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Love cheese? You’ll love this shopping list! Our Cheese Sommelier Vanessa Simmons compiled this list of her ‘top cheeses of 2014’ for www.cheeselover.ca. It is so delicious that we’re sharing it with you!
Keep this handy for your next visit to one of these artisan artisan cheese shops.
Celtic Blue Reserve
Glengarry Fine Cheese has made another winner! Located in Eastern Ontario just north of the village of Lancaster, they specializing in fine artisan style cheeses from cow & goat milk. This results in delicious, fine cheese that is unlike anything you’ve ever tasted!
Taliah has a welcoming aroma that is clean and earthy. Made from unpasteurized milk (not raw but thermized, meaning it undergoes heat treatment but not at high temperatures as in the pasteurization process). The wheel is aged 10 months to a year. There is a smooth richness in each bite, with the added bonus of those crunchy tyrosine crystals one finds in a the classic Italian Parmigiano-Reggiano.
Vanessa’s tasting Notes: Sweet, clean milk notes woven with a gentle tanginess and a good balance of salt. The finish mirrored what I love in a good, aged sheep’s-milk cheese – mellow, creamy notes that have complexity and length. The texture clinched the deal, crumbly but not dry.
Lenberg Farms Classic Reserve by Celebrity Lindsay Bandaged Cheddar
A special creation from Mariposa Dairy located near Lindsay, Ontario in the City of Kawartha Lakes. This award winning cheese is handcrafted in small batches using premium Ontario goat’s milk, resulting in a unique and delightful cheese. Once the wheel has been crafted, it is carefully wrapped in its bandage to preserve freshness and flavor. After aging in a humidity controlled room for 12 months, the cheese is ready to enjoy.
Perfectly creamy and buttery, with the slight tang of goat’s milk and a hard, crumbly texture, this cheese is a perfect alternative to cow’s milk cheddars.
Vanessa’s tasting Notes: Continues to wow me year after year. Tangy, fruity, yet clean.
The signature cheese from Back Forty Artisan Cheese – a small farm nestled in the heart of the Lanark Highlands. Cheesemaker Jeff Fenwick and his original raw ewe milk cheeses have grown to become favorites of top chefs and cheese lovers alike.
A distinct feature of Bonnechere cheese is the rind that is toasted over an open flame before aging. This painstaking process, traditional for certain Basque cheeses, imparts a delicious caramel essence which permeates the body of the cheeses as it ages, and provides a delicious contrast to the tangy and fruity body of the cheese.
Vanessa’s tasting Notes: One-of-a-kind and very rare to find aged. Packs a punch of flavour with awesome bite on the finish.
Magie De Madawaska
Produced by Fromagerie le Détour in Témiscouate-sur-le-lac in Québec
This soft, washed-rind cheese is made with pasteurized whole milk that comes exclusively from Jersey cows from the Témiscouata region. Its orange rind is shiny, soft and sticky, sometimes displaying white moss spots. Like the rind, the ivory-coloured interior is sticky. It is chalkier at the centre and smoother towards the exterior. Its texture is supple even when the cheese is young, but as it ages, its chalky part fades and the interior becomes smooth and runny.
When it is older, it becomes so runny that it might call for a spoon. Magie de Madawaska has a mild, lactic, woody and earthy aroma that becomes more pronounced with age. Its taste varies from mild to strong, with an earthy, roasted hazelnut and lactic (melted butter) flavour.
Vanessa’s tasting Notes: Runny, lucious, creamy, buttery, nutty and ooey-gooey good when perfectly à point (cheese-speak: fully ripened).
Bella Casara Mascarpone
Crafted by Quality Cheese who specialize in fine soft cheeses – Boccancini, Borgonzola, Mozarella, Riccotta as well as select semi-soft & hard cheeses.
Vanessa’s tasting Notes: Rich, and oh so sinful, with flavors of butter, cream and a hint of sweet dulce de leche (to quote myself!). Hard not to eat right from the spoon.
Another winner by Quality Cheese.
Vanessa’s tasting Notes: Heaven. Pure indulgence. Need I say more?
Sylvan Star Natural Smoked Gouda
Sylvan Star Cheese Farm, of Red Deer Alberta, makes their cheese from heat-treated milk which contains no additives, no antibiotics and is lactose free. They produce Gouda, Edam, sheep Manchego & Gruyere cheese at their farm. They smoke their Goudas to perfection in their own smokehouse – mild or medium, take your pick.
Vanessa’s tasting Notes: Surprising! Hints of bacon, maple and smoke, with an overlay of butter and nut rounding out its smooth and supple texture.
Made by Fromagerie L’Atelier is located in central Quebec and specializing in goat and cow milk cheese.
Vanessa’s tasting Notes: Elegant, delicate, tender, yeasty, gorgeous!
In 2009, Jean-Paul and Marie-Chantal Houde (brother and sister) decided to join forces to develop a dairy barn project and cheese that is structured and rewarding for the family farm, Fromagerie Nouvelle France. Since opening in 2010, Fromagerie Nouvelle France has won more than 18 awards in various competitions, including the Best Cheese From Québec in 2011 and 2014 for their signature Zacharie Cloutier.
Vanessa’s tasting Notes: Soft and sweet, with a hint of sour finish.
Produced by Au Gré des Champs in Québec, is a farmstead artisan-made cheese that is ladled into a mold. It is a month the first raw milk cheeses aged under 60 to be made in Canada.
Vanessa’s tasting Notes: Texture of soft ice cream sandwich with flavours and aromas of fresh sweet milk and grass that lingers and lingers.
In 2005 the old presbytery at Sainte-Elizabeth-de-Warwick was transformed into a cheese production site, Fromagerie du Presbytere…making outstanding artisanal cheeses. The milk from the farm only has to cross the road to get to the fromagerie, which operates 7 days/week.
