Laliberté: Best of the best in Canadian Cheese Grand Prix

Laliberté, an aromatic triple crème made by Fromagerie du Prebystere, is Grand Champion of the 2015 Canadian Cheese Grand Prix. Kudos to Jean Morin!

Laliberté, a fabulous triple crème made by Fromagerie du Presbytere, is Grand Champion of the 2015 Canadian Cheese Grand Prix. Kudos to Jean Morin!

He wore the same smiling-cow tie he wore at the 2011 Canadian Cheese Grand Prix, and, again, at the 2015 Canadian Cheese Grand Prix last night, Jean Morin was named Grand Champion—the best of the best in artisan cheesemaking in Canada.

This time the champion cheese is Laliberté, an aromatic triple crème that will blow your mind and palate. Last time the winning cheese was Louis d’Or, another extraordinary cheese made in a former Roman Catholic rectory—thus, the name Fromagerie du Presbytère—in Sainte-Élizabeth-de-Warwick two hours east of Montréal.

Jean Morin accepts the Grand Champion award at the Canadian Cheese Grand Prix night, for the second time in four years.

Jean Morin accepts the Grand Champion award at the Canadian Cheese Grand Prix night, for the second time in four years. Click on image for an enlarged view.

In a repeat of Morin’s then unprecedented awards sweep in 2011:

  • Laliberté was also named champion in the Cream-Enriched Soft Cheese with Bloomy Rind category,
  • Louis d’Or was named champion in Swiss-Type Cheese,
  • Le Bleu d’Élizabeth was named champion in Blue Cheese.
Jean Morin dances a happy dance with Nancy Portelance of Plaisirs Gourmets as his associate cheesemaker Dany Grimard looks on.

Jean Morin dances a happy dance with Nancy Portelance of Plaisirs Gourmets as his associate cheesemaker Dany Grimard looks on. Click on image for an enlarged view,

Clearly, it was an unforgettable evening for Morin and associate cheesemaker Dany Grimard as the Gala of Champions unfolded at Liberty Grand in Toronto, scene of a lavish awards ceremony cum cheese-tasting organized by Dairy Farmers of Canada. DFC has sponsored of the Canadian Cheese Grand Prix since launching the biennial competition in 1998 to celebrate the high quality and proud tradition of Canadian cheese made from 100% Canadian cow’s milk.

When asked what the secret is to making award-winning cheese, Morin, a fourth-generation dairy farmer, answers simply: “Good grass and no silage.”

His response last night echoes what he told CheeseLover.ca four years ago: “Happy, healthy cows. It all starts with the milk, and the care we show the cheese as we make it.”

A tie with smiling cows proves to be a lucky charm for Jean Morin—for the second time.

A tie with smiling cows proves to be a lucky charm for Jean Morin—for the second time. Click on image for an enlarged view.

Appropriately, smiling cows adorned the tie Morin wore to the 2011 awards presentation and last night, too.

Laliberté was selected as Grand Champion by a jury of Canadian food industry experts from 27 category winners. The Grand Champion and 27 category winners were chosen from a record-setting 268 cheese entries submitted by cheesemakers from Prince Edward Island to British Columbia. The submissions were then narrowed down to 81 finalists by the jury in February.

“From all the excellent cheeses the jury tasted, we found Laliberté to be the stand-out,” said Phil Bélanger, Canadian Cheese Grand Prix jury chairman. “This cheese truly distinguished itself in texture, taste and overall appearance. Its exquisite aromatic triple cream with its tender bloomy rind encases an unctuous well balanced flavour with hints of mushroom, pastures and root vegetables.”

Named after Alfred Laliberté, the famous sculptor born in Sainte-Élizabeth-de-Warwick, the farmstead cheese took a year and a half to develop and is made with cow’s milk provided by a mix of naturally raised Jerseys and Holsteins.

Fromagerie du Presbytère cheeses are distributed by Plaisirs Gourmets and available in cheese shops across Canada.

Laliberté will the featured cheese and Jean Morin the guest of honour at the fifth anniversary Great Canadian Cheese Festival on June 6-7 in Picton, Ontario. Many of the Grand Prix winners will also be in the spotlight at what has become the biggest artisan cheese show in Canada representing producers from coast to coast.

