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Vanessa's Blog

Vanessa is hosting a Cheesey Picnic!
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It is picnic season! Time to pack your favorite finger foods & blanket to head out to a park or take a drive to the countryside.  If you have cheese in your basket, you will need to be weary as to which ones will melt in the heat along the way.  Which cheeses are best for a picnic?  Hop down to The Ottawa Farmer’s Market  on Sunday July 14th  for a  “Cheesy Picnic” at Brewer Park with Savvy Cheese Sommelier Vanessa Simmons. Vanessa will share her tasty tidbits.

At this event, discover with Vanessa what’s hot in our local region and learn the “whey” to uncover the best of summer cheeses by sampling and hearing the stories behind these fabulous fromages.  Artisan cheese makers in the Ottawa region are producing some of the best-tasting cheeses in the land, be at The Ottawa Farmers Market to find out why.

See you there!



 Who is Vanessa?

She is the Cheese Sommelier for Savvy Company.  Her tasting seminars and speaking events throughout Ontario make for a delicious discovery of artisan cheeses from across Canada. Vanessa spends countless hours with regional cheese mongers and cheesemakers and has trained formally at the Cheese Education Guild in Toronto and at Le Cordon Bleu in Ottawa.

Her passion for cheeses oozes and her knowledge will melt away all notions that Canada only makes cheddar.  She’s been seen & heard on Rogers TV DaytimeCTV Morning LiveCBC RadioRubyTV, is a keynote presenter at The Great Canadian Cheese Festival year over year, a judge at the 2013 Selection Caseus - Le Concours de Fromages Fins de Quebec.

It has been noted by The Toronto Star that she is “openly fanatical about artisan cheese”. During her seminars, Vanessa will show you the ’whey’ – introducing you to the fun-damentals of cheese appreciation in an informative and lively format while showcasing the best that Canada has to offer.

Soft Chèvre Superb for a Spring Menu
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My cheese pick this week hails from Canada's West coast, as a tasty way to swing into spring.  Soft Chèvre is only one of many unique, handcrafted goat and sheep milk cheeses from David Wood's Salt Spring Island Cheese Company, nestled among the Gulf Islands between Vancouver Island and the mainland of British Colombia.  Having discovered this quaint, artisan community almost 20 years ago while on a chartered sailing adventure, I experienced firsthand how lifestyle is the order of the day for the local residents.

Beautifully packaged, the very small round containers are designed to show off a variety of flavors & garnishes including red peppercorns, edible flowers, roasted garlic, rosemary and basil to name a few.  Inside you’ll find a soft, pasteurized, unripened goat’s milk chèvre that is smooth & creamy with a hint of tanginess.  Festive and fabulous for entertaining – serve on homemade crackers, spread on crispy baguette with smoked salmon, melt over grilled vegetables, fold into omelets, mash into potatoes, crumble on salad or toss into fresh pasta.   Makes a great "alternative" hostess gift.  Find at Jacobson's Gourmet Concepts in Ottawa's East end or if you happen to be in BC, stop by the Salt Spring Island Saturday market to sample their fresh never packaged chèvre for a not to miss experience.


Cheese:  Soft Chèvre
Producer: Salt Spring Island Cheese Company
Interesting Fact: Fresh chèvre has a higher level of acidity than found in all other cheeses.





PHOTO CREDIT: Soft Chèvre by Vanessa Simmons

Fabulous Farm Fresh Feta Most Versatile of Cheeses
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My longing for spring to hurry up and arrive inspires this week’s cheese pick.  I dream of radiant sunshine, colorful tulips & daffodils, picnics, fresh local produce, farmers’ markets, and FETA.  One of the most versatile of cheeses, it gives an added zing to spring & summer dishes; think salads, pizzas, burgers, wraps.

Sticking to tried and true traditional cheesemaking, Jeff & Jenna Fenwick, the new owners of Back Forty Artisan Cheese are carrying on the spirit of old world methods using 100% raw ewe’s milk in the production of their hand-lovingly crafted, small batch artisan cheeses.