Laliberté is a triple cream cheese, made with whole milk. Its wonderful bloomy rind surrounds a melting paste with an exquisite creamy mushroom flavour & its name comes from the name of the sculptor, Alfred Laliberté.
Vanessa’s tasting Notes: Cheesecake-like luxury, silky, creamy, melt-in-your-mouth delicious.
Pace yourself this is a cheese smorgasbord for anyone.
Want to know how to hold onto Summer a little bit longer? Think local and think cheese…your dreams will come true! It’s still summer you can’t deny it when you look around the farmers’ markets still showing off all the local produce while they can.
My latest interview with Leanne Cusack on CTV News at Noon was just like A Cheese Game Show – with Michael O’Byrne claiming to be a ‘mozarella man’ which he might live to regret that as he had the chance to expand his horizons on the set that morning with so many cheeses to sample and so little time!
My cheese story began at a Cordon Bleu cooking class when food prep was going on so we were boiling some milk in the morning and then in the afternoon we had a freshly-made feta cheese to crumble on our salad. My AHA moment for sure. That’s the beginning and the rest, as they say, is history. I’m now a Cheese Sommelier (in my spare time) or if you prefer ‘Maitre Fromagier‘, either term rolls off the tongue quite nicely…rather like cheese in fact.
Let’s Celebrate Canadian Cheese
The best part of my day is often all about cheese. Whenever possible I breathe, smell & eat cheese so I wanted to take you on a little journey to help extend these marvelous summer days. Walk with me along the scumptious Canadian cheese board that I prepared for this TV segment – all made locally – and you will see what I see. Great flavors made lovingly by true artisans of their craft.
Based on a traditional French Recipe from a cheese Called Tomme de Savoie this is a cheese native to the French Alps. Traditionally a skimmed cow’s milk cheese, Milkhouse Tomme is made with a full cream Sheep’s Milk, leading to a richer flavour and creamy texture. The cheese has an edible, natural rind which adds an earthy flavour. Our interest in Tomme de Savoie grew out of the enjoyment of a now retired cheese maker’s take on the classic called “Tomme de Gaston.”
Here’s a story for you…did you know it takes 10L of milk to make 1lb of cheese and that one day when I visited Kyle & Kate the young couple who run the dairy, well we milked a couple of sheep. 14 that is! And those 14 sheep gave us 7L of milk. So the long & short of it is even all the milk of those 14 sheep there isn’t enough to produce 1 lb of cheese. Tough work making cheese, I say.
Inspired by her goat farming protégée and playing off popular TV series “Bewitched” Maggie Paradis’ says that La Sorcière Bien Aimée was born to add a brie type to the wonderful variety of other goat, cow and sheep’s milk cheeses produced by Fromagerie Les Folies Bergères. Not one to compromise quality or consistency, Maggie’s cheese must always be good or she won’t make it – pure and simple.
Handmade from whole natural milk, La Sorcière Bien Aimée has a good, clean goaty flavour with a hint of sweet grass and no bitterness, ammonia or aftertaste, even if a little overripe. The paste is thick, smooth, creamy and silky, wild with mushroom aromas and a salty finish. Specific cultures and a cheesemaker’s patience and care give these excellent results — not rushing is crucial. I love Maggie’s cheeky attitude as she describes the aging of La Sorcière… “the cheese pouts at first, then it will cry, becoming a weepy mess…”. My sentiments exactly, only they’re tears of joy in this case.
One of my earliest & fondest cheese tasting memories is my cheese pick this week, Bonnechere, from local Back Forty Artisan Cheese, hailing from Ottawa Valley’s own Lanark Highlands. I was a young, unripened cheese enthusiast when I discovered Back Forty cheeses years ago, made from raw sheep’s milk & hand-crafted in the kitchen of owner Jim Keith. This special find is named after the rugged Bonnechere River & mysterious cave landmarks of our region.
Bonnechere is one-of- a-kind artisan cheese. It’s a semi-firm, double pressed and unique both inside and out. A beautiful, chestnut patterned toasted rind covers the interior smooth ivory paste. Hand torching gives Bonnecheresmoky aromas and a very distinct caramel flavor. As it ages, these characteristics amplify the tangy, sweet, and fruity body of the cheese. Sour milk lingers with a slight amount of acidity. Produced in very small quantities with seasonal milk, it’s a hot commodity. If you see this cheese, don’t blink, don’t hesitate, snap it up immediately. I suggest The Piggy Market or Serious Cheese as a starting point. Make these cheesemongers your best friend and you’ll never miss out.
Situated along the banks of the picturesque Black River, Black River Cheese remains dedicated to preserving more than a century old tradition of producing real cheese; superior tasting and handcrafted, using only 100% pure fluid milk from Price Edward County dairy farms, and no modified milk ingredients, artificial preservatives or animal rennet.
This amazing bit of sweetness in your cheese will see you through summer for sure! Made by one of Prince Edward County’s two main cheese makers, Black River Cheese, this cow’s milk cheese is a great combo of sweet & salty.
This multi-award-winning cheese from Mariposa Dairy in Lindsay, ON, is preserved in wax to hold all the flavour. Each piece is aged a minimum of 9 months and up to two years. Mariposa waxed goat cheddar will inspire your taste buds to enjoy the nuances of a great cheese and make any occasion memorable.
So many great Canadian cheeses…how to taste them all?
Where to buy Canadian cheese in Ottawa?
In Ottawa, there is so much great local produce that we should take the time and the trouble to enjoy it – take a break from the daily grind and go to farmers markets on the weekend to seek out the freshest produce. That’s where you can meet the people who grow the peaches, talk to the cheesemongers who make the cheese and hear first hand about the bread that is baked fresh that morning.
