf (Saputo), Québec
Chèvre des Neiges plain

BRIE – MADE FROM COW’S MILK

2nd   Agropur Fine Cheese, Québec
Brie Normandie

CAMEMBERT – MADE FROM COW’S MILK

1st    Agropur Fine Cheese, Québec
Camembert l’Extra

2nd   Agropur Fine Cheese, Québec
Camembert Vaudreuil

TRIPLE CRÈME – SOFT RIPENED/CREAM ADDED – ALL MILKS

2nd   Agropur Fine Cheese, Québec
Chevalier Triple Creme

3rd    La Maison Alexis de Portneuf (Saputo), Québec
Saint-Honoré

OPEN CATEGORY – SOFT-RIPENED CHEESES – MADE FROM COW’S MILK

2nd   Agropur Fine Cheese, Québec
Rondoux Double Crème

OPEN CATEGORY – SOFT-RIPENED CHEESES – MADE FROM GOAT’S MILK

3rd    Upper Canada Cheese, Ontario
Nanny Noire

EMMENTAL-STYLE WITH EYE FORMATION (SWISS, BABY SWISS, BLOCKS, WHEELS) – MADE FROM COW’S MILK

1st    Agropur Fine Cheese, Québec
Oka l’Artisan

3rd    Fromagerie Abbaye Saint-Benoît-du-Lac (Fromages CDA), Québec
Le Frère Jacques

OPEN CATEGORY – AMERICAN MADE/INTERNATIONAL STYLE – MADE FROM GOAT’S MILK

3rd    Fromagerie Bergeron, Québec
Patte Blanche

FRESH MOZZARELLA – 8 OZ. OR MORE (BALLS OR SHAPES) – ALL MILKS

2nd   Quality Cheese, Ontario
Bella Casara Fior de Latte

3rd    Quality Cheese, Ontario
Fresh Mozzarella Zerto

FETA – MADE FROM SHEEP’S MILK OR MIXED MILKS

 2nd   La Moutonniere, Québec
Feta

FAT FREE AND LOW FAT CHEESES

2nd   Fromagerie Le Détour, Québec
La Dame du Lac

LIGHT/LITE AND REDUCED FAT CHEESES

1st    Fromagerie Fritz Kaiser (Fromages CDA), Québec 
L’Empereur Léger 

FRESH UNRIPENED CHEESE WITH FLAVOR ADDED – ALL MILKS

3rd    La Maison Alexis de Portneuf (Saputo), Québec
Chèvre des Neiges Fig and Orange

INTERNATIONAL-STYLE WITH FLAVOR ADDED – ALL MILKS

2nd   Fromagerie Bergeron, Québec
Le Coureur des bois

HAVARTI WITH FLAVOR ADDED – ALL MILKS

2nd   Agropur Fine Cheese, Québec
Havarti Jalapeno

REDUCED FAT CHEESE WITH FLAVOR ADDED – ALL MILKS

2nd   Woolwich Dairy, Ontario
Woolwich Dairy Fresh Chèvre – Big Kick Herb & Garlic

SMOKED CHEDDARS – ALL MILKS

2nd   COWS CREAMERY, Prince Edward Island
Applewood Smoked Cheddar

FRESH RINDLESS GOAT’S MILK CHEESE AGED 0 TO 30 DAYS (BLACK ASH COATING PERMITTED)

3rd    Mariposa Dairy (Finica Food Specialties), Ontario
Celebrity International Goat Cheese Original

SHEEP’S MILK CHEESE AGED OVER 60 DAYS

1st    Mariposa Dairy (Finica Food Specialties), Ontario
Tania

3rd    Fromagerie Nouvelle France, Québec
Zacharie Cloutier

YOGURTS – PLAIN WITH NO ADDITIONAL INGREDIENTS –MADE FROM COW’S MILK

3rd    Beurrerie du Patrimoine, Québec
Plain Yogourt

BUTTER WITH OR WITHOUT CULTURES – MADE FROM GOAT’S, SHEEP’S OR MIXED MILKS

1st    La Moutonniere, Québec
Ewes Butter

OPEN CATEGORY – WASHED RIND CHEESES – MADE FROM COW’S MILK

2nd   La Fromagerie 1860 DuVillage (Saputo), Québec
Vacherin

3rd    La Maison Alexis de Portneuf (Saputo), Québec
Le Reflet de Portneuf

OPEN CATEGORY – WASHED RIND CHEESES – MADE FROM GOAT’S MILK

2nd   Fromagerie Le Détour, Québec
Sentinelle

Congratulations to all Canadian winners! They are shown below in alphabetical order with a summary of their winnings which accounted for 30 ribbons.

