Chien Noir chef competes in Grilled Cheese Chowdown

With a Parisian bistro feel, located just a few blocks away from historic Market Square, Le Chien Noir Bistro in downtown Kingston is known for serving up fresh, seasonal, high quality, and local ingredients along with a spectacular wine list. This neighbourhood hangout spot dishes up pleasurable experiences and offers feel good classics with an innovative twist and friendly service in a beautiful art deco inspired setting.

Chef Eric Brennan.

Chef Eric Brennan.

Offering traditional French dishes such as Duck Confit, Boeuf Bourguignonne and Tartare, this bistro would not be complete without highlighting charcuterie and Canadian artisan cheeses that will be featured among many more at The Great Canadian Cheese Festival where Sous Chef Eric Brennan will swing into action against three other Ontario chefs at the Grilled Cheese Chowdown.

Who can cook 250 grilled-cheese sandwiches the quickest? Well that is yet to be determined but Kingston native Chef Eric of Chien Noir is certainly ready for the challenge as the winning chef will have $1,000 donated to his favourite charity and where the first 1,000 ticket holders admitted on Sunday, June 7, will receive a free grilled-cheese sandwich as part of the fifth anniversary celebrations at the biggest cheese show in Canada. It doesn’t get better than that!

Chef Eric’s grilled cheese creation you may ask? It pays homage to local products—from Stonemill Bakehouse and its Prince Edward County Rye, Stirling Creamery butter and of course the pièce de résistance, a two-year white cheddar from Wilton Cheese on the Cheddar & Ale Trail in Bay of Quinte Region.

Le Chien Noir: The Kingston resto definitely looks like a bistro.

Le Chien Noir: The Kingston resto definitely looks like a bistro. Click on any image for an enlarged view.

Let’s take a moment though to appreciate Chef Eric’s passion for creating uncomplicated dishes using locally sourced ingredients and embracing the local food movement – this truly makes him the perfect addition to the Grilled Cheese Chowdown with his unique flair in the kitchen. He rose to this level as he climbed the culinary ladder at Chien Noir after completing his apprenticeship at George Brown College while he gained first-hand experience at several popular Toronto dining establishments including Chippy’s Fish & Chips, The Harbord Room and Frank’s Kitchen.

While with every man, the true motivation that keeps Eric going is the love of food and having grown up surrounded by his parents big garden—sitting in the dirt rows between the plants, picking beans and peas and eating them is where the true appreciation for good fresh food commenced and has yet to leave him. So it is no surprise that Chef Eric is a great supporter of local Canadian cheese as well—his favourite being Wilton cheese curds or “squeaky cheese” as he calls it. He relishes in the fact that the options are almost endless with cheese. With so many styles and ages, there is always room for a slice or shred of the good stuff!

Cheese and charcuterie locally sourced at Le Chien Bistro.

Cheese and charcuterie locally sourced at Le Chien Bistro.

With all this talk about cheese be sure to visit Chien Noir’s Sous Chef Eric Brennan as he competes at the Grilled Cheese Chowdown at the fifth anniversary Great Canadian Cheese Festival—the biggest artisan cheese show in Canada as it takes place Saturday and Sunday, June 6 and 7, in Picton, Ontario, at the Fairgrounds. For complete information and tickets, please visit CheeseFestival.ca.

—Rosalyn Gambhir

A food writer and photographer who calls Kingston home. She blogs about food, fashion and other good things life at www.rosalyngambhir.com.

 

 

 

Video: Take a tour of Jensen Cheese in Simcoe, Ontario

Video Wednesday: Scott Jensen, owner of Jensen Cheese in Simcoe, Ontario, gives a tour of the Simcoe plant, demonstrating storage and aging, cutting and packaging of award-winning artisan cheese.

Our own cheddar pie: Quick and delicious

Significant Other's own take on Impossible Vegetable Pie.

Significant Other has found a mouth-watering way for us to polish off that block of Kraft Cracker Barrel that we purchased for a ridiculously low price at Wal-Mart. (That’s the Kraft “aged cheddar” involved in the cheddar chowdown we described earlier.)

For breakfast the other day, SO pulled the Cracker Barrel from the cheese bin and and put her own spin on an Impossible Vegetable Pie recipe she found at About.com. She used double-smoked bacon, carmelized onions, two cups of cheddar rather one, and only green onion instead of broccoli as that’s all there was in the fridge at that moment. The result was delicious.

She promises to try other variations of the recipe, using other cheeses, but always with at least a sprinkle of orange cheddar on top for that golden brown look. We may try five-year Wilton on top just to see if one can taste the difference.