How many Cheese Grand Prix finalists have you tasted?

canadian-cheese-grand-prix_halfpagewidthThe 81 finalists in the 2015 Canadian Cheese Grand Prix have been announced. The prestigious biennial competition sponsored by Dairy Farmers of Canada saw 268 cheeses submitted in 27 categories.

The winners will be announced April 22 at a Gala of Champions in Toronto.

Quebec, home to the majority of Canada’s cheese producers, dominates the list of 81 finalists with 31 cheeses. Naturally, some of the larger producers have the most finalists: Fromagerie Fritz Kaiser, 7 finalists, Sylvan Star Cheese, 6, and Natural Pastures Cheese Company and Fromagerie du Presbytère, 5.

The competition, open to cheese made exclusively with Canadian cow’s milk, first started in 1998 to promote achievement and innovation in cheesemaking and to spotlight the quality of Canadian milk.

Here are the 2015 finalists:category 1 fresh ch#196C2DE

Fresh Cheese

category 2 fresh pa#196C2EAFresh Pasta Filata

category 3 cheese w#196C2E9Fresh Cheese with grilling properties

category 4 soft che#196C307Soft Cheese with bloomy rind

category 5 soft che#196C2F8Cream-enriched Soft Cheese with bloomy rind

category 6 semi-sof#196C2EFSemi-soft Cheese

category 7 soft wit#196C2F0Washed- or Mixed-Rind Soft Cheese

category 8 semi-sof#196C305Washed- or Mixed-Rind Semi-soft Cheese

category 9 firm che#196C2F2Washed- or Mixed-Rind Firm Cheese

category 10 firm in#196C2DBFirm Cheese (except Cheddar and Gouda)

category 11 swiss 1#196C2ECSwiss-type Cheese

category 12 mozzare#196C2FFMozzarella (Ball, Brick or Cylinder) or Pasta Filata

category 13 ripened#196C2FBBrine-ripened Cheese

category 14 gouda 1#196C302Gouda (aged 1 to 6 months)

category 16 gouda 9#196C308Aged Gouda

category 17 extra g#196C2F9Extra Aged Gouda

category 18 blue ch#196C2E7Blue Cheese

category 19 flavour#196C2E4Flavoured Cheese with added non-particulate flavourings (except smoked cheese)

category 20 smoked #196C313Smoked Cheese

category 21 flavour#196C2F5Flavoured Cheese with added particulate solids and flavourings

category 20 smoked #196C313Mild Cheddar (aged 3 months)

category 23 medium #196C2F6Medium Cheddar (aged 4 to 9 months)

category 24 cheddar#196C2F3Old Cheddar (aged from 9 months to a year)

category 25 cheddar#196C2FCAged Cheddar (1 to 3 years)

category 26 cheddar#196C304Aged Cheddar (more than 3 years)

category 27 fromage#196C2DDFarmhouse Cheese

category 28 fromage#196C301Organic Cheese

Typically, many of the finalists and winners are available for sampling and purchase at The Great Canadian Cheese Festival, this year taking place June 6-7 at Picton Fairgrounds in the heart of Ontario’s Prince Edward County, just south of Belleville in Bay of Quinte Region, near spectacular Sandbanks Provincial Park.

 

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:

Dreams of warm milk and melting cheese

The photo of Four Cheese Potato Gratin that caught my eye at Evenin Shenanigans.

The photo of Four Cheese Potato Gratin that caught my eye at Evil Shenanigans.

I kid you not. A week after I made Four Cheese Potato Gratin as a side for a holiday dinner, I dreamt of the wonderful aroma of four cheeses melting in warm milk. Even now, when I close my eyes and inhale, it’s as if I were standing in front of the open oven.

There is no better smell to warm the heart on a winter day.

I picked the recipe described by Kelly Jaggers in her blog Evil Shenanigans because of the mouth-watering photos she published. That’s her gratin above. Mine appears below.

The Four Cheese Potato Gratin as it came out of my oven.

The Four Cheese Potato Gratin as it came out of my oven.

I pretty well followed Kelly’s recipe–Click here for the recipe and more photos–except for the cheese:

The only thing I’d do different the next time is add a pinch of salt and pepper between layers and use more cheese than the recipe suggests, say, four cups total instead of three.

—Georgs Kolesnikovs

Georgs Kolesnikovs is Cheese-Head-in-Chief at CheeseLover.ca and founder of The Great Canadian Cheese Festival.

