Upper Canada Cheese: The new Guernsey Shore

The Guernsey girls of Upper Canada Cheese on the shores of Lake Ontario.

Forget about Jersey.  It’s really all about Guernsey, and these Guernsey Girls are taking it from farm to table.

On the fair-weather shores of Lake Ontario, there lives a Guernsey herd of cows. These girls delight in their surroundings—basking in the lakefront sun, fresh air and fertile soil of land protected by Ontario’s Greenbelt at St. Anns, nestled in the bountiful Twenty Valley. Their blissful disposition on the family owned Comfort Farm assists in producing celebrated, uniquely golden-shaded, flavourful milk with distinct, local characteristics: ideal for premium cheesemaking.

It must be true, happy cows make superior milk.

And that makes Upper Canada Cheese Company’s founding partner Wayne Philbrick very happy as well. His creamery has committed since 2005 to using the exceptional Guernsey milk from this herd of about one hundred, one of only a half-dozen Guernsey herds in Canada, relying on their rich milk to create his select, artisanal cheeses: Comfort Cream and Niagara Gold.

After growing up in the Niagara Peninsula on a family-run fruit farm, Philbrick experimented with tandem passions for wine- and cheese-making, eventually getting hooked on the craft cheeses of Quebec during trips to the region. In developing the “first generation” of his two top-sellers, he chose Guernsey milk for the truly special features it afforded: enriched health benefits, quality, colour and, of course, creamy taste.

The breed originally hails from the island of Guernsey in the English Channel, but its adaptable temperament and unparalleled characteristics make it a clear winner for boundless gourmet-cheese production.  Guernsey milk contains 12% more protein, 30% more cream, 33% more vitamin D, 25% more vitamin A and 15% more calcium than the average Holstein milk.  Along with its uncommonly high yield of beta carotene, a great source of vitamin A which has been recently touted to help reduce the risk of certain cancers, the milk also has 5% butterfat and a notable 3.7 % protein content.

Working closely with the Dairy Farmers of Ontario, Upper Canada Cheese has a rare arrangement with the DFO to deliver their Guernsey milk first in the morning before the truck picks up any other milk; allowing only the purest, freshest ingredients available to merge with the talents of their cheesemakers. The creamery also retains a license and the exclusive rights to create products using this particular local herd. Building these relationships required the ongoing persistence, perseverance and patience of Philbrick to ensure their specialty cheeses would always uphold an extraordinary and unique profile.

Upper Canada Cheese is located in Jordan Station, Ontario.

Now, in the first new Niagara creamery in generations, Upper Canada Cheese Company handcrafts and ages premium artisanal cheeses on-site at their Jordan Station location which also houses a cheese boutique that caters to the “culinary enthusiast.”  Together with selected gourmet products, the epicurean store integrates Upper Canada’s make room and cellaring facility into a traditional train station building design; suggesting a historic return to the time-honored craft of cheesemaking itself.

“Each day, fresh, pure Guernsey cow milk is transformed into cheeses of uncommon taste and texture, revealing a subtle range of flavours influenced by the seasons, forage and feed,” Philbrick says. “Then, our cheeses are ideally aged in our own cellars until they’re ready for you.  This is the whole food, farm to table idea; a minimum of food processing intervention to produce the purest cheeses possible.”

So, while this Guernsey herd might not “gym, tan and laundry” exactly like their counterparts on the shores of Jersey, these girls are thankfully proving to be a lot more tasteful.

TASTING NOTES

Comfort Cream – A camembert-style soft, white bloomy rind cheese with a silky, creamy, golden interior. Rich flavours of fresh truffles prevail with an intense, buttery palate and a long, tangy finish. This delicate and luscious artisanal cheese is hand-salted, hand-turned and hand-wrapped. Comfort Cream is stored in temperature and humidity-controlled cellars for at least four weeks before sale, with an additional few weeks of aging seeing the cheese ripen and mature in flavour, texture and colour.

Niagara Gold – An Oka-style, semi-soft, washed rind cheese fashioned after recipes developed by the Trappist monks of the Loire Valley. This is a cheese with nutty, earthy overtones and mellow, buttery flavours. A luscious cheese that is delicately mild and sweet when young and gains pungency and piquant qualities with age. The rind may be eaten or trimmed depending on your taste. It is sold after five months of careful aging in cellars and, under good conditions, it ages well for months and continues to develop unique flavours over time.

