Cheesy musings, Profiles

Relaxing into fall and routines, with the confidence of Rougette

We like to associate spring with rejuvenation – clean sweeps, fresh blooms and sweet bird songs. But fall is just as much about renewal. If we’re reborn in spring, fall is when we’re reintroduced. We look to to take on new challenges and pick up where we left off, before all those hard-earned beaches and mojitos, and armed with a season’s worth of relaxation of fun, rather than all-too-recent memories of Polar vortexes. Plus, there’s nothing like fall’s universally-comforting flannel and an inevitable uptick in good hair days (what’s good, humidity?) to give you a push toward feeling like a grown-ass human.

Rougette is a grown-ass cheese. Not in the way of a stern headmistress, who pushes you to take your work seriously through a looming presence and gulp-inducing glances. Rather, it carries the type of grown-ass flavour of someone comfortable in their own skin.

Rougette at right, comfortably reclined like it's a damn chaise.

Rougette at right, comfortably reclined like it’s a damn chaise.

It’s buttery with a lick of saltiness. Rich without feeling weighty, and with hints of hay and barnyard. (I recently read barnyard for the first time as a descriptor of cheese and am still working out exactly how that translates. For now, all I can say is that it makes sense to me as a flavour, and came to mind when tasting Rougette – really, with something as subjective as describing a taste, I think faint detective is often all that matters.)

Rougette is like face cream for your tummy. It’s the voice of Chandler’s dad (the same voice, if you didn’t know, as Jessica Rabbit – is there any character who more exudes confidence?) en fromage.

It even wears a French name like a selective, sexy cloak, despite its German heritage (here’s a funny theory why). And if left to its own devices, at room temperature, Rougette’s depth and complexity of flavour reveal themselves even more.

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Rougette is the cheese you want in your side-car when becoming re-acquainted with yourself and your routine after a hedonic absence. It feels like an incarnation of looking yourself square in the eye and crooning, “Welcome back,” while somehow giving the work and errands that fuel your everyday life a luxurious sheen.

If you haven’t already guessed, I’m projecting. After a summer of mini-upheavals, sprints of travel, a cheese festival, a wedding and flying-by-the-seat-of-your-pants moments of fun (more on that later), I’m getting back into the swing of things with a gentle nudge of self-commitment and the melting memories of Rougette (plus a turkey table runner, for seasonal good measure). Hope you’ll cheese the day with me.

Turkey table runner

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Cheesy musings, Profiles

National Goat Cheese Month: I have a Lemon Fetish

Quick question: Do you think there are too many special “days”? E.g., National Nutella Day; National Lasagne Day; National Apple Turnover Day. I used to compile a gallery listing all of the food days in a given month at my day job, but stopped when I realized it was more work than ROI, although I’d be lying if I said a little part of it hadn’t lost its lustre when I realized there’s a “day” every damn day. Exhibit A: Today is National Lemonade Day (and my sister’s birthday – National Kaleigh Bee-day). Tomorrow is National Spumoni Day and National ~Brazilian Blowout Day~. Oooer.

Lemon Fetish cheese

That said, I can absolutely get on board with any of the cheese-themed occasions, and this month happens to be one: National Goat Cheese Month. For me, it’s an excuse to discuss the morsel I picked up from The Great Canadian Cheese Festival in June: Lemon Fetish by Fifth Town Artisan Cheese Co.

It’s a goat’s milk feta, which is an interesting flavour combination as it’s less sweet and creamy than your more-commonly-found fresh goat cheese. It’s crumbly, dry and somewhere between less-salty-than-feta and more-salty-than-fresh. But the highlight, as the name suggests, is the lemon.

Lemon Fetish cheese

It’s made with lemon zest and you can tell at first taste. Right after the initial saltiness, you’re hit by a wave of the sweet citrus flavour that only comes from lemon zest. There’s a slight tang of herbs and spices that I couldn’t place at first; Fifth Town informs me that it’s also laced with red fife flour. Makes sense.

One of my favourite easy dishes is sweet potato with herbed goat cheese and a splash of maple syrup in its belly button, like a spud on spring break. I subbed Lemon Fetish for my usual herbed cheese and it worked beautifully. I also used it in a fresh kale salad with lemon-honey-mustard dressing. But my favourite way to eat it was off a (butter, safety first) knife with nothing at all. Now that’s what they should be selling at lemonade stands.