Flower Station, one of the little known Back Forty Artisan Cheeses is a fresh, un-ripened, semi-firm, Mediterranean-style raw sheep’s milk feta.  Stored in it’s own whey, you’ll find slightly crumbly texture with mild citrus flavor combined with a good balance of salt and fresh milk flavors from these little ivory wedges.

Spring is in the air & as the weather warms up you'll see them soon at the Carp Farmer’s Market. Find their other popular cheeses Madawaska, Highland Blue & Bonnechere on the board at local restaurants, Foodsmith’s in Perth, The Piggy Market and Serious Cheese, while available.


Cheese:  Flower Station
Producer: Back Forty Artisan Cheese, Lanark County, Ontario
Interesting Fact: Feta falls into the fresh, un-ripened cheese category, which are cheeses that receive minimal or no aging.  It has a longer shelf life when persevered in it’s own brine.




PHOTO CREDIT: Flower Station by Vanessa Simmons

Big Wow from Winning Little Quebec Cheese
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A quick trip across the border inspired this week’s cheese pick, Le Pizy, influenced by European cultures (combining Swiss and French) of owners/cheesemakers Frédérick & Fabienne of Fromagerie La Suisse Normande. Their resulting cow, goat and sheep’s milk products are a marriage made in heaven and leaving their mark in Quebec.  Cheeses are made from animals raised on the farm, in true “fermier” (farmstead) fashion.  A stop should top your “must do” list on your next trip to Montreal (just off Hwy 158 north of the 50)!

This small, soft, surface-ripened pasteurized cow’s milk cheese is fashioned after the Swiss tomme Vaudoise, due to its shape (small wheel) and size (only 1/2 “ thick). Le Pizy has a thick bloomy ivory rind, with a rich, dense, paste coloring between ivory and pearl. Experience big milky, fresh field mushroom aromas and a fresh lactic taste with a sweet tang when it’s young softening out as it ages.  Winner at the 2010 Sélection Caseus awards in Quebec for soft cow’s milk cheese; yummy, gooey, Le Pizy is just a hop, skip and a jump away - waiting for you at La Trappe à Fromages in Gatineau.



Cheese:  Le Pizy
Producer: Fromagerie La Suisse Normande, St.-Roch-de-L’Achigan, Quebec
Interesting Fact: Sélection Caseus, Quebec fine cheese competition, are the coveted cheese awards showcasing the best of the best of Quebec artisan cheeses, including a category voted by the public.

PHOTO CREDIT: Le Pizy by Vanessa Simmons

For information on Le Pizy and other cheeses or if you are looking for a cheese reccommendation, please contact Vanessa by email





Ontario cheese twist on a French favorite
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Our Cheese Sommelier Vanessa picks this week  Le Saler cheese made by Monforte Dairy, located in Stratford, Ontario. Le Saler is rare artisan cheese made by this well established dairy. Canadian pioneer cheesemaker Ruth Khlasen’s take is a rustic, cow’s milk cheese styled after traditional French Salers PDO (cheese speak: Protected Designation of Origin) cheese.

During the winter months, it is a slow time for cheesemakers who make fine artisan cheese with seasonal milk, as they follow the natural order of life and process of pasturing. Milk production levels don’t increase until new baby lambs, kids or calves are born in early spring and the mothers have had a chance to rest. A happy mother equates to excellent quality milk and the perfect beginning to stunning artisan cheese!

Similar to handcrafted bandaged cheddar (but not able to be called ‘cheddar’), Le Saler sports a dark, stone-colored rind covering a pale straw interior who’s crumbly texture shows evidence of original curd easily seen in the paste. Mild milk and earthy flavors mix with a hit of salt leaving a lingering creamy mouth feel behind.

Cheese: Le Saler
Producer: Monforte Dairy, Stratford, Ontario
Where to buy in Ottawa: The Piggy Market or Il Negozio Nicastro

Want to learn more about artisan cheeses?

