Biggest selection of best cheeses in Canada at #TGCCF

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What a huge selection of artisan cheese!

Twenty-two category winners at the recent Canadian Cheese Awards, and the Canadian Cheese of the Year, Avonlea Clothbound Cheddar, will be in the spotlight. Plus another 100 more artisan and farmstead cheeses from coast to coast.

Clearly, the biggest selection of the best cheeses ever available for sampling and purchase in one place, that’s what cheese lovers will find at the sixth annual Great Canadian Cheese Festival in Picton on June 4-5.

Close to 40 Canadian cheese producers, including the crème of the crème of Quebec, will be on hand to share their passion and their stories with thousands of cheese lovers. There’s even an opportunity to socialize with cheesemakers at Raclette Rave, the Saturday evening social highlight of the Festival.

Is there anything better than fresh cheese curds?

Is there anything better than fresh cheese curds?

Thanks to St. Albert Cheese Co-op, the first 1,000 ticket holders admitted on Saturday will enjoy a sample package of freshly made cheese curds. Soft and creamy, St. Albert curds have a delightful squeaky sound when chewed. On Sunday, the first 1,000 ticket holders will chowdown on grilled-cheese sandwiches freshly made by competing chefs using a blend of 14 award-winning cheeses. Yes, 14!

Also on Sunday, there is free admission to watch County chefs compete in the Road to Royal Chef Challenge being hosted by Royal Agricultural Winter Fair in conjunction with the Festival.

But there is more to #TGCCF than cheese, in fact, more than 500 foods and beverages are on offer. Included in price of admission: informative cheese seminars presented by Dairy Farmers of Canada, artisan foods galore, fine wine, craft beer, crisp cider, plus a souvenir tote, a souvenir glass, live music, dairy farm animals, food court and FREE parking.

Tickets are sold at the door but buying them online in advance means speedy access to all the deliciousness via the Express Entrance. Admission is $50 per person, seniors, $45. Children under 15 admitted free. Click to order tickets online.

Want to save a pile of money? Come as a group!

Here are the award-winning cheeses you will be able to sample and purchase on June 4-5:

Avonlea Clothbound Cheddar: 2016 Canadian Cheese of the Year.

Avonlea Clothbound Cheddar: 2016 Canadian Cheese of the Year.

CHEESE OF THE YEAR — FROMAGE D’EXCEPTION
Avonlea Clothbound Cheddar

Cows Creamery

Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island/L’Île-du-Prince-Édouard

MAIN CATEGORIES — CATÉGORIES PRINCIPALES

FRESH CHEESE – FROMAGE FRAIS

 
SEMI-SOFT CHEESE – FROMAGE À PÂTE SEMI-FERME
FIRM CHEESE – FROMAGE À PÂTE FERME
FIRM CHEESE WITH HOLES – FROMAGE À PÂTE FERME AVEC OUVERTURES
·      Oka l’Artisan – Agropur, Saint-Hubert, Québec
 
MIXED RIND CHEESE – FROMAGE À CROÛTE MIXTE
  • Zoey, Lenberg Farms Classic Reserve by Celebrity – Mariposa Dairy, Lindsay, Ontario
BLOOMY RIND CHEESE – PÂTE MOLLE À CROÛTE FLEURIE

 

OLD CHEDDAR (aged from 9 to 18 months) – CHEDDAR FORT (entre 9 et 18 mois d’affinage)
  • Lindsay Bandaged Goat Cheddar, Lenberg Farms Classic Reserve by Celebrity – Mariposa Dairy, Lindsay, Ontario
 

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

  • Avonlea Clothbound Cheddar – Cows Creamery, Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island
GOUDA CHEESE – FROMAGE GOUDA
BLUE CHEESE –  FROMAGE À PÂTE PERSILLÉE
FLAVOURED CHEESE – FROMAGE AROMATISÉ
SPECIAL AWARDS — PRIX SPÉCIAUX
BEST COW CHEESE – MEILLEUR FROMAGE DE LAIT DE VACHE
·      Appletree Smoked Cheddar – Cows Creamery, Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island
BEST GOAT CHEESE – MEILLEUR FROMAGE DE LAIT DE CHÈVRE
  • Lindsay Bandaged Goat Cheddar, Lenberg Farms Classic Reserve by Celebrity – Mariposa Dairy, Lindsay, Ontario
BEST SHEEP CHEESE – MEILLEUR FROMAGE DE LAIT DE BREBIS
BEST BLENDED-MILK CHEESE – MEILLEUR FROMAGE DE LAIT MIXTE
  • Zoey, Lenberg Farms Classic Reserve by Celebrity – Mariposa Dairy, Lindsay, Ontario
BEST FARMSTEAD CHEESE – MEILLEUR FROMAGE FERMIER
BEST ORGANIC CHEESE – MEILLEUR FROMAGE BIOLOGIQUE
BEST RAW-MILK CHEESE – MEILLEUR FROMAGE DE LAIT CRU
BEST NEW CHEESE – MEILLEUR NOUVEAU FROMAGE (Introduced to market in 2015/Mis en marché en 2015)
  • Zoey, Lenberg Farms Classic Reserve by Celebrity – Mariposa Dairy, Lindsay, Ontario
REGIONAL AWARDS — PRIX RÉGIONAUX
BEST ONTARIO CHEESE – MEILLEUR FROMAGE DE L’ONTARIO
  • Tania, Lenberg Farms Classic Reserve by Celebrity – Mariposa Dairy, Lindsay, Ontario
BEST QUEBEC CHEESE – MEILLEUR FROMAGE DU QUÉBEC
BEST ATLANTIC CANADA CHEESE – MEILLEUR FROMAGE DES PROVINCES ATLANTIQUES
  • Appletree Smoked Cheddar – Cows Creamery, Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island

Fromage-AmourTradition_4coul-e1419193019649The Great Canadian Cheese Festival is produced by Cheese Lover Productions with the generous support of Celebrate Ontario. Dairy Farmers of Canada is Diamond Sponsor, Prince Edward County is Gold Sponsor, Bay of Quinte Region is Principal Partner.

