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:

Aged Lankaaster crowned Grand Champion at the Royal

Aged Lankaaster created by Margaret Peters-Morris of Glengarry Fine Cheese is the 2011 Grand Champion in its class at the Royal Winter Fair.

Aged Lankaaster was named Grand Champion in the variety cheese competition at the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair this week, continuing a streak of awards won by Eastern Ontario’s Glengarry Fine Cheese.

Cendre de Lune made by Quebec cheesemaker La Fromagerie du Village 1860 was named Reserve Champion.

Despite multiple entries from large cheese producers such as Saputo and Agropur, Quality Cheese of Vaughan, Ontario, collected the most first-place ribbons—four in all—with Zerto Fresh Mozzarella, Ricotta, Borgonzola and Burrata.

Perhaps as an indication of things to come, a new artisan cheesemaker, Primeridge Pure of Markdale, Ontario, won a second and a third with Grey Rush, a creamy dessert cheese.

The Grand Champion, Aged Lankaaster, is matured to a minimum of 10 months. Margaret Peters-Morris tells CheeseLover.ca. The cheese entered in the competition was made in June, 2010, therefore, it was 16 months mature.

Aged Lankaaster is a firm cheese, traditional rind, characteristic gouda “eyes” present,  paste is dark, laden with crystals, with lovely butterscotch, pineapple and lactic notes, the veteran cheesemakers says. This cheese lingers in one’s mouth and is very suitable to use as cheese to make any “gratin” in culinary preparations.

Here are the top three in the variety class of the annual competition:

Hard Parmesan, Grana, Romano, etc

  1. Lankaaster – Aged,  Glengarry Fine Cheese
  2. Quinte Crest, Fifth Town Artisan Cheese
  3. Baby Parmesan, Silani

Pasta, Filata Mozzarella, Provolone, Scarmorze, etc

  1. Zerto Fresh Mozzarella, Quality Cheese
  2. Fior de latte, Quality Cheese
  3. Tre Stelle Fiordi Latte, Arla Foods

Firm Brick, Colby, etc

  1. Monterey Jack, Parmalat
  2. Anco Creamy Havarti, Agropur Fine Cheese
  3. Colby, Ivanhoe

Interior Ripened Edam, Gouda, Asiago

  1. North Heaven,  Thornloe Cheese
  2. Riviere Rouge, Agropur Fine Cheese

Surface Ripened Fontina, Oka, Munster, St. Paulin

  1. La Sauvagine, Alexis de Portneuf
  2. Cantolait, Fromagerie St Guillaume
  3. Oka Raclette, Agropur Fine Cheese

Mold Ripened Brie, Camembert

  1. Cendre de Lune, La Fromagerie du Village 1860
  2. Rondoux Triple Creme, Agropur Fine Cheese
  3. Camembert L’Extra, Agropur Fine Cheese

Unflavoured Fresh Cheese

  1. Ricotta, Quality Cheese
  2. Grey Rush,  Primeridge Pure
  3. Anco plain, Agropur Fine Cheese

Flavoured Fresh Cheese

  1. Delicreme Five Peppers, Agropur Fine Cheese
  2. Delicreme Herbs and Garlic, Agropur Fine Cheese
  3. Grey Rush – Herb Blend, Primeridge Pure

Blue Veined Cheese

  1. Borgonzola, Quality Cheese
  2. Castello Gorgonzola Cheese, Arla Foods
  3. La Roche Noire, Alexis de Portneuf

Swiss Ementhal Cheese

  1. Swiss Cheese, Fromagerie St Guillaume
  2. Oka L’Artisan, Agropur Fine Cheese
  3. Swiss Cheese, Farmers Dairy

Flavoured Cheese

  1. Oka Mushrooms, Agropur Fine Cheese
  2. Lankaaster Cumin Flavoured, Glengarry Fine Cheese
  3. Chevalier Fine Herbs, Agropur Fine Cheese

Open Class

  1. Burrata, Quality Cheese
  2. La Tentation de Laurier, La Fromagerie du Village 1860
  3. Allegro Camembert 16%, Agropur Fine Cheese

Any Cheese made with Sheep’s Milk

  1. Wishing Tree, Fifth Town Artisan Cheese
  2. Bonnie & Floyd, Fifth Town Artisan Cheese
  3. Mouton Rouge, Best Baa Dairy

Feta

  1. Feta in Brine, Black Diamond
  2. Tre Stella Feta, Arla Foods
  3. Anco Feta, Agropur Fine Cheese

Cendre de Lune by La Fromagerie du Village 1860 was named Reserve Champion in the variety cheese class.

Judges in the variety class: Thierry Martin and Jean-Jacques Turgeon

Sponsors: Gay Lea Foods Co-operative, Dairy Farmers of Ontario, Canadian Cheese Society, Cargill, Central Ontario Cheese Makers, Parmalat, Jersey Canada, Continental Ingredients Canada, Ecolab, Empire Cheese.

Swiss Gruyere named best-of-show at World Championship

And the winner is . . . Gruyere AOC from Switzerland!

The two largest Canadian cheese producers won all five of Canada’s gold medals in the 2010 World Championship Cheese Contest held in Madison, Wisconsin.

Saputo Dairy Products Canada won three golds while Agropur Cooperative garnered a pair.

Twenty countries entered 2,318 cheeses in the competition. The U.S. swept the lion’s share of gold medals. Canada and the Netherlands tied for second with five golds apiece. Best-of-show honors went to a Gruyere made by Fromagerie de La Brévine in Switzerland.

The Canadian cheeses awarded golds are:

Rindless Swiss-style cheese – La Fromagerie, Saputo Dairy Products Canada of Saint-Laurent, Quebec. The Cogruet scored 99.15 out of a possible 100 points.

Camembert and other surface-ripened cheeses – La Maison Alexis de Portneuf, Saputo Dairy Products Canada, Saint-Laurent, Quebec. The Saint-Honore scored 98.95.

Smear-ripened soft cheese – La Maison Alexis de Portneuf, Saputo Dairy Products Canada won again for it’s Le Sauvagine scoring 99.45.

Cheddar, Mild – Agropur Cooperative of Bon-Conseil, Quebec. Its cheddar scored a 99.45.

Cheddar, Sharp – Agropur Cooperative, Bon-Conseil, Quebec. An older cheddar scored 99.5.

Judges at work at the Worlds.

Saputo Dairy Products Canada was founded in 1954 in Montreal by an immigrant Italian family headed by cheesemaker Giuseppe Saputo. It processes 6 billion litres of milk annually in 46 plants in Canada, the U.S., Argentina, Germany and the United Kingdom, with 26 plants in Canada. Saputo products are sold in more than 40 countries under brand names such as Saputo, Alexis de Portneuf, Armstrong, Baxter, Dairyland, Danscorella, De Lucia, Dragone, DuVillage 1860, Frigo Cheese Heads, Kingsey, La Paulina, Neilson, Nutrilait, Ricrem, Stella, Treasure Cave, HOP&GO!, Rondeau and Vachon.

Founded in Quebec in 1938, Agropur Cooperative has 3,533 members and 5,225 employees at 27 plants and distribution centres and offices across Canada, the U.S. and Argentina. It processes 3.1 billion litres of milk on an annualized basis and offers products such as Québon, Oka, Sealtest, Natrel, Island Farms, Yoplait, La Lacteo, Trega and Schroeder.