Cheesy musings

It’s Halloween on my squirrelly street

Laggies (that’s kinda scary, right? If you’re a quarter-life-crisis kinda gal – okay, I couldn’t think of a Halloween L-equivalent) and ghouls, it is my favourite day of the year. Possibly. Definitely in my top three.

The point is, I don’t know many other adults with some-to-many interests and commitments that love Halloween as much as I do. Modern Family‘s Claire Dunphy is my Halloween spirit animal.


Last year, I was out-Halloween’d by my neighbours. I live in a semi-detached house and our attached-half partners put my spirited-but-woefully-underprepared dollar-store decorations to shame. They had a fog machine. They had a life-size headless horseman. They had beer (unrelated but I envied that foresight, too).

Most of the trick-or-treaters bypassed my house because in comparison, it literally didn’t even look like we were home. I couldn’t even entice them by standing on the porch in my (adorable) Minion costume, waving candy in the air like I just didn’t care. My lovingly-carved pumpkins might as well have been landscaped rocks headlining my house number.

This year, I decided Halloween would be for my own enjoyment, trick-or-treaters be damned! (Although I did buy the same amount of candy. Shhh. It’ll get eaten… By someone.) I picked out pumpkins with my family from an actual pumpkin patch over Thanksgiving weekend. One had a nose – I swear – a perfect, appropriately-sized wart in the exact place it made sense. The other was a grayish, deep green colour and I’d just never seen one that shade before. I was eagerly awaiting the appropriate week-of time to carve, and had even put them further up my porch so as not to entice pumpkin smashers, when tragedy struck.

Pumpkin

Pinocchio pumpkin in happier times, chillin’ at the patch (shadow courtesy my brother, helpfully pointing to the nose).

The fatass squirrel(s) on my street got peckish in the night. I awoke to find my beloved Pinocchio pumpkin had been chewed. Just once, but that was enough.

The nose was gone.

The bloody chubster had only eaten the nose, like it was protruding precisely to aid his delicious defacement. Over the next week, my gray-green pumpkin fell victim to the Hungry Hungry Hippos (so named because they’ll soon be as big if they keep this binge eating up) as well. Clearly, my carvings could not go ahead as planned. The drastic turn of events needed to be considered.

Pinocchio’s concept was easier to choose – I would tell the truth. I carved him with eyes wild, mouth agape in horror, and exaggerated his bite wounds. Grey’s Anatomy was harder. I could carve a face with the larger holes, but I wanted to stay true to its new nature. In the end, I went dug more holes and filled them with mice, which I later realize made it vaguely resemble a Swiss cheese under attack. It was perfect.

Pumpkins

Grey’s Anatomy and Pinocchio, all dressed up for the pumpkin prom.

My pumpkins will proudly parade on my porch again this year, and I’m confident my glow-in-the-dark accessories will help lure trick-or-treaters.

But just in case, I brought every Halloween decoration I own to the front of the house. My neighbour’s house is still dark and without decoration.

Let’s hope they’re on vacation.

Pumpkins-2

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Cheesy musings, Entertaining

Throwback Thursday: Thanksgiving cheese

Just prior to this past Thanksgiving, I was browsing the Dairy Goodness website (as one does), and came across the Canadian Cheese Board Contest, in which you post 10 photos of Canadian cheese on Pinterest for a chance to win $100 worth of Canadian cheese. This seemed like as good a reason as any to head to my beloved Algoma and choose blocks to build a Thanksgiving cheese board.

(Oh, you don’t do Thanksgiving cheese boards? You’re probably not doing the holiday right. What is more appropriate to give thanks for than cheese? I mean, besides family and stuff…)

Thanksgiving-sized

I decided to go with the classics (my classics), as befits such an occasion. From left to right, let us join hands and give thanks for Avonlea Clothbound Cheddar, Blue Haze, Maple Smoked (not sure where from but it’s always there when I need it), and finally, front and centre (just like in my heart), Sartori Bellavitano Balsamic.

Needless to say, my Pinterest project took a back seat almost as soon as this picture was taken, after which I sliced and diced these nuggets into golden bites. Most made it to the table.

