Cheesy musings, Flavour of the month

The Great Canadian Cheese Festival at a glance

If there is a better way to spend a Saturday in June than sampling cheeses and libations from across the country against the backdrop of Prince Edward County, I haven’t found it yet. I only wish the Great Canadian Cheese Festival was a monthly occurrence.

My boyfriend gamely drove us up for the day (it’s about a 2 1/2 hour drive from Toronto) and it was well worth it. We were able to make it through all of the booths in an afternoon, but next year I’d like to go for the weekend to enjoy the events and demonstrations. And really, to ride out the blissful atmosphere for a second day.

Seeing and chatting with so many cheesemongers and cheese nerds like myself – and obviously, sampling to my heart’s content – left me plastered with a smile like I’d just planted my face in a baked triple-cream brie I stole from an unsuspecting neighbour’s windowsill. (Let’s pretend that it makes sense to cool a baked brie on a windowsill like a pie for a mo’, if only to imagine the smell wafting in the air.)

Here’s the best Saturday I’ve had in some time, at a glance:

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Great Canadian Cheese Festival

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One of the brews that’ll be haunting my cup this summer, Muskoka Summerweiss.

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The people behind one of my favourite cheese producers, Cross Wind Farm (maple cream is to die for).

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I like to think of this “get away van” in the manner of the Ikea commercial: whoever owns this brought it in anticipation of all the good deals they were going to get at the cheese festival. Thus, they came running out at the end of day screeching, “Start the car! Start the caaaaaaar!”

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Best Baa’s Eweda Cru is one of my favourite local sheep’s milk cheeses. Such a unique flavour.

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My long-suffering boyfriend driving hilariously like a old lady because his back was sore. I like to think it’s more aerodynamic this way, too, though.

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Another beer on my patio wishlist: Beau’s Kissmeyer Nordic Pale Ale, a.k.a. liquid gold.

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The sweetest smile you ever did see, at Fromagerie Rang 9.

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That’s me, downing the last of my peach cider “sample.” They were generous.

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I sampled probably 70 different types of cheese, and bought 11 hunks, slices and wedges. Here are the spoils I snagged and the unrequited crushes I developed:

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Fleur Saint-Michel by La Fromagerie de Terroir de Bellechasse. This grilling cheese is made with garlic scapes, so it tastes like a morsel of garlicky grilled cheese all its own. It made my boyfriend’s eyes widen.

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Laliberté by Fromagerie du Presbytère. This was the Grand Champion of the 2015 Canadian Cheese Grand Prix. The mongers seemed surprised that the person in front of me wanted to buy the entire wheel. That’s like breakfast for a cheese freak.

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Lemon Fetish goat feta cheese by Fifth Town Artisan Cheese. It’s no accident that there are mere crumbs left in the Lemon Fetish section. This one’s a heavenly sweet-salty-tangy mix.

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Mountainoak Cheese Gold. It took the Extra Aged Gouda category at the 2015 Canadian Cheese Grand Prix. In practice, that’s a sharp, crumbly morsel that makes your mouth stand up and pay attention.

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Allegretto by Fromagerie la Vache à Maillotte. I’ve seen this one a number of times around the cheese block in Toronto, but I finally tried it in Prince Edward County. It’s another succulently-aged, dry and fruity cheese.

Other cheese nabbed, but not pictured, are:

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I also developed strong feelings for Blue Harbor’s Urban Blue Cheese. Look at that rind. This was one of the first cheeses I sampled, so I decided to do a lap and come back before buying. Foolhardy. Of course I forgot to loop back. I’ll have to track this one down for another hit of that smooth, mellow nibble with just a touch of bite.

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And of course, the Big Kahuna I couldn’t land. I fell absolutely head over heels in love with Glasgow Glen’s Pepper & Mustard Extra Old Gouda. Alas, we weren’t meant to be in PEC – the gouda was only available for online ordering. But I’ll be tracking it down. When you know, you know.

I’ll be adding profiles and more details on all of the cheeses I snapped up at the Great Canadian Cheese Festival in the coming weeks. Suffice it to say, the experience was worth the ticket price, lengthy drive and then some. I’ll be back again next year.

Did you make it out to the Great Canadian Cheese Festival? I’d love to know what you thought, and what you bought! Leave me a comment below, or tweet me @xCheeseTheDay!

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Flavour of the month, Pairings, Profiles

Flavour of the month: Black River Maple Cheddar

February is the suckiest month. My boyfriend sometimes makes the case for November: clearly the rambling of mal-adjusted soul that never fully knew autumn-induced joy and Santicipation (love you, honey!). After emerging bleary-eyed from a Polar-Vortex funk last year, I resolved to make plans, preferably hot ones, for this year.