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.

Outstanding cheese bites of 2010

Deservedly, Vacherin Mont d'Or sits front and center at a cheese tasting also featuring Fritz Kaiser's Miranda, a seven-year-old Empire Cheddar and Celtic Blue from Glengarry Fine Cheese.

There’s nothing quite as exciting as tasting an outstanding cheese for the first time: Whoa! What aroma! What flavour! What texture! Where have you been all my life?

We bring the curtain down on 2010 with friends in fromage recalling the memorable cheeses that crossed their palates this year.

Avonlea Clothbound Cheddar, Cows Creamery:
Lots of typical aged Cheddar flavour with sweet and spicy notes. Very firm and dry.
—Art Hill, professor, Dairy Science and Cheese Technology, University of Guelph

Louis d’Or, Fromagerie du Presbytère:
An 18-month-old, 40kg organic raw milk pressed cheese that won the Gold Medal at 2010 Quebec Caseus Awards. Federally licensed.
Alain Besré, Fromagerie Atwater, often called the godfather of the Québec artisan cheese movement

Brebichon, Les Fromages du Verger:
A young 350g farmstead sheep milk cheese made with apple juice added to the curd and washed with apple juice from their own orchard. First prize in washed rind cheese category at 2010 Quebec Caseus Awards. Provincially licensed.
Alain Besré, Fromagerie Atwater, often called the godfather of the Québec artisan cheese movement

Jersey Blue, Städtlichäsi Lichtensteig:
A 100% Jersey cow’s milk cheese from Switzerland made by Willi Schmid. So beautiful you almost don’t want to eat it, just gaze at it. But, mamma mia, when it gets into your mouth! What a cheese, WHAT a cheese! —Russell Gammon, Executive Secretary, Jersey Canada

Cone de Port Aubry and Vacherin de Savoie, Maison Mons – Fromager Affineur:
Two treasures from maître affineur Hervé Mons.
—Julia Rogers, Cheese Educator, Cheese Culture

Le Foin d’Odeur, La Moutonniere:
Soft surface-ripened sheep’s milk, sweet, mushroomy and herbacious. When ripe, like licking buttered popcorn from your fingertips!
—Vanessa Simmons, Cheese Sommelier, Savvy Company

Monforte Dairy Cottage Cheese:
Georgous small cream colour curds that play on your tongue like caviar and are so fresh they sqeek lightly on your teeth.
Andy Shay, Cheese Consultant

At CheeseLover.ca, the most memorable moment in cheese of 2010 came when we first tasted Vacherin Mont d’Or, a singular seasonal cheese of Switzerland that delivers an amazing explosion of aroma and taste—so rich, so gooey.

Other taste hits:

Miranda, Fromagerie Fritz Kaiser:
Cheesemaker Fritz Kaiser, who kick-started the Quebec artisanal cheese movement in the 1980s, says Miranda is one of the many cheeses he produces that he’s most proud of. That says a lot, when one considers he makes Le Douanier, Port Royal, Raclette, La Soeur Angele, Le Saint Paulin, among others. We especially liked the rustic flavours of Miranda.

Celtic Blue, Glengarry Fine Cheese, and Bleu d’Elizabeth, Fromagerie du Presbytère: Two very different blue cheeses that demonstrate how far blues made in Canada have come since the days Roquefort ruled. Three cheers for Blue Canada!

Empire Cheddar, 7-year, Empire Butter & Cheese:
There are so many fine older cheddars made in Canada, but Empire’s oldest offering stands out in memories of cheese tasted during 2010.

—Georgs Kolesnikovs, Cheese-head-in-chief at CheeseLover.ca, wonders what outstanding cheeses he’ll encounter in the New Year.

In praise of aged Comté and belle Bleu l’Élizabeth

Bliss: Comté, Bleu l'Élizabeth and a glass of Jim Jim.

Sometimes, a board featuring only two cheeses is more than enough to satiate the senses. Last night was such a time at our house. Significant Other and I started with a divine 24-month Comté and stopped talking for the longest spell while moaning with delight about Le Bleu l’Élizabeth.

The fully mature Comté was recommended to us by Geoff at Chris’ Cheesemongers in Toronto’s St. Lawrence Market. He knows how much we enjoy an Alpine cheese such as Beaufort d’Alpage.

