This week our Cheese Sommelier Vanessa Simmons is one of 10 judges in the first Canadian Cheese Awards. Surrounded by over 250 wedges of cheeses & sampling all day long is hard job. . . but Vanessa is happy to do it!
“I am delighted & honoured to be a judge for this brand new competition of Canadian cheeses. There are many Canadian artisan cheeses that win international awards, the time is ripe to have the Canadian Cheese Awards,” shares Vanessa.
Georgs Kolesnikovs from CheeseLover.ca and the organizer of the Great Canadian Cheese Festival is the main man behind the scenes of this ground breaking competition. While organizing the awards, Georgs called out to his cheese industry friends (including Vanessa) asking them for their top cheese picks of the year. Here’s the Best Bites: Outstanding cheeses of 2013 as published on CheeseLover.ca.
Only one imported cheese – Taleggio – made the 2013 most memorable list, Julia Rogers offers this ‘shopping tip’, “As far as international picks go, I’d suggest that any cheese lover make a pilgrimage to Neil’s Yard Dairy in London (photo left ). The pleasures are too many to enumerate, but this is mecca, without a doubt. And, yes, I tasted virtually everything in this photo! – Julia Rogers, Cheese Educator, Cheese Culture
Drumroll please…Outstanding cheese of 2013
The cheeses are listed in alphabetical order, so consider this as your ABC’s of artisan cheese!
Alfred Le Fermier (24 months), Fromagerie La Station de Compton
Alfred Le Fermier is a true, rustic, organic, raw cow’s milk farmstead cheese made in small batches, pressed and cooked, washed/turned by hand, as a way of life on the farm. It has a European style, but with local terroir, as a result of choosing closely the hay from their local Estrie region. Note heavy woodsy, herbal and mild floral aromas, with layers of milky, grassy and buttery complexity on the palette, more pronounced when aged for 24 months. – Vanessa Simmons, Cheese Sommelier, Savvy Company
Beau’s Abbey Style Cheese, Gunn’s Hill Artisan Cheese
A delicious marriage of Gunn’s Hill Artisan Cheese of Woodstock, Ontario, with Beau’s All Natural Brewing of Vankleek Hill, Ontario. This sumptuous semi-soft cheese is washed with a seasonal beer from Beau’s. Beer and cheese together, pure bliss! – Gurth Pretty, Senior Category Manager, Deli Cheese, Loblaw Companies
Brebichon, Les Fromages du Verger
I simply adore Brebichon, a farmstead sheep milk cheese that is oh so creamy, delicate and lucious. This apple juice washed cheese is an absolute must buy on every stop I make at Fromagerie Atwater in Montréal. – Wendy Furtenbacher, Blogger, CurdyGirl, Cheesemonger, Sobeys Queensway
Chemin Hatley, Fromagerie La Station de Compton
Made with organic raw milk from a closed herd of fourth-generation family-farmed cows, this cheese readily fulfills its potential. Supple and fragrant, with yeasty and savoury aromas, and a long layered finish. – Julia Rogers, Cheese Educator, Cheese Culture
Crottin à ma Manière, Fromagerie L’Atelier
The goat’s milk cheese Crottin à ma Manière from Simon Hamel at Fromagerie l’Atelier in the Bois-Francs region of Québec surpasses famed Chavignol of France, is much cheaper and it’s federally licensed. – Alain Besré, Fromagerie Atwater and Aux Terroirs
Dragon’s Breath Blue, That Dutchman’s Cheese Farm
A rare find and 2013 Canadian Cheese Grand Prix finalist, Dragon’s Breath Blue is a closely guarded family secret. Unique in shape and size, these small cylinders of blue cheese are aged only a few weeks then coated with wax for ripening another 2-6 months. The flavor and texture varies by season, more buttery/creamy in the summer months with higher fat content in the milk. Note sharp blue flavor, moist texture with fruity notes, and little blue veining depending on exposure to air. More than worth the shipping charges! – Vanessa Simmons, Cheese Sommelier, Savvy Company
Figaro, Glengarry Fine Cheese (left)
I choose Figaro from Glengarry–not that I don’t love (and love the Global award!) for the Lankaaster Aged but I kind of forgot about the amazingly fresh and delicate qualities. And we found each other again this year–lucky for me. – Sue Riedl, Cheese Columnist, The Globe and Mail
Fleur des Monts, La Moutonnière
Not as consistent as one might want, though still an ambitious and expressive farmstead cheese modeled loosely after Manchego, but more floral, bright and pungent. – Julia Rogers, Cheese Educator, Cheese Culture
Grizzly Gouda, Sylvan Star Cheese
I’ve served the Grizzly Gouda from Sylvan Star many times at events or at home this year and it is outstanding in its complexity, looooong finish and “ability to wow” factor. – Sue Riedl, Cheese Columnist, The Globe and Mail
La Sauvagine Réserve, La Maison Alexis de Portneuf
Somehow the cheesemakers at Alexis de Portneuf improved their already mouth-watering, soft, mixed rind La Sauvagine cheese. What did they do? Add cream to it, making it a triple crème. Grab some of this cheese while you can. A limited amount of this OMG mouth experience was created. – Gurth Pretty, Senior Category Manager, Deli Cheese, Loblaw Companies
Laliberté, Fromagerie du Presbytère,
I have to start with Laliberté from Fromagerie du Presbytere–the triple cream that I could not stop eating, and made from organic milk to boot. – Sue Riedl, Cheese Columnist, The Globe and Mail
Lankaaster Aged, Glengarry Fine Cheese