Agropur Fine Cheese
First-place  – 2
Second-place  – 5

Beurrerie du Patrimoine
Third-place  – 1

Cows Creamery
Second-place  – 1

Mariposa Dairty (Finica Food Specialties)
First-place  – 1
Third-place  – 1

Fromagerie Abbaye Saint-Benoît-du-Lac (Fromages CDA)

Third-place  – 1

Fromagerie Bergeron
Second-place  – 1
Third-place  – 1

Fromagerie Fritz Kaiser (Fromages CDA)
First-place  – 1

Fromagerie Le Détour
Second-place  – 2

Fromagerie Nouvelle France
Third-place  – 1

La Fromagerie 1860 DuVillage (Saputo)
Second-place  – 1

La Maison Alexis de Portneuf (Saputo)
Third-place  – 4

La Moutonniere
First-place  – 1
Second-place  – 1

Quality Cheese
First-place  – 1
Second-place  – 1
Third-place  – 1

Upper Canada Cheese
Third-place  – 1

Woolwich Dairy
Second-place  – 1

The 2014 American Cheese Society Judging & Competition will be held in Sacramento, California.

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.

La Moutonnière: Happy sheep make award-winning cheese

Alastair MacKenzie and Lucille Giroux with their sheep at La Moutonnière in Quebec.

For Lucille Giroux, Fromagerie La Moutonnière was a second home, and cheesemaking a second career.

More than 30 years ago, Giroux and her husband moved from Montreal to a farm three hours outside the city, so they could raise their children in the Quebec countryside. Giroux, who had worked as a nurse in Montreal, began raising sheep and selling both their meat and wool. A few years later, she began milking the animals and making cheeses.

With her business expanding, Giroux took on Alastair MacKenzie as a business partner in 2000. He oversees the animals and farm, while Giroux manages the cheese side. Much like Giroux, MacKenzie got into the cheesemaking business in a roundabout way. He grew up in New Zealand and was a third-generation sheep farmer on the family farm.

MacKenzie met his wife, Karine, in New Zealand; a native of Quebec, she was a university student studying abroad. When she finished her studies in New Zealand, Karine returned to Quebec, and after seven years of dating long-distance, MacKenzie moved to Quebec in 1999.

Wanting to put his farming skills to use, MacKenzie searched for a suitable job in Canada. It was Karine who first heard about La Moutonnière. She read an article about Giroux and her business while sitting in a dentist’s waiting room. MacKenzie visited Giroux on her farm, and after discussing the business, they agreed to become partners.

“I’ve been here 11 years now—time really flies,” MacKenzie says. “Over that time we went from making about 1,000 kilograms of artisanal cheese to over 12,000 kilograms now.”

The sheep herd now numbers 150. Three years ago, La Moutonnière built a brand new cheese plant. While 95 per cent of their products are made with sheep milk, they’ve begun experimenting with goat and buffalo milk as well.

Giroux and MacKenzie are dedicated to raising “100 per cent happy sheep.” MacKenzie explains their sheep live a good life: they move freely, and go outside whenever the Quebec weather allows it; they have enough to eat and drink; and they’re well respected by their owners.

MacKenzie believes consumers today are aware of problems in the food industry, and many now want to know how farm animals are treated. There is a movement toward artisanal products, and a concern for animal welfare.

“A few years ago, there was this big movement toward organic, and it was very trendy until we developed industrial organic farms,” MacKenzie explains. “For me, and for lots of the clients, they began wanting to know about animal welfare, whether the animals were given a good life. A lot of people know now that what happens behind the scenes of the food we eat is not good.”

At La Moutonnière, the focus is on creating quality, artisan products and tending to the welfare of the animals that allow them to run their business.