Picton Fairgrounds is located in the heart of Prince Edward County, south of Belleville in Bay of Quinte Region. One hour from Kingston, two hours from Toronto, three hours from Ottawa and New York State, and less than four hours from Montreal.

 

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.

Louis d’Or: Best of the best in Canadian Cheese Grand Prix

The smiling-cow tie worn by Grand Champion Jean Morin breaks up TV personalities Anne-Marie Withenshaw and Ben Mulroney at the Canadian Cheese Grand Prix Gala of Champions.

It was an unforgettable evening for cheesemaker Jean Morin, his brother, Dominic, and associate cheesemaker Dany Grimard.

Louis d’Or, the extraordinary cheese they make at Fromagerie du Presbytère, was declared Grand Champion—the best of the best—at the 2011 Canadian Cheese Grand Prix last night.

Additionally, in an unprecedented awards sweep, Louis d’Or was named champion in three different categories:

  • Firm cheese
  • Farmstead cheese
  • Organic cheese

On top of that, their fabulous Bleu d’Élizabeth was selected champion in the blue-cheese category!

Clearly, Jean Morin was the happiest and proudest cheese producer in Canada last night as the Gala of Champions unfolded at Palais Royale in Toronto, scene of a lavish awards ceremony cum cheese-tasting organized by Dairy Farmers of Canada, sponsors of the Canadian Cheese Grand Prix.

Dominic Morin, Dany Grimard and Jean Morin are flanked by Phil Bélanger, Grand Prix jury chair, and Ben Mulroney, TV personality and co-MC at the Gala of Champions.

In his acceptance speech, Jean was quick to give credit to his brother, Dominic, who looks after their herd of cows, and to Dany Grimard, who runs the make room in the former rectory that serves as the creamery across the street from their farm in Sainte-Élizabeth-de-Warwick two hours east of Montréal.

Jean and Dominic are fourth-generation dairy farmers who have found amazing success as first-generation cheese producers in a few short years. What’s the secret of their success?

“Happy, healthy cows,” Jean says. “It all starts with the milk, and the care we show the cheese as we make it.”

Appropriately, smiling cows adorned the tie Jean wore to the awards gala.

Quadruple-award-winner Louis dOr from Fromagerie du Presbytère.

Phil Bélanger, chair of the 2011 Canadian Cheese Grand Prix Jury and president of the New Brunswick Chapter of La Confrérie de la Chaîne des Rôtisseurs, had this to say about Louis d’Or:

“The milky richness of this cheese is a tribute to the organic milk with which it is made. The cheese has a smooth texture, warm nutty and floral notes in aroma and taste. Inspired by the traditional cheesemaking know-how from the Jura region, the cheesemaker created an amazing cheese.”

Louis d’Or is truly a magnificent cheese, with fine, complex flavours, eloquently expressed after nine months of ripening. The Louis d’Or cheese gets its name from the Louis d’Or Farm, which produces the organic milk used to make it. The name of the cheese also refers to the French currency of the same name used under the reign of Louis XIII in 1640.

The first opportunity for the public to taste Grand Prix winners in one place—and meet the makers such as Jean Morin—will be at The Great Canadian Cheese Festival on June 4-5 in Picton in Prince Edward County, Ontario’s newest wine region and fastest-growing culinary destination.

At the Festival, cheese expert and author Gurth Pretty, one of the Grand Prix judges, will lead a tutored tasting on cheese of Western Canada. Grand Prix champion Margaret Peters-Morris will conduct a demonstration of cheesemaking at home.

Here is the complete list of 2011 Canadian Cheese Grand Prix winners, with asterisks indicating those already committed to taking part in The Great Canadian Cheese Festival:

Fresh cheese:

Soft cheese with bloomy rind:

Semi-soft cheese:

Washed-rind soft and semi-soft cheese:

Firm cheese:

Swiss-type cheese:

Mozzarella:

Blue cheese:

Flavoured cheese with added non-particulate flavouring:

Flavoured cheese with added particulate solids and flavouring:

Mild cheddar:

Medium cheddar:

Old and extra old cheddar:

Aged Cheddar (1-3 years):

  • Avonlea Clothbound Cheddar, Cows Creamery, Prince Edward Island*

Aged Cheddar (4 years +):

Farmhouse cheese:

Organic cheese:

The Canadian Cheese Grand Prix is a competition sponsored and hosted by Dairy Farmers of Canada, celebrating the high quality and proud tradition of Canadian cheese made from 100% Canadian cow’s milk.

For the 2011 competition, a record-breaking total of 203 cheeses from six provinces was submitted for judging in the competition.

A panel of Canada’s top cheese experts spent two days in Montréal rigorously tasting and evaluating the best cow-milk cheeses this country has to offer as they narrowed the field down to 51 cheeses in 17 categories.

—Georgs Kolesnikovs

Georgs Kolesnikovs, cheesehead-in-chief at CheeseLover.ca, couldn’t believe his ears when Jean Morin mentioned him and the upcoming Great Canadian Cheese Festival in his acceptance remarks.

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.