Supreme Global Champion at the 2013 Global Cheese Awards, this firm to hard cow’s milk cheeses comes shaped in a loaf or wheel, covered in a waxy rind, and is a Gouda-style after Dutch farmstead cheeses. It’s a rich, dense, chewy cheese with intense buttery, fruity, caramelized nutty flavors that linger forever. – Vanessa Simmons, Cheese Sommelier, Savvy Company
Le Vlimeux, Fromagerie Le Mouton Blanc
It’s not hard to see how this multiple Caseus award-winning cheese is smokin’ hot! Vlimeux is a firm, pressed, uncooked raw sheep’s milk cheese, with a hard, waxy, glossy, caramel-hued rind. Smoke, salt and nut permeate the interior overlaying the cheese’s natural sweet milky flavors in a perfect complement. – Vanessa Simmons, Cheese Sommelier, Savvy Company
Maple Cheddar, Black River Cheese
What could be more Canadian than Black River’s Maple Cheddar? This cheese provides a bite that is perfectly balanced between sweet and savoury, and just —Wendy Furtenbacher, Blogger, CurdyGirl, Cheesemonger, Sobeys Queensway
Okay, this is part of the cheese but my wife and I cannot resist adding small cubes of it into our soups, chili, tomato sauce and risotto. The dried rind softens in the broth, releasing its flavour and becomes chewable. We love it so much that we actually have to buy some from our local grocery store. – Gurth Pretty, Senior Category Manager, Deli Cheese, Loblaw Companies
Pont Blanc, Fromagerie Au Grés Des Champs
Pont Blanc is a soft, lactic, surface ripened cow milk cheese. A rare find outside the farmstead retail store, the skin-like rind on this beauty reminds of intricate ivory lace, while the dense interior has the texture of a soft cream sandwich and moist piece of cheesecake. Note pronounced flavors and aromas of fresh sweet milk, and grass that linger and linger. – Vanessa Simmons, Cheese Sommelier, Savvy Company
Ricotta, Quality Cheese
The 2013 Canadian Cheese Grand Prix Grand Champion, the humble Ricotta from Quality Cheese reigned supreme, winning against more than 225 of Canada’s best cheeses, a first ever for both an Ontario cheese and a fresh category cheese. Fresh, creamy, melt in your mouth Ricotta (which means re-cooked in Italian, as it’s made from the leftover whey after making other cheese). Very light, but rich, and very versatile as a simple cheese to eat with a variety of garnishes/condiments or used in cooking. – Vanessa Simmons, Cheese Sommelier, Savvy Company
Taleggio, Northern Italy
Taleggio (1996 Italian DOP) has and will always be in my Top 10. It’s a semi-soft, washed rind, smear-ripened Italian cheese that is named after Val Taleggio where it has been made since the 10th century. The cheese has a thin crust and a strong aroma, but its flavour is comparatively mild with an unusual fruity tang. – Alain Besré, Fromagerie Atwater and Aux Terroirs
Water Buffalo Mozzarella, Old West Ranch
James Meservy deserves a medal for perseverance! He has faced many challenges in the last two years in his attempt to bring high quality Old West Ranch Water Buffalo Mozzarella to the artisan Canadian cheese market. When it is in its finest form, it is dense and velvety without being the least bit rubbery and sweetly milky with a tangy underpinning that keeps us reaching for more. – Janice Beaton, Owner, Janice Beaton Fine Cheese, FARM Restaurant
It is surprising, even to me, that two of my three faves of 2013 are flavoured cheeses, which to me is a testimony to high-quality cheesemaking. Flavours that meld with the cheese substrate where the cheese and the flavour counterpart do a sublime dance. – Janice Beaton, Owner, Janice Beaton Fine Cheese, FARM Restaurant
Ruckles, Salt Spring Island Cheese Company David Wood knocks it out of the park, again. In a sea of so many pedestrian offerings of marinated goat cheese, Ruckles is in class all its own. Firm yet silkily textured cylinders of cheese are bathed in grapeseed oil which is speckled with a mix of thyme, rosemary, chives and garlic, in perfect proportion.
Chili Pecorino, The Cheesiry The Chili Pecorino is one of my favourite offerings from Rhonda Zuk Headon’s repertoire. The balance of chilis embedded in this toothsome cheese provides a gentle heat that lingers on the palate while the nutty, olive flavour of this sheep milk cheese still holds its own. Not an easy accomplishment but Rhonda pulls it off!
Four new ready-to-eat Cheese Fondues arrived on the market in 2013. All amazing, with either Louis d’Or, 14 Arpents or Victor et Berthold or the one from Charlevoix with both 1608 and Hercule in the box! – Alain Besré, Fromagerie Atwater and Aux Terroirs
One of my best bites was a fondue made from Victor et Berthold, a beautiful washed rind from Fromagerie Du Champ a la Meule in Québec. This cheese made one of the most delicious fondues of all time. It made me very happy. – Wendy Furtenbacher, Blogger, CurdyGirl, Cheesemonger, Sobeys Queensway
Spend a day with Vanessa & learn all about cheese!
This is every cheese lover’s dream – join us for a fun-filled day with our Cheese Sommelier Vanessa Simmons. Nibble & nosh all day as Vanessa introduces you to cheeses from around the world, share stories about cheesemakers & show you the ‘whey’ as you learn cheese-y lingo, how artisan cheese is made, tips on buying cheese. . . and loads more!
To top it all off, your tastebuds will be put to the ‘test’ by sampling wines & craft beers to decide which really is the best pairing with cheese.
Date: Saturday March 22 – 10:30am to 4:30pm
Location: MUST Kitchen & Wine Bar – Ottawa
Savvy Special: $140 before March 15 (reg $155). Includes everything as well as gourmet lunch