Happy Birthday to us! January 2017 marks the first anniversary of Savvy Cool Curds, the only cheese-of-the-month club in the country dedicated to featuring hard-to-come-by lovingly handcrafted Canadian artisan and farmstead cheeses. From all of us at Savvy Company, we’d like to send a special shout out to the hardworking Canadian cheesemakers who we proudly showcase each month in our Curd on the Street Magazine. And to you, Canadian cheese lover, we send an extra big thanks for supporting local and choosing #CdnCheese.
It doesn’t get more local than our profile this month of Empire Cheese Co-op, one of the regions oldest producers in the heart of Northumberland County, in the business of making delicious cheddars, butter and specialty cheeses for over a century.
In your Savvy Cool Curds you will find…
… very special and hard-to-find artisan cheeses including:
Hot Whiskey Mustard Cheddar 230g
Extra Old White Cheddar 230g
Supreme 3 Year Old Orange Cheddar 230g
Supreme 5 Year Old White Cheddar 230g
Looking for more excellent Empire Cheese?
Would you like more cheese from this month’s Savvy Cool Curds? Just call our Savvy Team & we’ll arrange a special shipment for you (if it is still available that is!). Put us on speed dial – Savvy Cool Curds Hotline 613-SAVVYCO (728-8926) or firstname.lastname@example.org
PS – All photos in this issue of Curd on the Street Magazine are taken by Vanessa unless noted.
Empire Cheddar & Butter Co-op
by Vanessa Simmons, Cheese Sommelier
Empire Cheese Co-op located in Campbellford Ontario, represents over 135 years of Canadian cheesemaking traditions. More than a century ago, the first cheese factory was built (in 1870) on the farmland of the original cheesemaker. Today, good old-fashioned cheesemaking continues, as current cheesemaker Mark Erwin carries the torch for Empire Cheese. Mark is what you’d call a veteran, having made cheese for over 30 years of his career. There’s an exactness to his cheesemaking process which allows for consistency in the quality and flavour of the cheese. “It’s the skill and know how that make the difference” Mark explains.
The co-op business model remains to this day with less than a dozen local dairy farmers and their families as owners (down from the original forty-four families ages ago). A board of directors is elected every year to run the operation.
Cheese is made traditionally – by hand, following old school methods – in open vats using 100% all natural Canadian cow milk from local farmers, ensuring high quality. Fat (aka fresh cream) is kept in the milk and not separated, which contributes to the extra creamy texture of their cheddars. There are no extra additives or artificial flavors in these cheeses. This is perhaps one of the reasons or secrets to why Empire Cheese is well known for their award winning products, particularly at The Royal Agricultural Winter Fair.
A Local Following
Empire Cheese have a huge following, committed to shopping local at their factory outlet store. There is something for everyone. Die-hard fans visit religiously for fresh curds, made daily which come in white, orange and flavored (garlic) varieties. Various other cheeses can be found on hand, with cheddars ranging from mild (fresh to 3 months of age), medium, old, extra old with the oldest topping 10 years. The fridge is also packed with mozzarella, Swiss, and experimental flavored cheeses are plentiful such as smoked and beer infused cheddar. Keep in mind that if you need a unique fundraising idea Empire can set you up with your own cheese.
The Difference Quality Makes
Cheddar is made in the wee hours of the morning and follows a particular process and recipe, which is specific to this type/variety of cheese that can be classified as semi-soft to semi-firm to firm depending on the age and maker. Once the curd is set it’s cut to encourage drainage of the whey and then arranged/piled/packed by hand into long sheets, which are then hand cut into blocks and stacked and flipped to promote further draining, where the curds mat or knit together. This process is called “Cheddaring”. Large strips are then cut and milled (cut into small pieces, which are the small strips or pieces of fresh curds one sees on poutine as a topping or sold in bags at the cheesemaker for immediate consumption, note the squeak). Milled curds are then formed into 40lb blocks, vacuum packed and sealed to sit and age on a shelf until ready for cutting and repacking for sale at a variety of ages.
Quality cheddars have very particular characteristics: closed and dense texture with no pinholes, smooth to crumbly but slight veining of curds when broken (not rubbery); uniform in color, not mottled; clean milky flavors through and through, not overly fruity, noticeable sharpness with age. Seem what I mean when you look at the cheddars in your Savvy Cool Curds.
A variety of cheddars are in your Savvy Cool Curds assortment this month. Grab a few friends, some local brews and conduct your own vertical tasting, comparing each of the Empire cheddars we’ve selected.