Lemon Fetish cheese

“I wish I spoke whale!” I also wish that whales had Lemon Fetish on deck to distribute via blowhole to the masses.

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Profiles

A long-overdue indulgence: Grey Owl

Grey Owl needs no introduction, as one of the celebrated Canadian cheeses lauded in the same breath as Louis D’Or or Bleu Bénédictin. But I’ll introduce it anyway with a taste of its cult following.

The last time I saw Grey Owl, it was at one of my favourite cheese counters, at Algoma Orchards. Rather, I encountered a lack of it. The woman ahead of me had ordered an entire wheel of Grey Owl, but there was a mix-up and it had been sold accidentally. She was distraught (seriously). If that weren’t proof enough of Grey Owl’s hold, the fact that the entire wheel sold in a few days is. I felt for the woman, but at the time I hadn’t yet tried it, so I couldn’t fully understand. Now I get it.

Grey-Owl-1

I bought the teensiest, cutest little wheel at The Great Canadian Cheese Festival and saved it perilously close to its expiration; a blessing in disguise because then I had to eat the entire thing in one sitting without guilt.

I’m not sure how I avoided Grey Owl for so long, given its storied rep, but it’ll be on my rotation now, and definitely my next cheese board. Aside from Le Cendrillon, another revered Canadian cheese similar in flavour and construction (which, if pressed, I prefer of the two but let’s not divert limelight), there isn’t anything like it in Canada, especially in light of its different texture.

As mentioned, I let the clock tick on my Grey Owl, so the flavours were even more ripe and the texture quickly evolved. When I sampled it at The Great Canadian Cheese Festival, Grey Owl was pasty, as it is often described. But let it age and sit a bit at room temperature, as I did, and it’s a near-liquid indulgence at the centre. Exhibit A:

Grey-Owl-2

My first proper taste, at long last, was much more sour than I expected in the way that younger goat cheese is if you hold it on your tongue for long enough. Like a strong buttermilk that’s an almost a puckering punch in the mouth, offset by creaminess.

I preferred its ashy rind when it had a whole shelf life ahead of it at the TGCCF; it was still great when I had it at home but its pungent mouldiness interfered a bit with the more subtle centre. I wanted more of the sour, grassy butteriness that dominated my balanced bites, but was knocked over by the spicy, bitter aftertaste of the rind.

Don’t get it twisted: if you see Grey Owl, eat it. Fast. Before someone else does (see: aforementioned wheel sold right from under a loving devotee). But if you’re serving it to friends, I wouldn’t let it sit for too long so everyone becomes friends at its peak texture.

And for the sake of all that is holy (Mimolette, amen), serve it with honeycomb. As Nike once wrote on the question of whether to pair cheese with honeycomb: “Just do it.”

Grey-Owl-3

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Profiles

Fromage Friday: Laliberté by Fromagerie du Presbytère

Laliberté, like a lot of champions, breaks the mould. Pun intended, as per usual on Cheese the Day.

The bloomy rind cheese was crowned the Grand Champion of this year’s Canadian Cheese Grand Prix back in April. I scored myself a wedge at the Great Canadian Cheese Festival, and it was the first of my haul I dug into.

Laliberte-above-side

It smells like any other slightly-stinky soft cheese – I think smell has a lot to answer for in turning people off more pungent soft cheeses and blue cheese, but that’s part of the deal, I guess – but one morsel, and it becomes clear why it’s a favourite.

It’s backwards in the best sense.

Immediately at first taste, you get a hit of mushrooms like you’ve been smacked by an oyster mushroom with a grudge. That’s closely followed by strong sidekicks of herbs and hay, and pungent vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower. But the flavour isn’t mouldy.

Laliberte-side-CU

Then, when you’re expecting it to become bitter, like any other strong, soft cheese in its position would be, it goes easy on you.

It becomes milky, creamy and light. The texture dissolves like cream masquerading as cotton candy. You don’t want to chew it, or even interfere too much with what happens when you let it sit on your tongue. It’s even better when slightly cooler than room temperature, so it doesn’t disappear too quickly and its creaminess stands out.

There is no aftertaste that comes to collect; just something reminiscent of cheese curds, mixed with surprise. The only bitterness comes from its rind.

Laliberte-above-side2

Usually, the flavours are in reverse for strong soft cheeses. A shy, delicate beginning, followed by a bit of brash bitterness. Perhaps because it’s a cream-added bloomy rind, the milkiness carries more weight – I’m not sure how that works. But it’s something to witness. I’d bet even non-cheese-nerds would appreciate the surprising turn of events that it has to offer in terms of flavour.