While the weather is still warm & sunny, visit any number of Ottawa’s Farmers markets which showcase only local produce on Saturdays & Sundays until Thanksgiving. Try each of these, you will probably discover something about each market that will keep you coming back! Parkdale Market, Main Street Market, Brewer Park Market, Westboro Market.
For those of you not in the know, Ottawa has some great specialty shops where you can buy local cheese. Here are just a few of them: Jacobsons at 141 Beechwood in the Rockcliffe/Manor Park area; Serious Cheese at 442 Hazledean in Kanata and Piggy Market at 400 Winston Avenue in Westboro.
Summer Recipe for Peach & Beet Salad
From Vanessa’s Kitchen
Watch it live on CTV News Ottawa
6 Local peaches
Olive oil to toss fruits in
1/4 cup dried cranberries
1/2 cup local wild blueberries
1/4 cup toasted nuts or seeds of your choice
handful of microgreens
200g fresh chèvre or fresh local feta
Salt & pepper to taste
Slice peaches (skin on) and combine with partially cooked beets. Roast at 400F-425F for about 30 mins.
Let cool then toss together with Upper Canada dried cranberries, local wild blueberries, toasted nuts or seeds.
Put fruits & nut mixture over bed of microgreens and add fresh chèvre (such as Crosswind Farms cranberry organge chevre available at Piggy Market). And voila!
Thanks to my sous-chef Leanne for all her help in producing this summer salad.
Bon appetit & here’s to holding onto summer!
Are you whey keen on cheese? With the largest cheese festival in Canada coming up this weekend (June 7 & 8), we want to help make your visit to The Great Canadian Cheese Festival the best experience yet. You will discover that Canadian cheese is so MUCH more than just cheddar! It will be a fun day meeting & learning from the dynamic people who put their heart & soul into crafting the cheeses. And new this year is a post-fest party Makers+Mongers that we are proudly sponsoring. It will be a fun (and delicious) way to unwind after the festival and mix & mingle with those involved in the cheese biz.
Tip #1 – How to Get There?
Hop on the Savvy Bus bound for The County stopping in at The Great Canadian Cheese Festival for the afternoon, then onwards to visit 2 wineries, then have dinner under the stars at the Makers+Mongers event. Sit back & relax. Let our Savvy Sommeliers take care of all of the details of this marvelous day trip. Pick up points in Ottawa (downtown & west end) as well as Brockville & Kingston. Only 6 spots left. Book your spot on the Bus >>
Tip #2 – Make your ‘Must Try’ list
While you may be blown away with the numbers of different cheeses on display at Cheese Festival, the obvious question is: Where to Start?
Here the list of cheese makers by province to help you map out your trip around the festival.
Tip #3 – How to taste a cheese
It’s certainly not rocket science, yet here is how the pros do it – as easy as Eyes, Nose & Mouth:
EYES – Admire the rind (outside) & paste (inside), the color & texture
NOSE –Take a big sniff – what does the aroma remind you of…A barn? fruit? nuts? earth?
MOUTH –Take a nibble – Do it taste like mushrooms? sour milk? grass? Saltiness? Herbs? Bitterness?
REPEAT & ENJOY of course…
Tip #4 – Be on the look out for these cheeses!
There will be over 200 cheeses…yes you read that right 200! Be forewarned and don’t try to sample them all. In addition to the recent award winners from the All Canadian Cheese Awards, here some to be sure to try at either the Cheese Festival or make sure to seek them out at your local cheese store.
Best of Show: 2013 Canadian Cheese Grand Prix Grand Champion
2013 American Cheese Society Category Winner.
Ricotta in Italian means re-cooked. This cheese is made from the leftover whey after making other cheese. This Ricotta reigned supreme, winning against over 225 of Canada’s best cheeses, a first ever for both an Ontario cheese, & fresh category cheese.
My Notes: Fresh, creamy, melt in your mouth. Very light, but rich & very versatile as a simple cheese to eat with a variety of garnishes/ condiments or used in cooking.
Inspired by their Swiss & French cultures, the resulting products are a marriage made in heaven & leaving their mark in Quebec. Cheeses are made from goats raised on the farm, in true “fermier” fashion.
My Notes: This soft-surface-ripened goat’s milk cheese has a unique pyramid shape, with a lovely, natural, slightly wrinkled, soft moldy rind, that on occasion displays spots of blue. The paste is creamy, velvety, firm towards the center & slightly softer closer to the rind. It has a fresh aroma, with a light acidity.
Organic farming techniques contribute to the aromas & flavors in their cheeses, as cows feed from forage fields of aromatic plants & flowers & care is taken to preserve flavors through the milking, handling & cheesemaking processes. One of the only producers of raw milk cheeses aged less than 60 days in Canada.
My Notes: Soft, lactic, surface ripened cow milk cheese. A rare find. The skin-like rind reminds Vanessa of intricate ivory lace, while the dense interior has the texture of a soft cream sandwich or cheesecake. Note pronounced flavors & aromas of fresh sweet milk & grass that linger and linger. Finger licking good!
Famous among Quebec cheeses, having won more awards over the years than one can keep track of. Simon Pierre, master cheese maker started off helping out & never left the business! Named as a tribute to his grandfather Alfred Bolduc who started the business 80 years earlier – as shown in the beautiful imprint inset into the rind of the cheese.
My Notes: A true, rustic, organic, raw cow’s milk farmstead cheese made in small batches, pressed & cooked, washed/turned by hand. It has a European style, but with local terroir, as a result of choosing closely the hay from their local Estrie region (terroir!). Note heavy woodsy, herbal & floral aromas, with layers of milky, grassy & buttery complexity on the palette, more pronounced with age.
Named for a mountain across from the cheese shop, not surprisingly big on taste!