Cheese Tasting Notes
Below are Vanessa’s tasting notes and photos for each cheese in your Savvy Cool Curds, along with additional tidbits of interesting information, suggested food pairings & recipes to try too!
Hot Whiskey Mustard Cheddar
Empire’s Hot Whiskey Mustard is one of the most unique flavoured cheddars I’ve encountered over the years. One of the secrets to an excellent flavored cheese is to start with a tasty and well-made cheese as a base (too often flavors are added to mask cheese that isn’t great). The cheddar is aged for one year, and has Mrs. McGarrigle’s (Merrickville) Hot Whiskey Mustard mixed in. It’s a total local experience, a-three “whey” collaboration with the cheese, mustard, and even the whiskey (Forty Creek Whisky, Grimsby) used in the mustard all produced in Ontario.
Tasting Notes: This cheddar has a fudge-like texture and is dense to the tooth. Enjoy milky flavor with a hint of mustard, apricot fruit and spice, which elevates the cheese, while not overpowering. The cheese’s age adds a bit of “bite” to stand up to the mustard and balance out the two.
Suggested Pairing: Hot Whiskey Mustard Cheddar screams to be melted with Seed to Sausage house cured ham or Pastrami on crusty bread. Add grilled tomatoes, arugula as garnish. Melt for a quick and easy sauce to slather over roasted cauliflower.
Extra Old White Cheddar
Empire’s award winning Extra Old Cheddar took first place at the Royal Winter Fair in 2013. In Canada, a cheese is extra old if it’s over 12 months; in this case this white cheddar is aged naturally for two years.
Tasting Notes: Empire’s Extra Old 2 year cheddar is smooth on the palate and has chewy texture, with mild fruity aroma. Enjoyable flavors of cooked milk with toasty notes are prominent up front, as expected in a quality aged cheddar, with a lingering tangy finish.
Suggested Pairing: Use as a versatile staple in your kitchen, grated on Mac n Cheese, sliced as a snack, crumbled onto fruity desserts as a garnish. Pairs easily with a medium bodied red wine – local Merlot or Gamay.
3 Year Supreme Cheddar
Empire Supreme 3 Year Cheddar, is aged naturally for that amount of time, in aging rooms onsite. Cheesemaker Mark Erwin has referenced this as a great point of satisfaction of his trade, being able to see the fruit of one’s labour over time. Supreme 3 Year is either white or orange cheddar, where the orange hue color typically comes from annatto, a flavourless seed. Try white or coloured (orange) cheddars of the same age and maker, and there will be no difference in taste, it’s an interesting experiment.
Tasting Notes: This cheddar is bright pumpkin orange and within the smooth, creamy body, you can see outline of the curds that have been fused together over time. Flavors are clean, milk and toasted nut, with a little bite, classic cheddar tang and gentle fruity aroma.
Suggested Pairing: Everything about this cheddar says I’m a potato’s best friend, grated into smashed potatoes or on roasted sweet potatoes, or melted into hash browns, or mixed with cracked black pepper into potatoes to form the savory center of homemade pierogies.
5 Year Supreme Cheddar
Empire Supreme 5 Year Cheddar is what I’d consider as one of life’s little luxuries and worth the wait as it develops it’s unique flavor profile.
Tasting Notes: This cheese is aged naturally for 5 years and has a drier and more crumbly texture than its younger sister cheeses. Tiny little white Tyrocene (flavour) crystals are apparent in the pale straw-coloured paste, an indication of quality cheddar.
Enjoy a robust milky flavor, fruity tang, and sharp bite followed by a mellow caramelized finish.
Suggested Pairing: Grate on hearty savoury winter soups as garnish. Chunk as a snack as a little pick me up during an outdoor ski or activity break. Broil over toast with caramelized onion & sautéed buttery mushrooms.
• Recipes to enjoy with the featured cheeses •
With Hot Whiskey Mustard Cheddar …
Hot Whiskey Mustard Cheddar Lamb Burger
Recipe & Photo Credit: DairyGoodness.ca
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 20 minutes
1 2/3 lb. ground lamb
2 – 3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 Tbsp. fresh rosemary, chopped
Salt and freshly ground pepper
5 oz. Hot Whiskey Mustard Cheddar, sliced
4 hamburger buns
1 small red onion, sliced
2 cups kale sprouts
Preheat oven to 425°F (220°C).
In a bowl, mix lamb, garlic and rosemary. Season with salt and pepper.
Divide mixture into 4 portions and shape into patties. Transfer to a baking sheet and cook in the oven for 15–20 min, depending on thickness of the patties.