I never did pin this picture. But if I put it toward the required total of 10 Canadian cheese photos, that would give me nine more totally valid reasons to visit my cheese haunts…

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Cheesy musings, Pairings

Canada’s best restaurants 2014: A quick sniff at cheese offerings

EnRoute revealed its choices for Canada’s top 10 best restaurants of 2014 Thursday. The poetically-named Wolf in the Fog took the top spot, with restaurants dotted across a spread of the provinces (although the territories were absent; Yellowknife’s Trek Restaurant asked politely on Twitter whether the, uh, trek was made up north).

The descriptions of dishes woven throughout the restaurant profiles are as decadent as the flavours surely are. Although I wouldn’t turn my nose up at a single one – far from it – there are certain triggers that heighten my lust for a plate. Seafood (any and all kinds) is top of mind for me, but cheese, unsurprisingly, can and does shape my impression of a dish, even when it’s used in the most minute amount.

(Example: Usually I avoid salads at restaurants as they’re often easily assembled at home if I put in the effort. I ordered a salad at the restaurant I went to for my birthday on a trip to Thunder Bay this year because it had Thunder Oak Gouda in it – nevermind that it was a few cubes. I also had incredible seafood pasta, so not quite a sacrifice on my part.)

After careful menu-creeping, these are the restaurants whose subtle cheese-related offerings cut right through the hazy distinctions in decadence. (I tried to think of a different way to word this to use the phrase “cut the cheese” instead, but couldn’t make it work. Please share if you do.)

A chef after my own heart – look at that spread!  (Farmer's Apprentice/Facebook)

A chef after my own heart – look at that spread!
(Farmer’s Apprentice/Facebook)

Farmer’s Apprentice: Burrata with caramelized onions, flageolet beans and hazelnuts. If I created my own language, burrata would translate to “swoon.”

Le Vin Papillon: Roquefort paired with a rosé called You Are So Bubbly that EnRoute’s writer describes as tasting of “rhubarb and grass and burnt sugar.” Sorry, you lost me after Roquefort. There’s nothing quite like unaccompanied cheese (see ya later, crackers) serenaded by a perfectly-paired sweetness.

Rge Rd: Cheese fondue tart with braised leeks and baby greens (come again? I couldn’t hear you over my own panting). And the one that made me read its paragraph again and again in the profile, an apple galette with aged cheddar sauce. (It’s also accompanied by the cutest phrase ever in EnRoute’s profile, which I will now steal: “An apple pie without the cheese is like a hug without the squeeze.” It even rhymes!)

With any luck, I'll be elbow-deep (okay, not elbow, but wouldn't that be great?) in Italian cheese at these seats soon. (Bar Buca/Facebook)

With any luck, I’ll be elbow-deep (okay, not elbow, but wouldn’t that be great?) in Italian cheese at these seats soon.
(Bar Buca/Facebook)

Bar Buca: Buffalo crème anglaise with blood orange (okay, it’s the topping on a bread pudding, but I stopped reading after buffalo [dairy]). It doesn’t matter that it’s crème anglaise and not mozzarella, my mind goes to a happy place anyway, especially when it’s coupled with blood orange. It’s my cheese blog and I’ll fangirl over buffalo crème if I want to.

Légende: Des mains du fromager – it’s a standard cheese plate, oui, but as per my aforementioned taste for cheese “paired with sweetness,” I am already daydreaming about alternating bites from their cheese board with morsels of their maple syrup tart (which comes with a tiny milkshake, too!).

What did you think of the EnRoute’s rankings? If you had to choose, what would you crown as your favourite place(s) to eat in Canada? 

(Main image credit: Le Vin Papillon/Facebook)

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Entertaining, Pairings

The perfect cheeses to welcome hockey back

In case you haven’t already been beaten over the head with it by media and jersey-wrapped fans, hockey is back tonight. As I write this, the Toronto Maple Leafs lead the Montreal Canadiens 2-1 in my peripheral vision. I will not say anything about hoping it lasts, because it would be a likely jinx and I don’t need that on my conscience; also, my level of masochism isn’t quite high enough to be a true Leafs fan.  (Montreal just scored. Damn it, non-jinx attempt.)