My Notes: A semi-firm, farmstead, pale blush-colored washed-rind cheese whose ivory paste becomes suppler with age – softening closer to the rind. Aromas are pronounced at room temp & on the palate experience fruity, salty flavors, sweet & sour cooked milk. Dense texture is perfect for snacking, or melted as grilled cheese.
Owner Jan Schalkwijk, has been making cheese for over fifty years, from The Netherlands to Canada, has always been a dairyman, focusing on cows as a hobby.
My Notes: Named for power & strength, naturally ripened & touted as “lactose-free” after one week due to the cultures used & the varying of temperature from room to higher than average during the first stages of affinage. Aged for two years, it has strong flavors of nut combined with a smooth creamy texture.
Named for its local region (“kaas” the Dutch word for cheese), aged for 14 to 24 months, this extra old batch of Lancaster is from gourmet artisan cheese maker pioneer Margaret Morris.
My Notes: Firm to hard cow’s milk cheeses comes shaped in a loaf or wheel, covered in a waxy rind is a Gouda-style after Dutch farmstead cheese. It’s rich, dense & chewy with intense buttery, fruity, caramelized nutty flavors that linger forever.
My Notes: A beautiful, semi-soft, raw organic cow’s milk blue cheese, it has a natural rind with spots of dark clay. The creamy, silky, straw-colored paste is speckled with slate & blue-green veins throughout. Rich in flavor, with a hint of sweetness, spice & salt, it pairs beautifully with iced wine, cider or port.
New this year we are sponsoring the post-festival party called the Makers+Mongers serving up even more opportunity to mix & mingle with folks in the cheese biz while noshing on gourmet creations. Each dish will feature one of the top winning cheeses from the Canadian Cheese Awards.
Everyone welcome to join the fun.
BONUS TIP #6 – Even more ways to learn about cheese
And be sure to take part in the seminars too – including a Craft Beer & Cheese tasting by our own Savvy Sommelier Debbie Trenholm. And my seminar: The People’s Choice Awards to select your favorite Canadian cheese.
Saturday at 10:00 am to 1:00 pm
The tables are turned…this time you will be the judge as you taste & score Canadian Cheese Awards winners to select People’s Choice for Canadian Cheese of the Year.
Here is your chance to sample the 16 best artisan cheeses made in Canada in a three-hour marathon tasting. Yes…3 hours of nothing but cheese! Evaluate and score them just like a judge would in a competition. You’ll be guided by two experts who served as judges at the Canadian Cheese Awards earlier this year, Vanessa Simmons cheese sommelier at Savvy Company and Janice Beaton, owner of Janice Beaton Fine Cheese and FARM Restaurant, Calgary. Your scores will be tabulated on the spot to then determine the People’s Choice Canadian Cheese of the Year. It will be interesting to compare your choice against the cheese the professional judges named at the REAL Canadian Cheese Awards on April 7 2014 in Toronto.
Tickets: ORDER NOW
Saturday at 2 p.m.
We’ve all been to a Wine & Cheese . . . but might Beer & Cheese be a better taste match?
Join Debbie Trenholm, Sommelier at Savvy Company and founder of Savvy Hip Hops Ontario craft-beer-of-the-month-club as she puts fine wines and craft beers to the taste test. The winning verdict of this Battle of the Taste Buds will be determined after enjoying many chunks of award-winning Canadian cheese paired with outstanding Ontario wines and craft beers. It’s not easy being cheesy, yet one thing is for sure, this tasting will be delicious!
Bonus: All participants will take home complimentary wine and beer tasting glasses.
Tickets: still a few spots left – ORDER NOW
We make it easy to be cheesey!
See you at the fest!
PRESS RELEASE: Come to the annual celebration of ‘all things cheese’ on June 7-8th at The Great Canadian Cheese Festival. Award-winning artisan and farmstead cheese from coast to coast will be showcased at the biggest cheese show in Canada, held in Picton, Ontario.
Canadian Cheese of the Year – and the winner is…
Visitors to the festival will be able to taste and purchase more than 125 different cheeses including Le Baluchon, the Cheese of the Year made by Fromagerie F.X. Pichet of Sainte-Anne-de-la-Pérade, Québec.
Marie-Claude Harvey, who owns the fromagerie with her husband, Michel Pichet, will be the guest of honour at Makers+Mongers, the Festival’s Saturday evening function celebrating the men and women who make and sell artisan cheese and artisan foods.
Cheesemakers, artisan food producers, small-batch wineries and craft breweries and other exhibitors and vendors have reserved 125 booths in Crystal Palace, Prince Edward Curling Club, the new Artisan Foods Pavilion and Picton Fairgrounds making the event the biggest cheese show in Canada and one of the biggest artisan foods markets in Ontario.
New & improved in 2014
In addition to cheese and more cheese, artisan foods and beverages, the Artisan Cheese & Fine Food Fair on Saturday and Sunday, June 7 and 8, features:
New for 2014: Sales of VQA wines by the bottle or case by wineries as part of the pilot project initiated by the Ontario government to promote locally-grown wines.
New for 2014: Rest and recover from all the sampling in the Festival’s new Presentation Pavilion while listening to local musicians.
New topics: Seminars in the All you Need Is Cheese® Annex presented by Dairy Farmers of Canada as a bonus feature of the
Artisan Cheese & Fine Food Fair. Learn about the best in Canadian cheese at special presentations conducted by leading cheese educator Deborah Levy.
The Festival’s own Cheese Dairy Farm featuring cows, goats, sheep and Yvette, the sweetest water buffalo you’ll ever meet.
A Food Court featuring tasty eats prepared by Urban Herb, Picnic Food Truck and Seed to Sausage.
Sunday, June 8, is Family Day at the Cheese Fair with children admitted free when accompanied by an adult.