Top patties with cheese and heat buns.
Place patties on bottom buns, add onions and kale sprouts, cover with top buns and serve.
With Extra Old Cheddar…
Cream of Celeriac With Cheddar & Onion Soup
Recipe & Photo Credit: Dairygoodness.ca
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 35 minutes
1 Tbsp. (15 mL) butter
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
6 cups (1.5 L) celeriac, peeled and diced
3 cups (750 mL) chicken or vegetable broth, no salt added
1 cup (250 mL) milk
Salt and freshly ground pepper
12 slices of baguette
4 oz. (120 g) Empire Extra Old Cheddar, grated
In a large saucepan, melt butter and cook onions for about 10 minutes over medium-high heat, stirring frequently, or until browned. Set half the onions aside.
Add garlic and celeriac to saucepan and cook for 2 minutes. Add broth, milk, salt and pepper. Bring to a boil and simmer for 20 minutes or until vegetables are tender.
Puree using a hand or upright blender.
Preheat oven to broil. Place bread slices on a parchment-lined baking sheet and top with cheese. Broil until cheese is melted.
Pour soup into bowls and add bread slices, top with reserved onions and serve.
With Supreme 3 Year Cheddar…
Cheddar, Leek & Mushroom Focaccia
Recipe & Photo Credit: Dairygoodness.ca
Prep Time: 60 minutes
Cook Time: 25 minutes
1 homemade milk pizza dough or 1 package (19 oz.) store-bought pizza dough
1 Tbsp. butter
2 leeks cut into ½˝ lengths
8 oz. cremini mushrooms, halved
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 Tbsp. dried wild mushrooms (chanterelle, cep, shiitake, etc.)
7 oz. Empire Supreme 3 Year Cheddar, grated
Milk pizza dough:
2 Tbsp. butter
2 1/4 cups flour
1 tsp. sugar
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. instant yeast (quick-rising)
Preheat oven to 450°F (230°C). Cut parchment paper to fit a 9˝ x 12˝ baking sheet. Using a rolling pin roll out pizza dough on the parchment paper. Transfer to baking sheet and let rise for 30–45 minutes.
In a large skillet, melt butter over medium-high heat and cook leeks and mushrooms for 10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. In a mini food processor, grind dried mushrooms until fine and powdery.
Sprinkle pizza dough with a quarter of grated cheese, add leek and mushroom mixture and top with remaining cheese and dried mushroom powder. Cook on top rack of the oven for 12 minutes.
Milk pizza dough
In a small saucepan, heat milk over medium-high heat for 2 minutes. Add butter and let melt.
In a bowl, mix flour with sugar, salt and yeast. Pour in warm milk and butter; stir with a wooden spoon. Knead the dough by hand for 5 minutes.
Shape dough as needed and let rise for 30–45 minutes.
With Supreme 5 Year Cheddar…
Recipe & Photo Credit: Sue Riedl – Cheese and Toast
TIP: Sue has an excellent step by step walk through on her site!
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 10 minutes
2 Tbsp. unsalted butter
2 Tbsp. all-purpose flour
2 tsp. Worcestershire Sauce
1 tsp. Dijon mustard
½ cup Guinness beer
¾ cup cream (less for a thicker sauce)
1 ½ cups shredded cheese (sub. Supreme 5-Year Cheddar)
Salt (adjust to taste, some cheeses are saltier than others)
Fresh ground pepper
8 slices toasted sourdough or rye
In a medium pot over low heat, melt the butter until foaming subsides. Add the flour and whisk it in until you form a smooth past (a roux). You do not want the roux to brown at all.
Take the roux off the burner and cool slightly (so will not splatter) when you add the mustard and Worcestershire sauce. Whisk until smooth and then back on medium-low heat add the beer.
Now add the cream and whisk until the sauce thickens, this will take a couple minutes. You don’t want this to boil, if it does just lower the heat.
Pull the sauce off the heat and slowly add the cheese. It should melt easily, (if you need to you can throw the sauce back on the heat for a minute as you stir). Set aside, keep warm. Season to taste.
Turn on your broiler or preheat the oven to 500°F (260° C). Toast the bread until crisp (to avoid sogginess once cheese is added). Put the bread on a parchment lined cookie sheet. Pour the sauce over each piece. Broil until browning slightly (1-2 minutes). Allow to cool slightly -so it can be handled- and serve to salivating dinner companions.
Don’t forget to drink the remaining beer 😉
Enjoy your Savvy Cool Curds!