My friend remarked yesterday that the Canadian Cheese Grand Prix sounds like a race. A NASCAR for cheeses. Though that kinda sorta exists (see: Cooper’s Hill, below), the Canadian Cheese Grand Prix is a nationwide competition to honour the best cow’s milk cheeses in Canada. It’s a bit of a bummer that goat, sheep and buffalo milks are not included, but it’s understandable as it’s put on by the Dairy Farmers of Canada.
The winners will be announced this Wednesday the 22 at the “Gala of Champions” in Toronto (I’m still waiting for my invitation by the way, but it’s cool, I have a red-carpet outfit on standby). What better excuse to sample a selection of finalists from the list? I hit up St. Lawrence Market this weekend and came back with eight contenders (and then had raclette for dinner Saturday night because, uh, eight).
First stop was my usual Scheffler’s, where I found Bella Casara Ricotta by Quality Cheese Inc. from Ontario (nominated for fresh cheese), Appletree Smoked Cheddar by Cows Creamery from PEI (nominated for smoked cheese), Le Baluchon by Fromagerie F.X. Pichet from Quebec (nominated for organic cheese), Le Mamirolle by Fromagerie Éco Délices from Quebec (nominated for washed- or mixed-rind semi-soft cheese) and Albert’s Leap Bel Haven Triple Creme Brie by Quality Cheese Inc. from Ontario. A good start, but I hadn’t found any cheddar or much firm cheese, so I tried my luck at Olympic Cheese Mart and filled in the holes, so to speak.
Immediately I found Raclette de Compton au poivre by Fromagerie La Station from Quebec (nominated for flavoured cheese with added particulate solids and flavourings – just rolls off the tongue, doesn’t it?), sitting pretty on a card table at the front. But I was struggling to find anything I still needed on my list, so I recruited the lovely Betty from behind the counter to aid in my search. She tracked down Muenster by Bothwell Cheese Inc. from Manitoba (nominated for firm cheese except cheddar and gouda) and re-directed me to her brother Nick, who does the ordering for Olympic Cheese and is essentially an encyclopedia. A lot of the firmer cheeses were seasonal or had run out, but he found a cheddar for me, thankfully – the Extra Old Cheddar 5 Years by St-Albert Cheese Cooperative Inc. from Ontario. That’s me and him below with some spoils (and a camera-hungry thumb).
I don’t know if it was the sunny, warm weather, or something they’re putting in the ice capps these days, but an extra helping of kindness followed from all of the proprietors I visited. Nick and Betty were super helpful and found me a few extra cheeses I wouldn’t have otherwise. I went to the St. Lawrence honey store in the basement (on the west wall, can’t remember the name), where the owner plied me with samples while I paid (of course, I ended up getting an extra Greek honey with my honeycomb, so it wasn’t totally self-sacrificing).
After a break at Trinity Bellwoods Park, I decided to pick up some good bread for all the cheese at Forno Cultura on King, a bakery I’d heard good things about but hadn’t yet visited. I struck up a conversation with the owner (though I didn’t know it at the time), Andrea, who walked me through the different sourdough loaves they produce. When I settled on an olive and rosemary loaf after some deliberation, Andrea told me to take the loaf on the house, because I was a first-timer.
“Are you sure?” I asked, probably goggling.
“Yeah, take it. It works both ways, because if you get hooked, I know you’ll be back,” he said. That I will.
I’ll be writing profiles on each of the cheeses I picked up over the next few days, leading up the Grand Prix announcement of the winners on Wednesday. I’ll tell ya though, the real winners are the people doling out the treats. Here’s to the Canadians behind the cheese and all that go with it.