Cheese Fair adult admission includes
Access to all sponsors, exhibitors and vendors—with close to 200 products to sample
10 tasting tickets for cheese, artisan foods, wine and beer, valued at $10
Souvenir Festival insulated bag for your purchases, valued at $10
Glass for sampling wine, beer and cider
Admittance on first-come, first-served basis to cheese seminars presented by Dairy Farmers of Canada
Festival Dairy Farm, Food court and FREE parking.
Tickets for The Great Canadian Cheese Festival
The advance ticket price is $36. At the event, the price is $45. There is no fee charged on online ticket purchases. Youth and child tickets for the Cheese Fair are available. All other Festival events are age of majority only.
Special Events & Presentations at the The Great Canadian Cheese Festival
The Tutored Tasting presentations include how to pair artisan cheese with wine, how to pair artisan cheese with beer and a three-hour marathon tasting billed as You Be The Judge: Taste and score the 16 best cheeses in the Canadian Cheese Awards to determine the People’s Choice for Canadian Cheese of the Year. Separate tickets required.
Special events like Gastronomy on the Farm with Jamie Kennedy and Cooking with Cheese Class are sold out already. Still available are tickets for Tutored Tastings, Cheese Tours—one in Prince Edward County, the other in Bay of Quinte Region—and Makers+Mongers.
Picton Fairgrounds is located in the heart of Prince Edward County, south of Belleville in Bay of Quinte Region. One hour from Kingston, two hours from Toronto, three hours from Ottawa and New York State, and less than four hours from Montreal.
The Great Canadian Cheese Festival is produced by Cheese Lover Productions with the generous support of Celebrate Ontario. Dairy Farmers of Canada is Diamond Sponsor and Bay of Quinte Region is Gold Sponsor. Savvy Company is Presenting Partner.
Advance tickets are sold online at www.CheeseFestival.ca. In order to assure a high-quality experience for consumers and producers, ticket sales will be limited, so don’t delay. Save money and avoid the line-up at the door by purchasing tickets in advance.
Details for The Great Canadian Cheese Festival
June 7-8, 2014, Picton, Ontario
Hot off the press! This cheese-y article appeared in the latest issue of Grapevine Magazine loaded with our Cheese Sommelier – Vanessa Simmons – Top 10 Tips on where to find, how to buy & tasting tips on enjoying artisan cheeses.
Navigating the world of artisan cheese is something like dating. You never truly know what you’re getting into until you spend the time, experiment and have several encounters, noticing the person’s character traits, appearance and mannerisms in a variety of situations. Only then do you discover the true personality of an individual or, in this case…a piece of cheese.
Here are 10 ways to really get to know your cheese better:
Chances are you’ll find a cheesemaker at most Ontario farmer’s markets. Visit often, ask a lot of questions and taste something new each time. Seek out jams, jellies, chutneys, honey, charcuterie, pates, artisan breads and crackers as well as ripe, in season produce to complement your cheese. Inquire whether there might be a wheel specially aged or a new cheese in development to test. Experiment.
Visit a local cheesemaker at their production facility
Call first to introduce yourself and confirm availability. If it’s your lucky day, you’ll be able to actually see cheese being made and perhaps participate. One of my earliest and most memorable WOW cheese moments was scooping warm, fresh, soft, moist, silky cheese curds right out of the vat with my bare hands and slurping them up. Pure heaven. To this day I remember the cheesemaking experience at Fifth Town Cheese in Prince Edward County that gave me a true appreciation for the work that goes into producing artisan cheese.
Try a variety of milk types and categories of cheese
Fresh cheeses taste most like the real milk flavor of cow, sheep, goat or even water buffalo milk. Cheeses that are aged longer are more complex with developed flavors that give character. In Canada alone there are over 2000 types of cheese ranging from fresh, soft and un-ripened, soft and ripened to semi-soft, firm, washed rind, cheddar, hard and blue cheeses. Be sure to nibble on them all (even the blues). If you don’t like the cheese’s appearance, close your eyes and taste.
Compare “grocery store” generic brand cheese with artisan cheese
Check the same category of cheese you would buy at the grocery store with what an artisan cheesemaker produces. Note the flavors, texture and characteristics, or more commonly, lack thereof. Read labels to confirm the cheese is made with 100% natural Canadian milk and doesn’t contain modified milk ingredients. You’ll quickly realize the differences and merit of choosing local artisan cheese.
Buy the same cheese from various sources
There are so many opportunities to buy cheese…at the market, cheesemongers, or direct from the manufacturer, to get a sense of what is normal for a particular cheese. Not all cheeses are handled properly through the supply chain and even cheese has a bad or off day every once and a while that will affect flavor, aroma, texture and appearance. My experience judging the Canadian Cheese Awards was a good example of this – some submissions weren’t truly at their best. Buying direct from the cheesemaker will give you a good benchmark to measure against over time.
Track your tastings and do some research
Keep a cheese journal. Note date purchased, date made/age (ask), where you bought it, price, amount, and your thoughts. Record what you see, smell, feel and savor over time (size, colors, texture, distinguishing features, ripeness). List words you use as descriptors such as mushroomy, velvety, creamy, buttery, grassy, vegetal, barny, oozy, gritty, pasty, chalky, smooth, sweet and fruity. Not sure how to describe? Close your eyes and picture yourself in a farmer’s field with the sun shining and see what comes to mind. Check websites and reviews (but be cautious, much of what is published can be re-postings of the content of others). In some cases reviewers are writing about cheeses and pairings they’ve never tasted themselves.
Pair with wine (don’t forget bubbly & rosé), local beer & even cider!
Gather friends, fabulous fromage and your favorite local wine, craft beers and ciders. Conduct a tasting of the cheeses first then mix n’ match with your bevvies and let the games begin. Note popular pairings and throw standard pairing rules out the window.
