Good cheese hunting: Day 15, paradise found in Warwick

For a cheese lover, Le Festival des Fromages de Warwick certainly isn’t formidable but it sure is fromidable—as the signs all over town proclaim. (Fromage, fromidable, get it?)

In its 16th year, the festival, the largest cheese event in Canada, generally welcomes more than 40,000 people to Warwick, a town of 3,500 two hours east of Montreal, in mid-June. This year, for reasons that are puzzling, attendance dropped to 28,000.

Thirty Quebec cheesemakers offered more than 100 varieties of cheese for tasting. It was impossible to taste them all, as much as one might want to. We focused exclusively on cheeses we did not know but managed to sample barely 20 cheeses over two days. Among the most memorable:

  • Louis d’Or, a flavourful, complex Gruyere-like washed rind, firm cheese made with the raw milk of the cheesemaker’s own Holstein and Jersey cows. Fromagerie du Presbytère, Sainte-Élizabeth de Warwick, Central Quebec.

  • Mont Jacob, a semi-soft, interior-ripened cheese, with a pronounced flavour and fruity aroma. Fromagerie Blackburn, Jonquière, Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean.
  • Tomme des Cantons also caught our fancy but there is no information available on the La Fromagerie 1860 DuVillage site. Perhaps it has been discontinued.

Saturday and Sunday are the busiest days at le Salon des fromages d’ici, the cheese show that is the heart of the Warwick festival. We’d recommend Friday as your primary day at the event. In addition to cheese, the 2010 festival featured 14 producers of artisan foods, eight vintners, three producers of ciders, one microbrewer, one beekeeper and two grocery-store chains, plus non-stop entertainment in the festival theatre, a children’s activity park, a farm yard complete with sheep, goats and chickens, a spectacular fireworks display on opening night, and popular Quebec bands and singers in concert every evening.

For lunch, supper or anytime, one could withdraw from all the goings-on to the 750-seat festival bistro under a big-top tent and enjoy a cheese and salad plate like the one pictured. There were six choices on the menu, each one with its own assortment of four cheeses, one pâté, one condiment, grapes, crudité, crisp greens and fresh bread.

Click on this or any other image for a larger view.

Down the street from the festival is La Fromagerie 1860 DuVillage, now owned by giant Saputo, which has a cheese boutique and a restaurant that features, among other dishes, 15—Yes, 15!—different ways to serve poutine, the cheese-curd-gravy-with-fries Quebec delicacy that was invented in Warwick.

Quite frankly, it was distressing, on account of all the fabulous cheese already in the belly, not to be able to dive into a plate of poutine in its birthplace.

—Georgs Kolesnikovs

Georgs Kolesnikovs, Cheese-Head-in-Chief at CheeseLover.ca, has returned home to Frenchman’s Bay east of Toronto with a cooler full of Quebec and Eastern Ontario cheese.

Best cheeses in the “British Empire”

Cape Vessey, Grand Champion of the 2009 British Empire Cheese Competition.

Petra Cooper’s leap of faith into cheesemaking is being rewarded with much critical acclaim. Her Fifth Town Artisan Cheese, since it started operations in July 2008 in Prince Edward County, has won more awards than any other artisanal or homestead cheesemaker in Ontario, possibly in all Canada.

On the heels of Fifth Town’s Isabella being named Grand Champion Goat Cheese at the 2009 Royal Winter Fair Cheese Competition came news last week that Cape Vessey was named Grand Champion of the British Empire Cheese Competition.

What’s remakable is that in being named Grand Champion a goat-milk cheese beat cow-milk cheeses from many of Canada’s leading cheese producers. Kudos to Stephanie Diamant, the veteran cheesemaker at Fifth Town.

Additionally, Fifth Town took home first-places in Artisan Sheep Milk Cheese with Bonnie & Floyd, in Artisan Goat Milk Cheese with Petal Luna, in Sheep Milk Cheese with Wishing Tree and in Goat Milk Cheese with Cape Vessey. As a result of those four wins, Fifth Town also was presented with the overall award in goat and sheep milk cheesemaking.

Not a bad haul for someone who gave up a career as a high-powered book publishing executive a few years ago to put her all into cheese.

La Raclette was named Reserve Champion.

The Reserve Champion at the annual British Empire judging event in Belleville, Ontario, was Raclette du Village made by La Fromagerie 1860 du Village, a division of the giant Saputo conglomerate.

Here are all British Empire winners in specialty cheeses:

Artisan Goat Milk Cheese: Petal Luna, Fifth Town Artisan Cheese

Artisan Sheep Milk Cheese: Bonnie & Floyd, Fifth Town Artisan Cheese

Goat Milk Cheese: Cape Vessey, Fifth Town Artisan Cheese

Sheep Milk Cheese: Wishing Tree, Fifth Town Artisan Cheese

Hard Cheese: Romano Wheel, Saputo

Firm Cheese: Fontina Prestigio, Agropur

Swiss Cheese: L’Artisan, Agropur

Semi-Firm Cheese: Raclette du Village, La Fromagerie 1860 du Village

Fresh Cheese: Ricotta, International Cheese

Soft Rind Cheese: Roubine de Noyan, CDA Fromagerie

Smear Ripened Cheese: Le Formier, Alexis De Portneuf

Flavoured Soft Cheese: Red Wine Cold Pack, Maple Dale Cheese

Flavoured Firm Cheese: Double Smoked Cheddar, Parmalat

Blue Veined Cheese: Caronzola, Alexis De Portneuf

American Style: Monterey Jack, Bothwell Cheese

Pasta Filata: Bocconcini, International Cheese

Process Cheese: Smoked Gouda, Saputo

Reserve Champion: Raclette du Village, La Fromagerie 1860 Du Village

Grand Champion: Cape Vessey, Fifth Town Artisan Cheese

The Grand Champion Cheddar comes from P.E.I.

British Empire Cheese Competition features judging in six categories of cheddar. The two big winners were:

Reserve Champion: Pine River Cheese

Grand Champion: Amalgamated Dairies

These are best cheeses as selected by experts in the dairy industry. I wonder who the winners would be if cheese lovers like you and me had our say?