I’ve always said that it’s impossible to be in a bad mood at a sports arena. The energy is infectious. But watching sports on TV takes a little more cajoling, and snacks are part and parcel of my engagement. Obviously, my munchies of choice always involve cheese, or even better, are just cheese with some accoutrements. I have a cheap and cheerful Brie du Marché by Alexis de Portneuf (who I just discovered make a number of my other favourite cheeses, pleasant surprise) waiting with some ginger jelly as we speak. It may not make it to my belly because of some unfortunate overdoing of dill Crispy Minis earlier, but that’s another story.

There is no bad cheese to serve with a side of hockey, but it’s always fun to tailor your cheese to what you’ll be serving it with – in this case, hockey. Chemical-laced ice and bloodied teeth don’t make for ideal mental images from which to draw inspiration, but the teams make it fun. I’m watching the Leafs and the Canadiens, so here are the cheeses I’d pick (if the majority of my friends weren’t at home with violent colds and flu and I were hosting instead of pigging out alone – ah, hockey season):

For the Toronto Maple Leafs:
There are cheeses that are made with maple syrup, but I have to admit, I haven’t tried many – just one. But man, is it a doozy. There is a little setup in Keene, Ontario, not too far from where I grew up but far enough to make it a special trip, called Cross Wind Farm. They specialize in goat milk and meat products and many of their chèvres are mixed with spices, fruits and more for melt-in-your-mouth spreads. My favourite by far is the Maple Syrup Chèvre (I’ve also had the Herbs de Provence and Orange and Cranberry). It’s obvious that they use real maple syrup from the tantalizing bitter edge to the sweetness, which complements the dry, salty sweetness of the cheese nicely. Plus, bittersweet is an apt way to describe Leaf fandom, to say the least.

If you’d like to show off a little more, you can never go wrong with a baked brie (try my aforementioned Brie du Marché for a good affordable option), especially one that incorporates maple syrup. I’d do it one of two ways: Use pure maple syrup instead of egg wash to seal your dough covering (sticky, but oh-so-much better) for a touch of sweetness, or cut the top of the rind off and drizzle it directly on top with gay abandon and a sprinkling of pecans before baking.

For the Montreal Canadiens:
Québec boasts no shortage of irresistibly smelly cheeses to sample. I have only been there a handful of times as an adult, but both times I made sure to try a few. When I visited my cousin during Winterlude last year (hi, Melissa!), she turned me onto La Sauvagine, one of Alexis de Portneuf’s. It has an noticeable yet accessible tang that will please both smelly cheese devotees and newbies alike. And the triple-cream texture, well – that speaks for itself.

To add a hard cheese to the roster, try Louis D’Or, arguably one of Canada’s most famous and  lauded smelly cheeses. When I first bought it on a trip to Montreal with my boyfriend, he complained that it made our whole hotel room smell like farts, even while safely tucked away in the mini-fridge, which it did. Still, it has the kind of vegetable-moldy flavour (think steamed broccoli) that you find more commonly in sheep’s milk cheeses. I can’t decide if I like this one more cold or room temperature, but if you’d like to ease into it, try it cold first.

The game’s still 2-2 and I have yet to bring out my Brie. My stomach is tied too, with fullness on one side and uh, Brie, on the other. That’s a whole other game.

Here’s to hockey, and more importantly, the cheese boards that viewing will bring.

(Main image: Coyau / Wikimedia Commons)

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Entertaining, Pairings

New motherboard, new friends, new cheese. Trapiche?

Thought I’d gone on another perfectionist hiatus, didn’t you? Alas, this one was technologically-imposed. I finally got my computer back, after a hefty bill and wait. I don’t want to be a brat about how long the “straightforward” repair took, but I think empires may have fallen faster.

Before I had a chance to put my computer, complete with new motherboard, to good use over the weekend, I got strep throat and spent the better part of this week sending my immune system into battle instead of battling through the half-sentences in iPhone notes I took for the blog during my computer’s vacation.

Now that my antibiotics have kicked in, let’s have a catch-up. Pull up an armchair and some quince, will you?

Last week I got to attend a wine tasting with iYellow Wine Club, run by one of my favourite wine-os (don’t worry, Mom, you’re still number one), Angela Aiello. I always have a great time at her events, so I was looking forward to this one, which looked like a doozy: Sampling Trapiche‘s new wines Pure and Extravaganza, topped off with food pairings.