Also available:

Guernsey Girl Grilling Cheese, Guernsey Curds and Guernsey Gold Ricotta Cheese

UPPER CANADA CHEESE COMPANY

If you can’t drop by, check out the Where To Buy page, or order by phone or email.

Wayne Philbrick, Founding Partner, Vivian Szebeny, Managing Partner
4159 Jordan Road, Jordan Station, ON  L0R 1S0
Telephone 905.562.9730

Upper Canada Cheese Company 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 hot new wine region and fastest-growing culinary destination.

—Christine Darragh

Based in the Garden City of St. Catharines, Ontario, freelance writer Christine Darragh specializes in food and wine and other attractions of the Niagara Peninsula.

Say cheese, in five courses

Five cheese courses are lined up, awaiting our guests.

There’s nothing quite like spending an evening nibbling on cheese and sipping wine with good friends. We invited two couples to join us for a five-course tasting menu last night. Here’s how it went down:

First course/Introductions

Riopelle de l’Isle:

One of the great cheeses of Canada, it’s made from raw cow’s milk on a small island— Île-aux-Grues—in the middle of the St. Lawrence River about 40 miles down-river from Quebec City. Riopelle de l’Île is named after Quebec’s most famous painter, Jean-Paul Riopelle, who lived on the island for two decades until his death in 2002.

Artwork by Riopelle himself.

He lent his name to the cheese, and provided the artwork that adorns the packaging, on the condition that one dollar for each wheel sold by Fromageries Île-aux-Grues would be donated to the island youth foundation.

A soft triple-cream cheese with a bloomy rind, Riopelle melts in your mouth and has a wonderful taste of hazelnut, mushroom, a hint of butter and a pinch of salt.

Bonnie & Floyd and me:

I’m so proud of “my” cheese because the two times I’ve shared it, guests have said it was their favorite. This is the Bonnie & Floyd that I was given in November after spending a day learning how cheese is made at Fifth Town Artisan Cheese in Prince Edward County.

Despite my difficulties in finding a spot in our apartment building to age the cheese at the right temperature and the right humidity, my Bonnie & Floyd turned out to be a real treat. Just like the cheese aged at Fifth Town, mine has a smooth paste with complex yet mild mineral flavours. Barely salty near the rind, and somewhat nutty, it provides almost sweet lactic flavours near the centre.

When I first cut into the wheel, I couldn’t believe how fresh and milky it tasted, a testament to how well the ewes who gave the milk are treated, and the speed with which the milk moves from farm to cheesemaker.

Second course/Warming up

Baked Woolrich Chevrai:

My sister gave us a lovely baking dish for Christmas together with a small log of Woolrich Dairy goat cheese and assorted herbs. After 20 minutes in the oven at 350F, it was a striking addition to the assortment of flavours on our menu.

It was nearing its best-before date, so was well aged, and most of our guests laced it with honey. With a Parisian-style baguette, it was a light and tangy treat.

Third course/Cheddar chowdown

Kraft Cracker Barrel vs 5-year Wilton vs 6-year Black River:

We had purchased the Kraft “aged cheddar” as it was on sale at a ridiculously low price at Wal-Mart but had not yet found a way to eat it; thus, my bright idea of blind-tasting the factory-made cheddar against two artisan cheddars.

It was no contest. Even sitting on the board, it was obvious which was the Kraft, but we proceeded with the blind-tasting anyway as it provided an entertaining twist to the proceedings.

The five-year Wilton is a very nice cheddar. Perhaps because it has rested in our refrigerator for four months, we could spot the occasional crystal developing.

For our tastebuds, the six-year Black River was the clear winner, so tangy and complex, so crumbly that after our guests departed, I made a snack of cleaning up the bamboo board.

Fourth course/From the grill

Guernsey Girl:

Guernsey Girl is a delightful new cheese that is unique to Canada and deserves its own blog entry (which will come after we have another chance to try frying the cheese. Yes, this cheese is fried or grilled before it is served).

