Posts Tagged ‘tips on great 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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Talking about Canadian artisan cheese on CBC!

Posted by Vanessa

Thursday, October 17th, 2013
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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 

They chatted endlessly about all kinds of artisan cheeses.  Anyone listening would quickly learn that Canada makes more than just cheddar.

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)…

Listen to the CBC Radio Canada interview >>

 

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.


AM – What’s on your cheeseboard today?

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.

 

Calling all Cheese Lovers!

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 > >

 

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