It’s the first time I had been to an event alone, much less with a cheese-blog agenda, so I wasn’t sure how to tackle the whole networking thing. After saying hi to Ang and the iYellow peeps I already knew, I received a hefty glass of the first wine to taste, Pure. Inspect the legs, check, smell, check, sip, check, repeat. Try to stop thinking about how Trapiche reminds you of Capiche? and repeating it in an Italian accent like a visual-cue earworm. Awkwardly glance around, hoping to catch the eye of someone else looking to converse with a fellow professional (none), check. Oh look, that woman is painting a plate.

Her name was Jacqueline, the resident artist at the Ritz. She paints all of the plates in the restaurant, some of which were displayed on the walls – there’s a little-discussed career path for you. She had the sort of friendliness that makes you wonder whether you actually do know the person, because people are generally not so warm toward complete strangers, but she was. A good start to my getting-to-know-you endeavour. Here’s how the plate turned out, which she finished in about an hour and change (!).

Plate

After my conversation with Jacqueline started to taper off, I began to play spot-the-willing-conversationalist again and landed on the man’s name-card next to me. His blog name had a pun (Hi Mario!). We were bound to be friends! Turns out, there’s no easy way to strike up a conversation when everyone else seems to know each other, you just have to power through the awkwardness. Before long, we were nerding out about cheese, him explaining proper names and locations for beloved rinds while trying to follow my vague, half-remembered characterizations, although I did manage to adequately describe Don Heliodoro. I am not an imposter!

From there it was smooth sailing, as he introduced me to some of the more seasoned wine writers and industry people in the room and I began to feel more well-connected. That, and I was well into my second glass (which did not bode as well for me when I tried to ascertain whether I was actually rocking back and forth on my heels during the winemaker’s speech or whether that was second-glass goggles).

The second wine tasting, of Extravaganza, was at iYellow’s Wine Cave. There were Venetian masks, frogs’ legs (au revoir, Michigan J.), duck tongue tacos (found that out after I finished, probably for the best) and cricket-studded chocolate donuts.

Crickets

There was also, blissfully, a cheese plate.

Cheese-plate

Apparently, there was a “cheese room” at the Ritz that I missed in my nervous haste to connect with people (Never. Again), so to say that I was excited to see the spread would be an understatement. After I made a beeline to confirm the rumours, my reaction went like this:

One of the cheeses Mario and I had been talking about was even on the roster, Idiazabal. Score! Here were my notes on the offerings, three of which (all except the Camembert) I’d never had before:

Idiazabal
– Very meaty
– Smokey (Wiki tells me the cheese is usually un-smoked though, interesting – anyone know which part of the process creates the smokey flavour, then, or is it the milk?)
– Like smoked kielbasa, minus the mandatory pickles and cheddar slices on a vegetable cracker at family gatherings
– Deliciously dry
– Full flavour with a touch of bitterness; rich

Bleu D’Auvergne
– Middle-range flavour – not quite as mild as a Bleu Benedictin but not as strong as Stilton
– Tasted faintly of fennel, but I tried this shortly after my duck tongue tacos (without cleansing my palate with quince first, I know, slap my wrist) so it could’ve been leftover hoisin flavour
– Creamy, mold wasn’t especially flavourful, which I liked

Old Amsterdam
– Deliciously salty
– Briny (it’s not exactly the same as salty, shut up)
– Lighter taste when it begins to crumble
– Strong buttermilk flavour and caramel taste, right at the finish

Camembert, that ol’ faithful
– Very grassy and buttery
– Just a touch of tanginess
– Reminds me unmistakably of broccoli (the prominent vegetable flavours were driving me nuts with vague recognition – that’s what it tasted like!)

There was also some quince jelly, which I mistook for sausage – it was dark – but  which complimented the Camembert and paired well with Old Amsterdam’s saltiness. I explained it to one of my newly-minted buddies with Fruit To Go as my reference. I can have my cheese and ’90s lunchtime staple comparisons and eat them, too, Trapiche?

How do you approach networking? Ever tried any of the above cheeses? Let me know in the comments or @xCheeseTheDay (brand new!) on Twitter. I’ll be catching up on belated Flavours of the Month next, and there’s a fancy domain coming, too!

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