It’s an outstanding creation of Upper Canada Cheese using the rich milk provided by a herd of Guernsey cows on the Comfort family farm near Jordan, a Niagara Peninsula village.

Fifth course/Getting serious

Époisses Berthaut:

When we think of a rich and powerful cheese at our house, we think Époisses Berthaut from Burgundy in France. It’s a washed-rind unpasteurized cow’s milk cheese with a natural red tint and its own rich and penetrating aroma.

It’s described as an iconic cheese in tasting notes published by Provincial Fine Foods: “Époisses is powerfully scented, soft-to-runny, and can sometimes deter people with its frank, leathery, animal aromas. Once past the lips, Époisses is spicy, earthy, salty and rich, but not nearly as potent as one might expect.”

Cabrales:

The king of blues.

When Cabrales, the great blue of Spain, is well-aged, it is fully potent—on the verge of overpowering the faint of heart. Our Cabrales was like that, even with a chutney or honey or fig jam, so ripe and so intense.

I had told Geoff, a longtime cheesemonger at Chris’s Cheesemongers in St. Lawrence Market, that we wanted a strongh finish to our evening—and did he deliver! Geoff carved our wedge from a wheel that was obviously fully ripe. Heck, half the piece was dark blue!

Our guests, who were as satiated was we were by evening’s end, barely tasted the Cabrales. Meaning Significant Other and I, over the coming week, must find ways to savour the strongest cheese we’ve ever tasted—or it will simply become too powerful, even for strong cheese lovers like us.

Chris’s Cheesemongers, $7.34 per 100 grams.

Dessert

There was a loud groan from our full guests when we presented one additional variation on the evening’s cheese theme—cannoli—but six of the little suckers were devoured within minutes.

Wines

For starters, Henry of Pelham Cuvee Catharine Rose Brut and an excellent Pillitteri Gewurtzraminer Reisling. Then, Henry of Pelham Pinot Noir and a delightful Conundrum California White Wine (blend). Concluding with Casa dos Vinhos Madeira and a knockout Cockfighter’s Ghost Shiraz that was a match for our Cabrales.

With plenty of San Benedetto carbonated mineral water to stave off dehydration.

Sides

Red pepper jelly, Latvian chutney, Kalamata olives, Ontario honey and fig jam from France. Green grapes and strawberries. Honey dates, dried apricots and walnuts. Kashi crackers, multi-grain flatbreads and plain crackers. Parisian-style baguette and a multi-grain baguette.

We also offered tomato slices drizzled with Spanish olive oil and Modena balsamic vinegar and topped with a fresh basil leaf which worked exceptionally well to counter the buttery richness of Guernsey Girl.

Unexpected guests

One couple brought us two additions to our menu:

Le 1608

Le 1608 is a relatively new creation of Laiterie Charlevoix. A semi-firm, washed rind cheese, Le 1608 uses milk from Canadienne cows whose ancestors were brought to Canada from France starting in 1608. Most of these hardy animals are unique to the Charlevoix region of Quebec.

As Sue Riedl wrote in The Globe and Mail about a year ago, “Le 1608 develops a pale orange exterior that is washed with brine while ripening. Developing a full, barny aroma, the paste tastes nutty at the rind and has a complex, fruity flavour that emerges from its melt-in-the mouth texture. The pleasant tang of the long finish clinches this cheese’s spot as a new Canadian favourite.”

We couldn’t agree more.

Saint Agur

An outstanding blue.

What a mouth-watering, medium-strong, creamy blue cheese made from pasteurized cow’s milk in Auvergne, France!

Saint Agur was the perfect counter-point to our Cabrales. Kind of like a softer and finer Roquefort and, due to its double-cream nature, easy to spread on a plain cracker. (The next day, it tasted even better, leaving an almond-like impression.)

Footnotes

In retrospect, 11 cheeses over five courses were too much of a good thing. Four courses of maybe eight or nine cheeses would have been just fine.

The experts usually say allow for 400 grams of cheese per person when serving cheese as a meal. We provided 485 grams per person. When all was said and done, close to 400 grams were consumed on average per person.

—Georgs Kolesnikovs

Georgs Kolesnikovs is Cheese-Head-in-Chief at CheeseLover.ca.