Posts Tagged ‘getting to know cheese’

Finding your Whey with local artisan cheese

Posted by Vanessa

Tuesday, May 6th, 2014
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Hot off the press!  This cheese-y article appeared in the latest issue of Grapevine Magazine loaded with our Cheese Sommelier – Vanessa SimmonsTop 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:

Vanessa Simmons - Savvy Company Cheese SommelierSpend time at your local farmer’s market

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

Upper Canada Cheese Co Niagara Gold by Vanessa Simmons largeCheck 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

cheese-of-the-year-1000-mar-19-copyThere 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!

beercheeseGather 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.

Hang out with cheesy peoplecheese festival logo

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!

Celtic blueOf 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.

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