Costa Rica, a bit pie-in-the-sky for our budgets, fell through. But the universe stepped in with two lucky opportunities, thanks to said boyfriend. First, a weekend work trip to Ottawa, on which I was invited to tag along. Almost immediately after, a week-long stint in Fort Myers Beach, squatting in the beach-side haven his parents rented for the suckiest month – air-kick!

Florida was a lot of ol’ faithful cheeses: melt-in-your-mouth mozzarella with tomato and basil and gooey cheddar crowning stuffed peppers. But our mini-break in Ottawa brought a new dairy love to my life: Black River Cheese’s Maple Cheddar. I’d seen it around the block many times, but had never bought it. That is, until I bought absolutely everything to eat.

Maple cheddar

Please accept my crude depiction of its components in lieu of the actual brick, which I obliterated. (Genevieve Howard/Compfight, J.P. Lon/Wikimedia Commons)

They say you should never shop when you’re hungry (not even for inedible things!), and we were living proof of that, headed to the grocery store to stock up on snacks having skipped dinner. We spent around $100 on “snacks” (for an army, I guess). Nestled in the spoils was Black River’s Maple Cheddar, to be paired with our crackers, or, y’know, eaten straight off the plastic knife with which we cut it.

Generally, cheese is not sweet. A lot of my favourites have sweet undertones (hay, Piave), but rarely is the overall impression more sweet than salty – which is why they’re usually so yummy with an accompaniment like jam. Not so with Black River’s.

The Maple Cheddar is a medium-aged cheese, so not too strong, which allows the maple syrup that it’s mixed with to really take the reins. It doesn’t have pure maple syrup’s bitterness or much of cheddar’s saltiness to create a more layered, deep flavour, so its powerfully-sweet impression won’t be for everyone (my boyfriend didn’t care for it, but he’s usually more of a salty/bitter guy – pun unintended but welcomed with a smirk). I, however, found it refreshingly soft and simple, and just devoured it.

Much like icewine is a true dessert wine, so does this cheese just scream dessert. Grilled cheese and cheese bread are two of the suggestions Black River makes for how to use it best, and I’d have to agree – bread would set off the sweetness while letting the cheese be the star. I’d tread carefully with any pairings. Common sidekicks like salty meats and antipasto would be too much, in my humble opinion. A lightly-smoked (not grainy) mustard would be interesting, or a Saskatoon berry jam (probably the only time I’ve ever wanted this specific jam, but I think its sorta-blueberry, sorta-apple lightness would be just right).

Honestly, though, it’s best left to its own devices, with just a little bit of bread. Suitable for both screw-you-February days and cuddled-up, what-month-is-it-anyway sojourns.

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Merlot cheese
Flavour of the month, Pairings, Profiles

Flavour of the month: Sartori Merlot BellaVitano

Many great passions have a meet-cute that becomes crystallized like a firework in the sky, but I don’t remember much about how or when my appetite (in every sense of the word) for cheese developed. I do remember the place I found my first love in cheese, one I list among my all-time favourites and routinely devour: Sartori Balsamic BellaVitano.

I picked it up like any other cube on a sample tray at one of my favourite places to try new cheeses, Algoma Orchards in Bowmanville, Ontario, where I grew up. I visit as often as I can and always earmark a wedge of Balsamic. The last time I went, they were cleaned out. Not a crumble! I’d had Sartori’s Raspberry Ale and Espresso BellaVitanos as well as Balsamic, but had yet to try the Merlot, which they had in stock. Here’s what I found:

Sartori Merlot BellaVitano tasting notes
– Tangy, sweet, rich
– Sweet-sour fruitiness, like currant
– Salty at first bite
– Creamy but firm, slightly crumbly when chilled
– Strong wine taste, especially in the aftertaste – here, you get full-bodied flavour like you’ve swished a dry Merlot around your mouth
– Very slight hints of mould and wax at the rind, along with stronger, more bitter wine taste

Merlot cheese

The rind’s looking worse for wear after inheriting the pattern of the wrapping in my fridge, but look at that colour.

All of Sartori’s BellaVitano cheeses are immersed in tantalizingly-pungent liquids and rubs, so it’s no surprise that the Merlot practically oozes wine (if the burgundy rind hadn’t already tipped you off). Saying I loved it seems like such an inevitable result that it feels like saying “Hey, good call on shelving that razor, Tom Selleck.” I mean, it’s wine and cheese. I’d be worried about the implications if I didn’t love it. Really.

That said, it still doesn’t top Balsamic BellaVitano for me. I like my crumbly crystals of fruity tang like I like Bradley Coopers – limitless. In that respect, Balsamic beats Merlot. But damn, wine and cheese, together as one? I’ll be back for more.

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Flavour of the month, Pairings, Profiles

Flavour of the month: Délice de Bourgogne

I mean, come on. Even the name melts in your mouth. It sounds more like a signature handbag crafted by Coco Chanel than an animal by-product (and even that description seems too harsh).