Join Vanessa for her Great Canadian Cheese Discovery events. On March 19 she will feature artisan cheeses of British Columbia, Nova Scotia & PEI.   Tickets are $55 per person & includes samples of 7 to 8 artisan cheeses plus Canadian wines to enjoy.  More details about these events at

Seeing too much white? Try this blue!
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Our Cheese Sommelier Vanessa this week picks the perfect choice to beat away the winter blues or blahs, particularly when you’ve worked so hard clearing away that snow & ice over the past weeks.  Your just deserved reward is Glengarry Fine Cheese’s newest blue cheese creation -  Azzuro di Buffala.

Located North of Highway 401 near Cornwall, in Lancaster, Ontario, award winning cheesemaker Margaret Morris and team continue to pioneer, making delicious cheeses from the fresh milk of farmstead Holstein cows, local goat’s milk & now one of Ontario’s only herds of water buffalo. Not your average blue, with this one a little goes a long way.  All you über connoisseurs of blue cheese take note!

I absolultely love this cheese and had the pleasure of tasting the first batch almost a year ago. I find its buffalo milk base like a blank canvas that truly allows the cheese shine.  It’s full of classic characteristics of “blue” molds: piquant/sharp giving a nice bite that stays with you, salty but fully flavorful. The paste is soft, rounding out with age, and aqua/teal blue veining (unlike sister cheese Celtic which is more slate-toned). Nibbling on the thick rind is akin to a thin spread of peanut butter on lightly toasted bread lending mild nutty characteristics with a hint of yeast.

Cheese:  Azzuro di Buffala
Producer: Glengarry Fine Cheese, Lancaster, Ontario

Want to learn more about artisan cheeses?

Join Vanessa for her Great Canadian Cheese Discovery events. On February 19 she will feature artisan cheeses of Quebec, while on March 19 she will feature artisan cheeses of British Columbia, Nova Scotia & PEI.   Tickets are $55 per person & includes samples of 7 to 8 artisan cheeses plus Canadian wines to enjoy.  More details about these events at





Vanessa’s Cheese-y Top 10 To Do’s this year
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All too often, the beginning of a new year we jot down things 'to do' differently.  Well, that is exactly what our Cheese Sommelier - Vanessa - has done for you as she shares with you cheese-y tips to get your 2013 off to a tasty start.  Drum roll please....

1. Check out Milkhouse Dairy

Ottawa region’s newest raw sheep’s milk producers Cait & Kyle from Smiths Falls.  Sheep Tomme & fresh feta won’t be ready until summer 2013 but well worth the wait.  I’ve met & milked one of their star players sheep Brigitte – you’re in for a treat.

2. Take a road trip to 'La Belle Province'

From Ottawa, a road trip to Montreal and back in a day with about 5-7 cheese stops along the way is easy.  Must visits include Le Troupeau Bénit, Fromagerie de la Table Ronde (think Fleuron), Fromagerie de la Suisse Normandie, and Fromagerie Montebello to name a few.

3. Try these exotic and unique cheese boards

Bored with your boards?  On one of my recent trips to the Ottawa Farmer’s Market (where I buy a lot of my artisan cheese), I found these exquisite cheese boards handcrafted by Joseph Henri.  Without a doubt, they are the hottest cheese boards - made here in Ottawa!

4. Go on a shopping spree at Glengarry Fine Cheese

A quick drive to Lancaster (Ontario) makes for a fun shopping trip...for cheese that is.  Be on the look out for their newest addition of stellar artisan cow’s milk cheeses – Nevis will be making its debut around March – stay tuned!

5. Visit the Great Canadian Cheese Festival in Prince Edward County, June 1-3 2013

2013 marks the 3rd year for this weekend long festival held in Prince Edward County.  It is a tasty weekend that will fill your head with lots info about artisan cheeses & fill your belly with delicious cheeses from across Canada.  Read my blog highlighting the 2012 festival.  This year, Savvy Company returns as a sponsor & I will be hosting a cheese tasting.

6. Become a cheesemaker for a day!

Glengarry Fine Cheese hosts a full day workshop.  The hands on experience will definitely increase your appreciation for the stunning cheeses we make in Canada.  And never again will you be the one asking why artisan cheese is more expensive.