TASTING NOTES

  • Le Fleur des Monts – pasteurized pressed sheep’s milk cheese aged from 3 to 9 months. Rich tasting, with notes of almond.
  • Le Sein d’Hélène – blend of sheep and Jersey cow milk, aged from 2 to 4 months. Creamy, with a slight acidity.
  • Le Bleu – mild-tasting sheep’s milk bleu. Slightly sweet with the sharpness typical of bleu cheeses.
  • Feta – fresh sheep cheese stored in olive oil and fresh herbs.
  • Ricotta – fresh sheep cheese made with whey. It is smooth, creamy and sweet.
  • Le Neige de Brebis – mild, fresh cheese made from whey.
  • Le Cabanon – aged soft cheese, wrapped in an alcohol-soaked maple leaf. It’s a full-bodied cheese with notes of hazelnut and spice.
  • Le Foin d’Odeur – soft washed-rind cheese. It’s a creamy, runny cheese with delicate flavours.

La Moutonnière also sells homemade yogurt, cream, sheep’s milk and desserts.

FROMAGERIE LA MOUTONNIÈRE

3456 rue Principale, Ste-Hélène de Chester, Québec, Canada, G0P 1H0  Telephone 819.382.2300

La Moutonnière cheeses are sold at the farm’s creamery in Ste-Hélène de Chester, Québec; at Jean-Talon market in Montreal; at select grocery stores in Quebec and Eastern Ontario; and at the Leslieville Cheese Market in Toronto.

La Moutonnière  will be a featured cheesemaker at The Great Canadian Cheese Festival taking place June 4-5 at Crystal Palace in Picton, in the heart of Prince Edward County, Ontario’s newest wine region and fastest-growing culinary destination.

—Phoebe Powell

Phoebe Powell, senior roving reporter at CheeseLover.ca, is based Ottawa. Her last blog was on Beau’s All-Natural Brewing Company.

Outstanding cheese bites of 2010

Deservedly, Vacherin Mont d'Or sits front and center at a cheese tasting also featuring Fritz Kaiser's Miranda, a seven-year-old Empire Cheddar and Celtic Blue from Glengarry Fine Cheese.

There’s nothing quite as exciting as tasting an outstanding cheese for the first time: Whoa! What aroma! What flavour! What texture! Where have you been all my life?

We bring the curtain down on 2010 with friends in fromage recalling the memorable cheeses that crossed their palates this year.

Avonlea Clothbound Cheddar, Cows Creamery:
Lots of typical aged Cheddar flavour with sweet and spicy notes. Very firm and dry.
—Art Hill, professor, Dairy Science and Cheese Technology, University of Guelph

Louis d’Or, Fromagerie du Presbytère:
An 18-month-old, 40kg organic raw milk pressed cheese that won the Gold Medal at 2010 Quebec Caseus Awards. Federally licensed.
Alain Besré, Fromagerie Atwater, often called the godfather of the Québec artisan cheese movement

Brebichon, Les Fromages du Verger:
A young 350g farmstead sheep milk cheese made with apple juice added to the curd and washed with apple juice from their own orchard. First prize in washed rind cheese category at 2010 Quebec Caseus Awards. Provincially licensed.
Alain Besré, Fromagerie Atwater, often called the godfather of the Québec artisan cheese movement

Jersey Blue, Städtlichäsi Lichtensteig:
A 100% Jersey cow’s milk cheese from Switzerland made by Willi Schmid. So beautiful you almost don’t want to eat it, just gaze at it. But, mamma mia, when it gets into your mouth! What a cheese, WHAT a cheese! —Russell Gammon, Executive Secretary, Jersey Canada

Cone de Port Aubry and Vacherin de Savoie, Maison Mons – Fromager Affineur:
Two treasures from maître affineur Hervé Mons.
—Julia Rogers, Cheese Educator, Cheese Culture

Le Foin d’Odeur, La Moutonniere:
Soft surface-ripened sheep’s milk, sweet, mushroomy and herbacious. When ripe, like licking buttered popcorn from your fingertips!
—Vanessa Simmons, Cheese Sommelier, Savvy Company

Monforte Dairy Cottage Cheese:
Georgous small cream colour curds that play on your tongue like caviar and are so fresh they sqeek lightly on your teeth.
Andy Shay, Cheese Consultant

At CheeseLover.ca, the most memorable moment in cheese of 2010 came when we first tasted Vacherin Mont d’Or, a singular seasonal cheese of Switzerland that delivers an amazing explosion of aroma and taste—so rich, so gooey.

Other taste hits:

Miranda, Fromagerie Fritz Kaiser:
Cheesemaker Fritz Kaiser, who kick-started the Quebec artisanal cheese movement in the 1980s, says Miranda is one of the many cheeses he produces that he’s most proud of. That says a lot, when one considers he makes Le Douanier, Port Royal, Raclette, La Soeur Angele, Le Saint Paulin, among others. We especially liked the rustic flavours of Miranda.