Scheffler's at St. Lawrence Market.

Footnote for charcuterie buffs: After years of enjoying bacon smoked by Astra Meat Products on Toronto’s Bloor West Village, we have switched our allegiance to Scheffler’s Delicatessen & Cheese in St. Lawrence Market where, incidentally, we used to shop 25 years ago when it was still owned by Rudy Scheffler. Scheffler’s bacon is not as lean as Astra’s but its double-smoke taste is heavenly.

The bonus of shopping at Scheffler’s is that owners Odysseas and Sandra Gounalakis are friendly, believe in customer service and their cheese selection rivals strictly cheese shops.

—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.

Our cheese plate overfloweth

After I wrote about the Twelve Cheeses of Christmas, it dawned on me we may never ever again be as cheese rich as we are right now at our house. In addition to the delightful dozen, here’s what’s resting at 4C and high humidity in our fridge:

Parmigiano-Reggiano Vacche Rosse

People who know their cheese often say Parmigiano-Reggiano delle Vacche Rosse is the best Parmigiano-Reggiano there is.

Is this the red cow that makes the milk that makes the best Parmigiano-Reggiano?

Parmigiano-Reggiano from Red Cows, in English translation, is made from the exceptionally rich and creamy milk of the original milk source for Parmigiano-Reggiano, the Pezzata Rossa, a breed almost extinct by the by the late 1980s, writes Stephanie Zonis in The Nibble, an excellent online food magazine. Like the Jersey cow, its milk has a higher butterfat content and more milk proteins, but it isn’t a high-yielding cow. After the Second World War, as the old artisan ways began to succumb to efficiency, it was replaced by the higher-yielding Friesian. The result: a less-rich Parmigiano. The other result: The breed began to die out, since only a few committed farmers would keep less profitable herds. Over the last 25 years, some herds have been reestablished, thanks in part to the Slow Food Movement, and are now being used to produce small quantities of this high-end Parmigiano-Reggiano.

The combination of higher butterfat and more proteins allows for the production of a cheese that is better suited for a longer period of aging, producing a 30-month-old cheese instead of the 24-month aging period of most other Parmigianos. The extra aging yields a cheese that is uniquely nutty, fruity and grassy, with a flavor that is richer than most Parmigianos. The texture is more creamy, even though the cheese is aged for a much longer time (The rule of thumb is, the longer the cheese is aged, the drier the paste). This is a special-occasion cheese: Serve it as the cheese course, in chunks, drizzled with 25-year-old (or older) balsamic vinegar, The Nibble writer recommends.

We haven’t taken our first nibble yet, as other cheeses needed to be eaten first, but I’ll provide tasting notes when we do.

Here’s what else awaits us:

Chevrai

This soft, unripened goat cheese from Woolwich Dairy in Orangeville was given to us for Christmas with a goat-cheese baker that we’re eager to try.

Wilton Cheddar

I picked up this five-year-old cheddar during a quick visit to the Wilton Cheese Factory north of Kingston.

Black River Cheddar

A six-year-old cheddar from Black River Cheese in Prince Edward County that we’re in no rush to open.

American Cheese

A colleague of mine who loves to grill with American Cheese brought us a sample from her last visit to the U.S.

1000 Islands River Rat Cheese Curds

Cheese curds make such nice snacks, and these from River Rat are not as salty as those from La Belle Province.

Grand Camembert L’Extra

Where we live out in the boonies, the nearest cheesemonger is 45 minutes away. When the urge for cheese strikes, sometimes I’ll cruise Loblaws or Metro. That’s how I must have ended up with this Agropur product. Obviously, the urge was not that great as the Camembert is still with us, two weeks beyond its best-before date.

Rosenborg-Castello Traditional Blue Cheese

We always have some around for use in salads as it has bite and isn’t expensive for everyday use.

Bonnie & Floyd

So, why are we not eating any sheep’s milk cheese and have inventoried only one goat cheese?

Quite frankly, after I spent a day at Fifth Town Artisan Cheese in November, I brought home so much sheep and goat that by the holidays we had exceeded our quota. In other words, we over-ate.

But the best is still to come. As a bonus for learning to be a cheesemaker for the day, each participant in the program was allowed to pick a 2-kilogram wheel of any Fifth Town cheese to take home. As Bonnie & Floyd is a favorite of mine, my choice was easy. As a result, I’m doing my best, despite the cold in all storage spaces in our condo building, to age my wheel for a Valentine’s Day treat.