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:

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

Great Wall of Cheese at Loblaws Maple Leaf Gardens

Artist's rendering of the cheese display at the new Loblaws flagship store.

An 18-feet-tall display of cheese will be one of the attractions at the new Loblaws at Maple Leaf Gardens when it opens to the public at 8 a.m. Wednesday. Here’s how Loblaws describes the display:

The Amazing Wall of Cheese. At a towering 18 feet, it’s quite a sight to see. We carry more than 400 varieties of cheese from around the globe; unique and exciting varieties that cheese lovers won’t be able to resist, including a sensational 100-pound wheel of Stilton – one of only 100 in the world – and the Canadian Grand Champion Louis d’Or. Featuring an extraordinary selection of cheeses available by the full wheel, half wheel or chunk and with a special focus on local Canadian products, our cheese specialists have created a special experience of scents, textures and tastes.

One of the architects of the towering display is Gurth Pretty, author of The Definitive Guide to Canadian Artisanal and Fine Cheese,  who recently joined Loblaws as Senior Category Manager, Deli Cheese.

Loblaws is promoting the new flagship store under the legendary roof at 60 Carlton Street, Toronto, as the Food’s Greatest Stage. Here are more highlights as described by Loblaws:

The Artisan Oven. You won’t be able to resist ACE Bakery’s renowned artisan breads. They’re made from scratch every day using the simplest all-natural ingredients. To top it off, we’re introducing ACE’s back-to-basics rustic Italian Pugliese crusty bread and other varieties made in our stone-deck oven. As the first store to feature a complete ACE Artisan Bakery, it’s a bakery experience you won’t be able to resist.

Chocolate chiselled by the chunk. Our Patisserie is home to irresistible handcrafted chocolate lovingly made with all-natural ingredients. It features a mouth-watering selection of cakes and cupcakes made from scratch, not to mention, ice cream cakes, cheesecakes, donuts, muffins, chocolate pops and more. And, watch first hand as we chisel chocolate from a giant block, or as we dip fruit, pretzels and more into perfectly melted chocolate.

Extraordinary egg white omelettes. Nothing starts the day right like a nutritious egg white omelette made just how you like it, right before your eyes. Our anything-but-ordinary omelettes are made using five free-run egg whites and only our freshest ingredients from throughout the store. Choose from Mushroom Herb, Asparagus & Aged Chedder, Spinach Roasted Tomato & Feta, Western with Pancetta, or Three Cheese & Walnuts. Each is served with fresh tomato salsa. Come add some magic to your morning, with chef inspired daily specials.

Postscript the following day:

Click here for a photo of the great wall of cheese. It must be Canada’s tallest fridge. Here’s an overview and a report on the opening. Here is Sue Riedl’as take on the new flagship supermarket in the Loblaws chain.

Canadian James Kraft churned out a giant, and other cheese news

 

Canadian James Kraft founded the second largest food conglomerate in the world.

Cheese makes news every day. That’s why we’ve started collecting links to the most interesting news reports of the week on a special page under the News tab at the top of the blog. Check it whenever you visit CheeseLover.ca.

Canadian James Kraft churned out a cheese giant

Agropur to make Boursin cheeses in Canada

Far Flung Foods: Cheesemonger to Windsor

A cheesy ad campaign in Portugal

Kraft launches an eBook to promote its Philadelphia cream cheese

An ode to Alberta cheese

Kraft strengthens Mac & Cheese brand with unified packaging

Madame Fromage: Monastic Cheese Board Redux

Natural Pastures Cheese in B.C. gets a loan from Ottawa

Springbank Cheese stars in Taste of Alberta

The secret to great fudge is . . . Kaft Velveeta?

Feds help New Brunswick dairy farmers explore specialty cheese

Brits introduce Blue Brew made with Stilton whey

Sue Riedl: Become a chairman of the (cheese) board

Video: Making mozzarella on an industrial scale

How an ex-policeman became a cheese man

U.S. cheesemakers may face more onerous safety regulations

Eating cheese helps combat dental problems

Video: How to build the perfect cheese board

Asian demand for cream cheese skyrockets

Grilled cheese: Slices of childhood, melted and mobile

Shrimp and grilled-cheese sandwiches make great gourmet fare for Grey Cup

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.

Good cheese hunting: Day 10, at the Canadian Grand Prix

Significant Other and I are so excited at the prospect of Formula 1 racing starting in 20 minutes that we wolf down most of our Hercule de Charlevoix before we think of taking a photo for the blog. Which explains the only image (above) we have of this wonderful Quebec cheese.

L’Hercule de Charlevoix was named after Jean-Baptiste Grenon from Baie-Saint-Paul whose physical strength was said to be phenomenal. Made prisoner by General Wolfe’s troops during the summer of 1759, Grenon was released by the English soldiers who were incapable of controlling the Charlevoix strongman. So the legend goes.

Steve Essiembre and Stéphanie Simard of Ferme Stessi with one of their 30 Jersey cows.

L’Hercule is a classic firm cheese made with raw milk from the 30 Jersey cows of the Ferme Stessi, a mere hundred yards from cheesemaker Laiterie Charlevoix, The curds are cooked, pressed and ripened, normally, for 6 to 18 months. Our Hercule had been aged a full 24 months and showed it in complexity.

The result is a cheese that is somewhat reminiscent of Swiss Gruyere but much more earthy, with a nice nutty finish. Writing in The Globe and Mail, Sue Riedl had this to say about Hercule:

The flavour and supple texture of the cheese gives a nod to such greats as French Comté and Swiss Gruyère. The younger cheese is mild with a fruity aroma and sweet flavour, followed by a tangy finish. By 18 months the aroma is creamier and more complex, and the sharper finish has mellowed to a full, nutty finale that is enhanced by the earthy, toasted flavour of the rind. These traits and its larger wheel size (12-14 kilograms) make L’Hercule de Charlevoix a unique style of cheese in Canada.

Laiterie Charlevoix also produces Le Fleurmier, Le Vieux Charlevoix, available in Ontario, as is L’Hercule, and Le Cheddar Charlevoix, sold only in Charlevoix. Our Hercule came from Fromagerie Atwater in Montreal. ($4.10/100g)

Our plan was to make the Hercule the only of cheese of this day, but after Lewis Hamilton, boyfriend of Pussycat Doll Nicole Scherzinger, won the Grand Prix we feel the urge to celebrate. Off to Montreal’s Latin Quarter we go where, at La Brioche Lyonnaise, Significant Other has a delightful vegetarian crepe—nicely layered with Emmentaler.

After a long day at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, she is famished and, again, we forget to take a photo.

—Georgs Kolesnikovs

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

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.