7. Get over yourself & try a bite of blue cheese.

All you non-believers out there don’t know what you’re missing (close your eyes, it helps!).   Start with “beginner blues” such as Celtic Blue, St. Laurent Blue & Bleu D’Élizabeth & Geai Bleu as they are surprising soft flavours - far from the off putting pungent flavours & aromas that often come to mind when someone says 'blue cheese'.



8. Join me for the Great Canadian Cheese Discovery

It’s a tasty way to spend an evening sampling a variety of cheeses while I show you the “whey”.  Each evening features a selection of cheeses from a different province (January - Ontario, February - Quebec, March - BC, PEI & NS).  With a glass of Canadian wine in hand you will learn the fun-damentals of artisan cheese with each bite. Advance tickets only... these tastings sell out fast!

9. Head to Prince Edward County for wine...and cheese too!

With over 25 wineries awaiting your discovery, there are cheese makers too.  My must visis include Black River Cheese (definitely try their yummy Maple Cheddar) & the new County Cheese Company (located in the Waupoos Marina).  Stop for lunch or dinner at the Agrarian Cheese Market for the best gourmet grilled cheese sandwich around!

10. Spread the curd

Remember to support our 6 local artisan cheese producers Back Forty Artisan Cheese, Clarmell Farms, Canreg Station & Pasture Dairy, Fromagerie Les Folies Bergères, Glengarry Fine Cheese & Milkhouse Dairy.  Most of them are members of Savour Ottawa & can be found during the summer months at farmers markets all over the city & surrounding regions.  Let’s keep Ontario’s budding cheese industry alive!





How to create a festive artisan cheese board
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Our Cheese Sommelier Vanessa Simmons offers her tips on how to add a delicious artisan cheese board as a final course with dinner or have a cheese platter ready when friends drop in over the holiday season. Whichever way you enjoy cheese, here are Vanessa's quick tips & how tos.  Enjoy & have a wonderful holiday!

Plan ahead

Who are you entertaining (adventurous, conservative, children?). How long is the event? Will a meal or snacks be served? What are your favorite cheeses? Do you have a theme? If you don’t have a lot of time, go with small soft wheels of cheese (buy a few to have on hand, they make wonderful, from the heart hostess gifts).

Be a savvy shopper

Buy directly from the cheesemaker, from a reputable cheesemonger, or cheese counter. Taste in advance but buy as close as possible to your celebration. Always ask that a fresh wedge be cut for you. Look for artisan cheeses at Serious Cheese, The Piggy Market, Thyme & Again, The Red Apron, Jacobson’s Gourmet Concepts, Ottawa Bagelshop. Farm Boy and Sobey’s also have great holiday ideas. Find local Ottawa region cheesemakers at holiday farmers artisan markets at this time of year.



Mix it up

Consider taste, style and texture. Choose a theme — region, milk type (cow, sheep, goat, buffalo) or category (fresh, soft, semi-soft, washed, firm, hard, blue). 3-5 cheeses display well on a board or serve one stellar cheese as an appetizer, or dessert. Buying cheeses that look different will offer visual appeal to your table. 5-10gms/cheese/person is a good rule of thumb.

Serve cheese with star treatment

Serve at room temperature. Offer one knife per cheese. Don’t cut up small pieces in advance. Allow breathing room between cheeses so aromas don’t mix. Use an interesting wooden board, cross cut log, plate, slate or marble tiles or tiered trays for visual appeal. Keep it simple and your cheese will shine.

Compliment your cheese

Serve specialty breads, gourmet crackers, fresh seasonal or dried fruits, figs, dates, raw or toasted nuts, olives, caramelized or pickled onions or milder charcuterie items as accompaniments. Art-Is-In Bread, Seed To Sausage, Michael’s Dolce, Major Craig’s Chutney & Upper Canada Cranberries are very cheese friendly!