Sample the same cheese over time
Taste at the beginning of summer, middle/end of summer and over the winter months. Do you notice a difference in flavor, complexity or terroir (reflection of the milk by region)? Record your findings.
If you’re really passionate about Canadian cheese get your curd loving self to The Great Canadian Cheese Festival June 7/8 in Prince Edward County. Canada’s largest gathering of artisan cheese producers offers the best chance to do some serious experimentation with 4000+ cheesy friends. I’ll be there with the Savvy Company team. Track down Canadian Cheese Award winners. While in town visit Black River Cheese, Ontario’s oldest diary co-op. Sample their new-on-the-market honey and wine-soaked cheddars, and popular maple cheddar. Also make it a point to drop by Fifth Town Cheese, who are now under new management and warrant a stop for local products.
Taste, taste, taste!
Of all ten tips, this is the most important in truly getting to know your artisan cheese. Pick a handful of your favorite cheeses and make it a priority to really be mindful and fully aware (like yoga for cheese) of your experience with that cheese over a period of one-year minimum.
How do you know you’ve found “the one”? Keep trying until a cheese gives you an OMG reaction where your eyes pop out of your head, your heart sings, and you experience that oh-so-orgasmic feeling on your palate right down to the tips of your toes. Then repeat & share with friends.
At the end of all of that hard work, you’ll have discovered the cheese love of your life and can continue your journey to explore new artisan cheeses.
This article has been reposted with the permission of Grapevine Magazine.
More about Vanessa Simmons – our Savvy Cheese Sommelier
Vanessa Simmons is the cheese sommelier at Savvy Company in Ottawa, spending countless hours with regional cheese mongers and cheesemakers. Vanessa has studied with Cheese Education Guild (Level 2), Toronto, and Le Cordon Bleu Culinary Arts Institute, Basic Cuisine Certificate, Ottawa; has worked as a chef and her popular tasting seminars & speaking events throughout Ontario make for a delicious discovery of Canadian artisan cheeses.
She’s been seen & heard on Rogers TV Daytime, CTV Morning Live, CBC Radio & Radio Canada, RubyTV, has been 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 & inaugural 2014 Canadian Cheese Awards and it’s been noted by The Toronto Star that she is “openly fanatical about artisan cheese”. Follow Vanessa @savvyvanessa or read her popular “Curd On the Street” blog posts.
Have you ever tasted cheese? I mean really tasted it. Rolled it around with your tongue and let it linger on the roof of your mouth? Cheese eating is a sensual and sensory pleasure according to Cheese Sommelier Vanessa Simmons. “You want the cheese to go right to the back of your mouth, popped up where the peanut butter used to get stuck when you were a kid, and swish it all the way around so you are absolutely coating your palate and getting all of your taste buds working,” she advises.
Vanessa Simmons is openly fanatical about artisan cheeses
I met Simmons at a tutored tasting for Quebec cheeses at The Great Canadian Cheese Festival in Picton, Ontario, in June. The Festival, showcasing the best Canadian cheeses under one roof, attracted 4,000 cheese lovers this year. Artisan cheeses from Ontario, Quebec, British Columbia, Newfoundland, Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia, Manitoba and Alberta were all on offer.
One-third of the producers were from Quebec, Canada’s leading cheese-making region. According to Simmons, Quebec cheese makers are well organized and funded, share knowledge, are well informed by international research and display superior craftsmanship.
Tasting – REALLY tasting – your cheese
Simmons is passionate about cheese and even has a cow named after her. She led a two-hour Quebec cheese tasting and advised on proper tasting technique. The cheeses on our plates ranged from light to robust. We were given three choices for pairing — Keint-He Winery’s 2010 Pinot Squared, Stanners Vineyards 2010 Lincoln Lakeshore Chardonnay or Beau’s Beaver River beer. “At the end of the tasting you should not just taste cheese on the back of your palate, otherwise your wine is not bold enough to stand up to that cheese. If all you taste is wine or beer, there’s not enough going on with that cheese — it’s not big enough,” she said.
Simmons encouraged us to get physical with our cheese, to rip each piece in two and examine the formation of the curds inside. We noted whether the cheese broke evenly or if there was a jagged edge. We considered whether the cheese was made from a mould or hand crafted with care. We examined the outside, inside, colour and texture and noticed if the cheeses were creamy, hard, glistening or runny.
Fromagerie Médard: Saguenay–Lac-Saint-Jean Region
Normand Côté is the fifth generation owner of Domaine de la Rivière, a farm in Saint-Gédéon, Québec, two hours north of Montreal. The dairy, Fromagerie Médard, named after Médard Côté, the son of the original landowner, uses milk from the farm’s Brown Swiss cows. Fromagerie staff member Diane Paget explained that the taste of the cheese varies depending on what the cows ate: “Was it just pasture or was it augmented because of a sparse year?”
On hand at the Festival were two Fromagerie Médard cheeses. The first one, Belle-Mère (in photo at left), an orange-brown washed rind semi-firm cheese was made from pasteurized milk and aged for three months. Washed rind cheeses are bathed in liquid, usually salted water, wine, brandy, local spirits, or herbs making them susceptible to bacteria that break down the curd from the outside, resulting in a more pungent flavour. The Belle-Mère with big buttery notes and aromas of lilac and lavender won a 2012 Selection Caseus award in the semi-firm, cow’s milk cheese category. Also made with pasteurized cow’s milk, 14 arpents, aged 30 days, was creamy and full of flavour, with the slight taste of hazelnut.
Fromagerie du Presbytère: centre-du-Québec Region
The Morin family has operated the Louis d’Or farm in Warwick, Quebec for four generations. In 1980, the farm went organic. Holstein and Jersey cows chow down on dry hay, clover, timothy grass, bluegrass and other organic grains and are not injected with antibiotics or hormones. “This dairy really pushes the envelope with raw cheese and more layers of complexity. They are more true to traditional cheese making,” says Simmons. A renovated church rectory built in 1936 houses the dairy. Friday nights are a celebration of cheese and community. Visitors converge on the rectory lawn with bottles of wine and beer to enjoy fresh cheese, music and bread.