Comté has been made in the Jura Mountains in southeast France since the 12th century. It has the highest production figures of all the French AOC cheeses (51,000 tons in 2005, or about 1,275,000 wheels every year), a testament to its distinctive deliciousness.

It’s a raw cow-milk cheese with a natural brushed rind that is aged on average for eight months. The maturing period ranges from four months (the legal minimum ) to 12, 18 or even 24 months.

Comté: Spectacular caves to age a spectacular cheese.

Being a French AOC (Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée) cheese, its production is tightly controlled:

  • Delimited area of production: Doubs, Jura, Ain, elevation 1,500-4,500 ft.
  • Milk must be produced by local cows of the Montbéliarde (95%) and Simmental (5%) breeds. There are about 112,000 Comté cows.
  • Minimum of 2.5 acres of natural pasture for each animal.
  • Cattle feed must be natural and free of fermented products and genetically modified organisms (GMO).
  • Each fruitière must collect milk from dairy farms within a 20-kilometre diameter at maximum.
  • Milk must be made into cheese within 24 hours of the earliest milking. Of course no modified milk ingredients (MMI) are allowed.
  • Only natural ferments must be used to transform the milk into curds.
  • Wheels must be aged on spruce boards.

It takes as many as 530 litres of milk, which is about the daily production of 30 cows, all to make one wheel of Comté weighing 40 kilograms. Those numbers are staggering in a world where progress is measured in ever increasing productivity and, sadly, often decreasing quality.

The texture is firm, the rind is grey-brown and pebbled, and the flavours burst forth in so many ways: Complex, nutty and caramelized with a lingering but not sharp flavor. The taste is variable depending on the age and the season of the milk. It’s typically described as salty, mild, and fruity. Some Comté has strong hazelnut flavours, other exhibits subtle hints of nutmeg.

Comté goes well with either dry white or light red wines, but we’re fans of bold fruit-forward wines, thus, we paired both cheeses with our last bottle of Jim Jim, a 2008 Australian shiraz.

Our cave-aged Comté was made by Fromageries Arnaud. $8.99/100g @ Chris’ Cheesemongers

I only expected SO to pick up the Comté at Chris’s, but when she spotted Bleu l’Élizabeth, she couldn’t resist one of our favourite blues. It was the perfect match for the Comté and made for a memorable evening. Sides of duck paté with pistachio and rare roast-beef slices and a caraway rye only enhanced the experience.

Writing in The Globe and Mail, Sue Riedl described the cheese as a “mellow blue even the blue-skeptic will love.” Bleu l’Élizabeth is much more than that. As Kathy Guidi writes in Canadian Cheese: A Pocket Guide, “The flavour, initially sweet with balanced salt and a piquant finish, is impeccable.”

Indeed, Bleu l’Élizabeth is a beauty, and unusually creamy and rich, with prominent Penicillium roqueforti veins that are blue, or green, according to the eye of the beholder. In 2009, it was declared the gold standard in Selection Caseus, the chief cheese competition in Quebec.

A former rectory houses Fromagerie du Presbytère in Sainte-Élizabeth de Warwick.

The cheese is made in Sainte-Elizabeth de Warwick in central Quebec at Fromagerie du Presbytère housed in the former rectory of the village Roman Catholic church. Across the street is La Ferme Louis d’Or where Holstein and Jersey cows provide the organic raw milk for cheesemaking, after feasting on clover, bluegrass and other organic grains in season, dry hay in the winter.

Brothers Louis and Dominique are the fourth generation of the Morin family to run the dairy farm. Louis started cheesemaking almost 20 years ago, under the Fromagerie du Presbytère label four years ago this month.

Bleu l’Élizabeth is a true farmstead cheese, generally aged two to three months. $6.99/100g @ Chris’s Cheesemongers

Louis d’Or, the Alpine-style cheese that won Caseus 2010, is also made at Fromagerie du Presbytère as is buttery Le Champayeur, a soft-ripened cheese.

The question is, after two gold medals in the Caseus competition, how will Jean Morin next knock our socks off?

—Georgs Kolesnikovs

Georgs Kolesnikovs, Cheese-Head-In-Chief at CheeseLover.ca, plans to visit Fromagerie du Presbytère again in the next month or three to seek the answer.