Best bites: Outstanding cheeses of 2012

This is the third year Avonlea Clothbound Cheddar has been selected as one of the outstanding cheeses of the year at CheeseLover.ca.

This is the third year in succession that Avonlea Clothbound Cheddar has been selected as one of the outstanding cheeses of the year at CheeseLover.ca.

We bring the curtain down on 2012 with friends in fromage recalling the memorable cheeses that crossed their palates this year. In alphabetical order, here are 20 outstanding cheeses of the year just ending—and one terrific cinnamon butter:

Any cheese made by Gunn’s Hill Artisan Cheese
Regardless if I’m eating his curds or the harder aged cheeses Shep Ysselstein is best known for, his cheeses never disappoint, they’re always outstanding bites to remember. He is truly a talented cheesemaker to watch.
—Wendy Furtenbacher, Blogger, CurdyGirl

Avonlea Clothbound Cheddar, COWS Creamery
I was in P.E.I in the summer and finally got to meet Scott Linkletter,  owner of COWS Creamery, and Armand Bernard, the cheesemaker. Ate Avonlea Clothbound Cheddar (still good everytime I have it) looking out over New London Bay as the sun was setting.
Sue Riedl, Cheese Columnist, The Globe and Mail

Bella Casara Mozzarella di Buffala, Quality Cheese
Discovered shortly after my trip to Italy when I was experiencing serious fresh cheese withdrawals. Enjoy the fresh, mild, milky flavor and smooth silky texture of this oh-so-versatile cheese made from Ontario buffalo (Yes, water buffalo) milk.  The small, soft, delicate hand-pulled rounds pair perfectly with both sweet and savory accoutrements. Click here for more tasting notes.
—Vanessa Simmons, Cheese Sommelier, Savvy Company

Black River 8-Year Cheddar, Black River Cheese
While many Black River cheddars have a characteristic bitterness, the 8-year has lost this. It is incredibly thick and smooth in the mouth, rich and nutty, with a hint of caramel.
—Andy Shay, Cheese Buyer, Sobeys Ontario

Monforte Dairy's Bliss makes our Best Bites list for the second time.

Monforte Dairy’s Bliss makes our Best Bites list for the second time.

Bliss, Monforte Dairy
I had been waiting and waiting for Bliss to be available after trying a sample in 2011. Finally, in May, I scored some at the Brickworks farmers’ market in Toronto. Worth the wait!
Sue Riedl, Cheese Columnist, The Globe and Mail

Brebiou, Fromagerie de Chaumes
Brebiou is a pasteurized sheep’s milk bloomy rind from Fromagerie des Chaumes in southwest France that I thoroughly enjoyed discovering. Click here for more tasting notes.
—Jackie Armet, Cheese Co-ordinator , The Great Canadian Cheese Festival

Brie Paysan, Fromagerie de la Presbytere
It’s been consistently beautiful this year, especially when ripe. If purchased, folks should hold it for an extra while. This is my favourite example of “vegetal” notes in a cheese.
—Vanessa Simmons, Cheese Sommelier, Savvy Company

Downey’s Cinnamon Honey Butter
My personal favourite this year is Downey’s cinnamon butter. It was a breakfast favourite of my youth, and I knew the family that made it in upstate New York. Through sleuthing with Gerry Albright and Sue Riedl, it turns out this is a heritage Canadian product! Many people remember McFeeter’s Honey Butter. The McFeeters licenced honey butter to the Downeys in Eastern Ontario. The Downeys later moved the company to New York. Whether you like the history or not, it is an awesome breakfast treat on toast. Sobeys is very happy to offer this heritage Ontario product again—now made in Pennsylvania.
—Andy Shay, Cheese Buyer, Sobeys Ontario

Figaro, Glengarry Fine Cheese
My favourite Canadian cheese of late has been Figaro, by Glengarry Fine Cheese, because it is unique (though I believe modeled after a style of Robiola) and risk-taking (very moist, difficult to package and transport) and absolutely delicious (yeasty aromas, complex texture, musky finish).
—Julia Rogers, Cheese Educator, Cheese Culture

How can a cheese that looks as good as Fleuron not be selected for the annual honour roll? Photo by Vanessa Simmons.

How can a cheese that looks as good as Fleuron not be selected for the annual honour roll? Photo by Vanessa Simmons.

Fleuron, Les Fromagiers de la Table Ronde
A beautiful rustic creamy blue that is simply stunning. I think the photo speaks for itself. How could this not make the list?
—Vanessa Simmons, Cheese Sommelier, Savvy Company

Fromagerie Du Champ a la Meule
Le Fetard, Les Metayeres and Le Victor et Berthold are three awesome cheese from Québec made at Fromagerie Du Champ a la Meule that I hope we in Ontario can purchase really, really soon!
—Jackie Armet, Cheese Co-ordinator , The Great Canadian Cheese Festival

Golden Blyth, Blyth Farm
A delicious, mild goat’s milk Gouda produced by Paul van Dorp near Blyth, Ontario
Gurth Pretty, Senior Category Manager, Deli Cheese, at Loblaws

Grey Rush, Primeridge Pure
I’m a sucker for the plain as it is so versatile, but I find myself craving the chili, and this summer I was blown over by the frozen cheesecake made with their exceptional cream cheese.
—Wendy Furtenbacher, Blogger, CurdyGirl

Cheddar Île-aux-Grues, Fromagerie Ile-aux-grues
It has a lovely sharp bite while maintaining a creamy crumby flavour.
—Jackie Armet, Cheese Co-ordinator , The Great Canadian Cheese Festival

Mascotte, Fromagerie Fritz Kaiser
A washed rind, semi-soft, goat’s milk cheese. Slight tang to it.
Gurth Pretty, Senior Category Manager, Deli Cheese, at Loblaws

Nostrala, Kootenay Alpine Cheese
At The Great Canadian Cheese Festival, I sampled (and sampled) Nostrala and again was reminded how amazing it is and that I should buy it much more! Click here for more tasting notes.
Sue Riedl, Cheese Columnist, The Globe and Mail

Sensations Applewood Smoked Cheddar, aged 2 years, Sobeys
A thermalized cheddar made in Québec. Like a campfire, you can taste the nuance. Would be perfect with a single malt!
—Andy Shay, Cheese Buyer, Sobeys Ontario

Fromagerie Les Folies Bergères deserves to be on the best-of-2012 list if only for the artistry of its packaging.

Fromagerie Les Folies Bergères deserves to be on the best-of-2012 list if only for the artistry of its packaging.

Sorcière Bien Aimée, Fromagerie Les Folies Bergères
A soft, unctuous goat’s milk cheese is new to the luxurious lineup of Fromagerie Les Folies Bergères cheeses. Click here for my tasting notes. Again, keep until it’s soft and ooey-gooey good.
—Vanessa Simmons, Cheese Sommelier, Savvy Company

Tuxedo Triple Creme
A delicious triple-cream from France.
Gurth Pretty, Senior Category Manager, Deli Cheese, at Loblaws

Wendy’s Own Camembert
A sheep’s milk Camembert that I made in a class at George Brown taught by Ruth Klahsen. I was not expecting success, but one out of the five cheeses I affineured actually turned out well. I was really proud of myself.
—Wendy Furtenbacher, Blogger, CurdyGirl

See also:

Outstanding cheeses of 2011

Outstanding cheeses of 2010

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.