Be sure to serve wine or craft beer

In general most beers and wines pair best and more often with a wider variety of cheeses. The harder the cheese, the more tannic a wine (red wines naturally have tannins) it will stand up to. The creamier the cheese, the more acid required in the wine (white wines tend to have more acidity). Remember balance is key.

Talk about your cheese

What do you see, smell and taste? Share your experience. Compare notes. Conversations around the cheese board create lasting memories of your event. Cheese has evolved from being solely an ingredient to the focal point of a party of one of the courses on a dinner menu, as it’s the perfect food to bring people together.

Enjoy every last crumb

Slow down and savor each morsel. The holidays are a special time of year to make merry with friends, family (and cheese!). Take a break from hosting to enjoy yourself and the company of your guests.

Store cheese properly

Wrap leftovers of soft, semi-soft and washed rind cheeses in parchment or cheese paper, and pop into a small Tupperware or Ziplock bag. Refrigerate in a container in the vegetable drawer (for high humidity).

For more information on artisan cheese, craft beer & wines contact Savvy Company

Fresh Cheese: Taste of Italy Now in Ottawa
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This week’s cheese pick was inspired by my recent tour around Italy and the empty place left in my heart (and stomach) for the country’s fresh, homemade, melt in your mouth, soft artisan cheeses. After living on fresh cheese daily for almost a month, I’m thrilled to return home to discover new finds at my local cheese haunt - Bella Cassara Mozzarella di Buffala, Burrata & Fiore di Latte made by Quality Cheese in Toronto.  Italy’s finest is made here with a touch of Canadian flair by three Borgo brothers who believe passionately in making cheese from the heart that reflects in their product. “Do it right or don’t do it at all” is the motto.

In Ottawa, we can now experience the luxury of hand crafted silky artisan Mozzarella di Buffala as it’s meant to be.  Enjoy the fresh, mild, milky flavor and smooth silky texture of this oh so versatile cheese made from local buffalo (yes, waterbuffalo) milk.  The small, soft, delicate hand pulled rounds pair perfectly with both sweet and savory accoutrements.  Michael’s Dolce Strawberry Balsamic Jam comes to mind.  Chestnut honey, or Seed to Sausage Speck are my latest favorites.

These cheeses are available exclusively at The Piggy Market in Westboro.  If you’re lucky, you might happen upon rare sister cheeses Burrata (small, fresh, pouch-like cheese stuffed with cream & mozzarella curd) or Fiore di Latte (small cow’s milk drops) too.  Bellisimo!


FACTBOX: This Canadian version of Buffalo Mozzarella is a bit sweeter than its Italian cousin due to the fact that salt is added as the cheese is made as opposed to after, with salt water brining (which also develops a thin skin like rind).
Cheese:  Mozzarella di Buffala (Buffalo Mozzarella)
Producer: Quality Cheese
PHOTO CREDIT:  Mozzarella di Buffala by Vanessa Simmons

 Enjoy! - Vanessa




Cheese For Chillin’ Out
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My cheese pick this week is a reflection of the cheesemaker herself.  Maggie Paradis of Fromagerie Les Folies Bergères in Ste. Sixte, Quebec, is laid-back, chill, goes with the flow (thus the cheese’s name) and doesn’t take life or herself too seriously (while remaining quite serious about making top notch artisan cheeses).

Among  the lineup of her famous soft cow, sheep and goat’s milk cheeses, La Coulée Douce is a 100% pure pasteurized, firm,  small wheel sheep’s milk cheese with an ivory slightly open (shows small holes) paste and thin, rustic, golden-hued washed rind.  Creamy aromas compliment rich, milky, slightly toasty and fermented fruit flavors with a grassy finish making it the perfect match for Quebec iced or apple cider as used to wash the rind from neighboring Verger Croque-Pomme.  Serve shaved on warm homemade peach or apple pie.  Find at The Piggy Market (Westboro) or at the Savour Ottawa Field House at Parkdale Market this season.



Cheese:  La Coulée Douce
Producer: Fromagerie Les Folies Bergères
PHOTO CREDIT:  La Coulée Douce by Vanessa Simmons