The outside feels like a typical bloomy rind cheese, with a bright white rind as soft and pliable as milkweed, and just as rewarding – because, open it up, and inside you’ll find a surprise worth savouring. But better, because unlike milkweed, the inside won’t blow away.

Delice de Bourgogne

The texture is so rich and thick-but-light, the best comparison for letting it sink into your tongue is to molasses thinning and then blurring into a steady stream of steaming water. The middle of the cheese is firmer, chalkier, more similar to typical goat cheese in texture.

The flavour notes (My immediate thoughts on taste and mouth feel, hastily scribbled into my phone’s notes):
– Milky, buttery full-fat flavour (triple-cream, much?)
– Mushroomy!
– Sharp touch of mould tang, similar to Sauvagine, but not as sharp
– More mould flavour and grain closer to the rind
– Stronger aftertaste, not as light as popular bloomy rinds like Camembert
– “Like whipped cream, but better” – Yup, that about sums up my feelings on most soft cheeses.

I’m not much of a wine expert, but this made me want to drink a crisp, sharp white wine, like a Sauv Blanc or a Gewurztraminer. (I just Googled in the expectation I had spelled it wrong, and I got it right on the first try. I feel ridiculously proud. Look mom, no dictionary!)

Ordinarily, I don’t like crackers with my cheese. To me, grains just sully the main event; it’s like swindling a renowned author into writing the assembly instructions for an air purifier. But, in this case, because some downright opulent crackers were leftover at work, I gave it a go and I have to say, the juxtaposition in texture was worth it. The strawberry was really more for decoration, though that would’ve been nice too. This one was too chemical-y and I suspect full of fish genes, so I spit it right out. Thanks for the colour though, little buddy.

All in all: One of my favourite bloomy rinds ever. 4.5/5 little decorative strawberries.

Delice de Bourgogne

I even manipulated it into a mini sundae swirl – that’s how decadent the texture was!

P.S. I just saw that my last post was April 29 – what is it about the end of the month that makes me feel compelled to write? Is it when I have to pay rent and all the lovely bills to keep my lucky little life afloat that I use this as an excellent mask for procrastination, or do I subconsciously know I will feel better going into June if I managed a post in May, even if it was only one? Probably the first one.

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Heart-shaped gouda cheeses
Flavour of the month, Pairings, Profiles

Flavour of the month: Smoked gouda

I’ve been having an affair with smoked gouda lately. Smoked cheeses are to me what a good bloomy rind or soft cheese is to many cheese lovers: I know it’s unhealthyish territory, but like a good Downton Abbey binge or a *ahem* smokin’ bad boy, I just can’t get enough. (Okay, the bad boy part is more a cliché than true in my case. Unless Jason Statham is lurking nearby.)

But we’ll get to the smoky part. First, gouda. It’s like the quirky cousin of everyday mozzarella: Semi-soft, super melty and just enough flavour to allow it to shine in a dish, without needing to be the centre of attention. But gouda’s slightly tangy tinge gives it an edge and makes it a beautiful, while still accessible, option when you need the versatility of grocery store brick mozza, but want a bit more pizazz.

Over the past two months, I’ve used it in soups, sandwiches and salads, but my favourite option has to be the simplest: Grilled cheese. I layered my favourite thin multigrain bread with baked apples (I just threw them in the oven for a few minutes in a tinfoil pouch – this way you don’t need to wait for the apples to soften while you’re cooking the sandwich) and the smoked gouda. It’s also delicious with a bit of grainy mustard, but I opted for the more simple version this time.

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The first time I have ever felt compelled to carve cheese. Appropriately shaped.

My favourite part of building grilled cheeses is deciding which dipping sauce to serve it with. In this case, I was craving something sweet and tangy to bring out similar flavours in the gouda and apple, while complementing the smokiness. My usual cheese accompaniment, apricot and jalapeño chutney, would’ve been fine, but adding spice to smoky cheese when you’re already balancing it with sweetness can backfire and make it overwhelming. Plus, I didn’t have any. So I went with a simple balsamic reduction, which I actually overcooked a teeny titch so it was almost taffy-like, it was so thick, but boy was it delicious.

The best part of any smoked cheese, aside from the addictive flavour, is that you only need a little (not that that should stop you if you’re on a roll). I cut very thin slices for my grilled cheese and didn’t feel cheated at all.

One more thing: Remember when I said I’d used it in soups? Yeah, don’t. Gouda melts a little too well. I added it to French onion soup, and though the smokiness added a nice depth to the flavour, I regretted it (as much as I can ever regret cheese, anyway, which is minimally) when every bite literally coated my mouth with gum-like gouda. I can’t be sure, but it bore a striking resemblance to what I imagine eating melted Silly Putty would be like.

Minus the flavour. Because that s— was still heavenly, even while trying to scrape it off my teeth with a spoon.

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