Fromagerie du Presbytère took three awards at the 2013 Canadian Cheese Grand Prix, Best Blue and Best Organic for Bleu d’Élizabeth (photo at left) and Best Swiss-type Cheese for Louis d’Or, aged for 18 months. I sampled four Fromagerie du Presbytère cheeses.
The Brie Paysan, a pasteurized cow’s milk cheese had a bloomy rind and soft paste that melted in my mouth. Bloomy rind cheeses are covered with Penicillium candidum forming a white casing causing the cheese to ripen from the outside and become soft and runny on the inside. The vegetal, grassy and fungal notes offered an amazing expression of terroir.
Laliberté is a triple cream cheese, made with whole organic milk and aged for 45 days. The bloomy rind surrounds a soft paste with mushroom flavour and a creamy mouthfeel.
Louis D’Or, made from raw organic cow’s milk is crafted in 40-kilogram wheels and develops complex flavours after nine months of ripening. This washed rind, firm pressed, cooked paste cheese has nutty and fruity aromas.
Bleu d’Élizabeth is a semi-soft fruit-flavoured cheese made from non-pasteurized milk, displaying blue and greenish veins resulting from the presence of Penicillium roqueforti.
Fromagerie Nouvelle France: Eastern Townships
A young brother and sister team, Marie-Chantal and Jean-Paul Houde, started a sheep farm and a cheese-making operation, the Fromagerie Nouvelle France in 2010. Jean-Paul tends to a herd of over 200 East Friesian sheep on the 250-acre farm in the village of Racine. Marie-Chantal makes cheese.
Fromagerie Nouvelle France’s signature cheese, Zacharie Cloutier, is a raw sheep’s milk cheese, named for an ancestor who came to Canada from France in 1634. This ancestor is also said to be a distant relative of Céline Dion. In its first appearance at the 2011 Selection Caseus awards, Zacherie Cloutier won gold for the best cheese in Quebec in all categories. This orange washed rind, firm pressed cheese, aged for six months, exudes aromas of butter and caramel.
Le Pionnier, a cheese-making partnership between Fromagerie Presbytère and Fromagerie Nouvelle France is a 40-kilogram wheel made of raw sheep’s and cow’s milk coming from the cheese maker’s herds. The cheese is a “great marriage of cow’s milk cheese according to Morin’s tradition, and sheep’s milk cheese, according to Houde’s tradition,” offers Simmons. Le Pionnier is a firm cheese with a bit of washed rind, a dense cheese texture and some earthiness, and is very robust. Aged for 10 to 12 months, Le Pionnier displays complex aromas of butter, brown sugar and macadamia nuts with a delicate floral note. As Simmons says, “This cheese says ‘look at me’ and is very indicative of their personalities. They are very outspoken cheese makers.”
Fromagerie du Pied-de-Vent: Iles de la Madeleine
In 1998, Jérémie Arseneau brought over a herd of Canadienne cows, a small black heritage breed, from Saint-Simon-de-Rimouski and l’île Verte to Îles-de-la-Madeleine. He launched the Fromagerie du Pied-de-Vent and began cheese production on islands traditionally known for a strong fishing industry.
Pied-du-Vent (photo at left) is a whole milk, soft surface-ripened cheese with a bloomy natural rind and a dominant flavour of hazelnuts. Surface-ripened cheeses have mould on the rind, ripening the surface first and then the inside.
Tomme Des Desmoiselles is a raw milk thermalized cheese in a gouda-like style with a washed rind. The cheese is full and robust with a fruit aroma. You get a bit of salt in the cheese because the cows graze on hay and grasses around the edge of the island and right on the border of the St. Lawrence River. Two beautiful small hills on the Havre Aubert landscape inspired the fromagerie in the creation of this cheese.
Plan your route of Quebec cheeses from east to west
To sample some stellar cheeses, take a tour on La Route des Fromages du Quebec linking producers across the province. Enjoy the ride through Quebec’s scenic countryside. Many barns are open, allowing direct access to goats, sheep, cows or calves.
Ontario cheese tasting trails
In Ontario, check out Oxford County’s new cheese trail to see a life-sized statue of record-setting milk producer Springbank Snow Countess, or be a cheese maker for a day. Or head for the Taste Trail in Prince Edward County for a quick calcium fix. You’ll develop a whole new appreciation for fromage.
This article was written by Merle Rosenstein, a freelance travel, food and beverage writer.
Click here to see this article as it appeared in Quench Magazine.
Savvy Company‘s ‘BIG Cheese’ – Vanessa Simmons – (aka our Cheese Sommelier) hit the airwaves! She was recently called in to be interviewed (in French no less!) on CBC Radio Canada. Even over the radio & en francais, you can detect that her passion for cheese oozes over. I wanted to share the highlights from her conversation with CBC’s host Anne Michaud – another Canadian cheese enthusiast. Listen to the CBC Radio Canada interview
Vanessa certainly knows her cheese! She trained with the Cheese Education Guild in Toronto – Canada’s only comprehensive cheese appreciation program – and spends countless hours with local cheesemongers & cheesemakers. And she shares her discoveries in her blog: Curd on the Street and hosts special artisan cheese tasting events. Tip: next one is on Tuesday October 22 featuring award winning cheeses from across Canada. More info & to buy tickets >>
“Cheese is my passion”, states Vanessa as she gets warmed up on-air to show Anne & the others in the studio the ‘whey’ around the cheese board overflowing her handpicked selection.