Celtic Blue, Glengarry Fine Cheese, and Bleu d’Elizabeth, Fromagerie du Presbytère: Two very different blue cheeses that demonstrate how far blues made in Canada have come since the days Roquefort ruled. Three cheers for Blue Canada!

Empire Cheddar, 7-year, Empire Butter & Cheese:
There are so many fine older cheddars made in Canada, but Empire’s oldest offering stands out in memories of cheese tasted during 2010.

—Georgs Kolesnikovs, Cheese-head-in-chief at CheeseLover.ca, wonders what outstanding cheeses he’ll encounter in the New Year.

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.

Tasting the best of Quebec cheese from Caseus 2010

Georgs Kolesnikovs and Kathy Guidi taste and talk cheese outside A Taste of Quebec in Toronto. Photo by Tetsuto Ozawa.

You can tell two people meeting for an informal cheese tasting are head-over-heels in love with cheese when they both show up with cheese board and cheese knives in hand.

Kathy Guidi and I had a chuckle about that when we met at A Taste of Quebec in Toronto’s Distillery District to sample the gold and silver medalists in Selection Caseus 2010, the chief cheese competition in Quebec. (We used her board as it was larger.)

Kathy, who has forgotten more about cheese than most of us will ever know, is the author of the newly published Canadian Cheese: A Pocket Guide and a long-time cheese educator and consultant to cheesemakers and cheesemongers.

The Caseus 2010 overall winners are:

The first two are generally available at A Taste of Quebec managed by Thomas Sokoloski and other cheese shops. The third I’ve had to order from Leslieville Cheese Market; more on Le Monnoir in a future post.

The dairy goodness of Louis d'Or tastes as good as it looks.

Louis d’Or is a relatively new firm cheese made by Jean Morin, a fourth-generation dairy farmer, at Fromagerie Presbytère housed in a former rectory across the street from the Morin organic dairy farm in tiny St. Elizabeth de Warwick, about two hours east of Montreal.

When I visited Fromagerie du Presbytère last summer, Jean Morin told me he was proudest of Louis d’Or of all the cheese he makes, and that includes Bleu d’Élizabeth, a favourite at CheeseLover.ca, which was the Caseus gold medalist in 2009.

“It’s a beautiful cheese,” Kathy said of Louis d’Or, nutty, with floral notes. Me, I love the milky richness of the cheese, a testament to the organic raw milk provided by the Morin family’s Holstein and Jersey cows. The Louis d’Or we had was maybe a tad dry as it didn’t quite have the knock-your-socks-off quality that I recall from last summer.

Flavourful Hercule de Charlevoix is one of the many outstanding Quebec cheeses.

There was no question our Hercule de Charlevoix was at the top of its game. Fruity, creamy, complex, with a delicious rind. One of the great cheeses of Quebec, no doubt about it. Another example of what a powerhouse of gastronomy the Charlevoix region of Quebec is—and how Jersey cows often lead to superb cheese.

“Don’t let the bold aromatics intimidate you from trying Hercule,” Kathy writes in her book. The flavour is actually quite refined.

Bleu de la Moutonnière is an amazing blue made by Lucille Giroux.

For our third cheese, Kathy recommended we try Bleu de la Moutonnière—and I am so glad she did!

If you believe a blue cheese must be soft, creamy and veined, you might be put off by the appearance of this Bleu. It looks more like a clothbound cheddar than a blue, although bursts of blue are clearly visible. But so much taste, so much flavour, and very blue indeed. Kudos to cheesemaker Lucille Giroux and her partner Alistair MacKenzie.

In her book, Kathy says, “This distinctive blue offers the epitome of zesty blue piquant and salt flavour balance while allowing other mores subtle, sweet, grassy cheese flavours to shine through.”

When I gave two budding caseophiles a taste of all three cheeses a few days later, they could not say which one was their favourite because all three seemed so outstanding to them, each in its own distinctive way.

That’s the sign of memorable cheese plate, isn’t it? All cheeses so tasty you cannot pick only one as a favourite.

—Georgs Kolesnikovs

Three months after his last visit to Quebec, Georgs Kolesnikovs, Cheese-Head-in-Chief at CheeseLover.ca, says he’s overdue for another trip to La Belle Province.