Vanessa tells us about the enormous energy & passion in the people she has got to know who produce artisan cheeses, just the way the Savvy Sommeliers pick up on the enthusiasm of winemakers. Same keeners – different biz. Vanessa successfully conveys their enthusiasm when talking about cheese & cheesemakers from all over Canada. “We have so many cheeses to be proud of ” exclaims Vanessa “that of course I want to tell the world about them!”
It is tough to talk about cheese over the airwaves and not make listeners hungry! Everyone in the CBC Radio studio tasted, ooohed & aaahed as Vanessa passed around the cheese board & described each cheese. This is indeed majestic with the full gammet of cheeses – white, yellow, blue, creamy, hard, even smelly – each made with either goat, buffalo, cow & sheep milk.
At the beginning of her interview, Anne Michaud introduces the concept of Savvy Company describing how we specialize in the world of wine, craft beer & artisan cheese by creating social events. Then Anne dives into the cheese chat with Vanessa (I translated the interview into English for you)…
Anne Michaud – What is your role as Savvy Company’s Cheese sommelier?
Vanessa Simmons – I complement our Team of Savvy Sommeliers who focus primarily on wine. Just as every wine has a story, so does every cheese. I take great joy in sharing the stories behind the cheeses—where they come from, how they’re made and who made them. There’s a little bit of science and a lot of love that goes into artisan cheeses. Their makers are nurturing by nature: they create these delights for others to enjoy. It’s my job to help spread the enjoyment of wine and cheese.
AM – Are there any good cheeses made in Ontario?
VS – There are soooo many wonderful cheeses made here in our own back yard and yet many people don’t know about them. I love going out to the country and meeting with the cheese makers and sampling their tasty produce. Hopefully with time consumers will realize all the time & effort that goes into making a great cheese and that you don’t have to buy cheese at the supermarket, in fact it tastes better if you don’t!
AM – What is the evolution of Ontario cheese?
VS – It’s amazing how in last few years so much cheese production has become artisanal and there is a love of cheese that goes into the making of it, rather than mass-produced factory cheese. These days, cheesemakers are so much younger than you’d think – they are in their 20s & 30s. This business has a community ot young people starting out as farmers then beginning to manufacture cheese – it’s great to watch.
AM – Are these artisan cheeses the same price as manufactured cheeses?
VS – Really there isn’t that much difference between them – but you sure can taste the difference in the quality. A piece of artisan cheese (150g-200g) will be in the neighborhood of $7-$10. Once you start buying – and eating – artisan cheese, you really won’t be able to go back to “regular” cheese.
VS – I chose these 5 cheeses to show you the broad spectrum of Ontario’s artisan cheese production, from fresh to hard to blue cheeses. You should always start with the softest and most light-weight cheese so as not to overwhelm your palate. And then slowly work your way towards stronger cheeses.
Cheese #1 – Bella Casara
Quality Cheese of Vaughan, Ontario, won the Canadian Cheese Grand Prix with its cow’s milk Ricotta, won the category of fresh unripened cheese made from sheep or mixed milk with its Bella Casara Buffalo Ricotta. I call it ‘pure happiness’, creamy & delicious!
Cheese #2 – Bliss
“Bliss from Monteforte Dairy is a soft, bloomy rind cheese made of sheep milk and enriched with cow’s cream…and though you wouldn’t walk around with a bottle of cream tucked in your lunch bag, you can get the same pleasure from a wedge of Bliss – just packaged more practically.
Ruth Klahsen is a pioneer in Ontario cheese-making; she has created this soft & creamy cow’s milk cheese like a Brie which smells of wild mushrooms with a buttery & salty flavor to it…as we all say: “it’s pure happiness.”
Cheese #3 – Bonnechere
Back Forty Artisan Cheese also has new & very young cheesemakers, they’ve been in the cheeze biz for just over a year. Bonnechere is a semi-firm, pale yellow cheese. Pay special attention to the ‘special’ crust this cheese has with striking textured mahogany brown rind & some quite pungent aroma of smouldering wood, caramel odors. It’s a a gentle but expressive cheese.
Cheese #4 – Gunn’s Hill
Gunns Hill Artisan Cheese by Five Brothers – cheddar style, see the fancy skin yellow; another cheese winner Grand Prize Winner Farm Cheese, done with brothers. “This is a hand crafted washed rind cow’s milk cheese that combines traits from Gouda and another Swiss variety called Appenzeller. It is available at 8 months old and in the future we will offer an 18 month old version. It is delicately aged on cedar wood planks adding robust flavors to the cheese. It has creamy and rich flavors with sweeter overtones and distinctive eyes throughout the body of the cheese
Cheese #5 – Celtic Blue
The interview was about to wrap when they got around to the blue cheese, so suffice it to say this one is delicious cheese and even the photo makes you want to try Celtic blue from Glengarry Fine Cheese – the typical blue taste is mild and not aggressive and is softened by a nice buttery aroma, really creamy!
Here are some of Vanessa’s Cheese Tips:
Yes, you can eat the rind! Cheese rind is meant to be enjoyed – unless it’s red and made of wax.
When it comes to cheese, don’t be shy – taste before you buy.
There’s a world of cheese beyond the grocery store – explore!
Store cheese cold but serve at room temperature.
Cheese and wine pair beautifully. Explore, experiment and find the right balance….
Cheese is a magical thing.
Join Vanessa on Tuesday October 22 when she hosts ‘Canada’s Greatest Chunks of Cheese’ event. This is the first-of-its-kind artisan cheese tasting featuring 2013 award winning cheeses that she has discovered from coast to coast.
Special price $55 until the end of the weekend. Attention cheese lovers – you don’t want to miss out!
Ottawa – Tuesday October 22 7pm
There are only 6 seats left
Buy your tickets > >
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!
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 Daytime, CTV Morning Live, CBC Radio, RubyTV, 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.
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
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