Honeycomb is usually a reliable wingman for any cheese, and it does its due diligence here, but I found it too sweet, really, for Laliberté. It deserves to partner with something that makes it truly sing, which in this case, is baked baguette rounds with olive oil and herbs – it becomes butter in its’ nonexistent hands, kinda like you by the end of your bite.

Laliberte-side-M

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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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Cheesy musings, Pairings, Recipes

Concocting cheese for dessert and Buca on King

One of my favourite parts of my day job is getting to interview the MasterChef Canada competitors. While talking to top-5 home cook Christopher Siu about food trends, he brought up a recent trip to Tokyo and how innovative the culture is with their sweets. It got me thinking – not for the first time – about cheese for dessert.

I don’t mean a cheese board. Although that’s always welcome, I don’t see it as dessert, really, because the same spread would be at home during any course. Plus, I don’t want to wait for the end of the meal to dig into the cheese. I digress.

No, I mean cheese as part of a sweet dessert. After talking to Christopher, I started dreaming up ways to make cheese the centrepiece. First, I thought of a mascarpone parfait. I’d layer it with caramelized grapefruit and burnt toffee. I have no idea if those flavours would even go together, but my brain got real friendly with the idea, real fast. Then, further down the caramelizing route, I thought of flambéing halloumi, which, let’s be honest, is just a hilarious thought. But why not?

I settled on my third idea as a less out-there gateway dessert: bocconcini truffles.

Bocconcini truffle

If you’re thinking that bocconcini is too delicate a cheese to compete with semi-sweet chocolate, congratulations, you are two steps ahead of me! I had a bit of doubt but wanted to give it a go, anyway.

I soaked the bocconcini in buttermilk before turning it into a truffle, hoping it would add a touch more depth of flavour. It didn’t, but that’s why we do these drills! Right, kids? Then I popped them in the freezer for a spell so they wouldn’t get too melty during their chocolate bath.

Bocconcini truffle

Before making my chocolate, I did a quick jog on Google to see if anyone had already attempted a bocconcini truffle and succeeded more than I anticipated I would. Unsurprisingly, there were no bocconcini chocolate truffle recipes. But that did not deter me. No, that only made me think I must be onto something reeeeeally original.

Next was chocolate. I melted semi-sweet chocolate chips with butter and maple syrup. Then I speared each cheesy little guinea pig on a fork, rolled them in as much chocolate as would stick (not much) and topped them with black lava salt I got in Iceland (which I figured would make it feel fancier, even if the experiment failed). It has the consistency of fleur de sel but isn’t as light.

Bocconcini truffle

I brought the truffles over to my friend (and #1 reader!) Christie’s, who gamely tried a few. We both agreed: not a great combo. Not a bad combo, but as I feared, the bocconcini’s delicate flavour was totally overwhelmed by the chocolate.

I’m not giving up on cheese and chocolate though – I know they’re delicious together, if only because Nadège did a much better job pairing the two in my favourite parmesan chocolate bar. I’ll try a saltier cheese next time.

Then I got my wish at Buca (which I accidentally oversold to another MasterChef Canada cook, nay, winner, David Jorge – sorry, buddy! You’ll understand why in a moment). I entered a new age “box” last week, and for my birthday, my mom and I went to the seriously-acclaimed restaurant’s King location. There was a cheese plate (pictured without much of the cheese, because you should never have to wait to dig in on your birthday), obviously.

Buca-cheese-plate

The plate was jewelled with fresh buffalo ricotta, pecorino toscano and one of my all-time favourites, piave. Each was paired with a fruity partner: the ricotta with saskatoon berry (one of my favourite sidekicks), the pecorino with wine-soaked raspberries, and the piave with rhubarb.

Then it was time for dessert. I wanted something cool to offset the looming comatose fog rolling in, post-pasta with lobster (is there any better birthday dish?). Buca made all my wishes come true, even before I blew out the candle.

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Gorgonzola gelato, topped with blueberries. Now that is how you do cheese for dessert.

I should have wished for the recipe. There’s always next year.

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Recipes

Gimme a cacio e pepe, and make ‘er blush

Sometimes you just need a big bowl of cacio e pepe.

Cacio e pepe

Cacio e pepe is a year-round delight. Obviously, anything hot and liberally-coated with cheese is welcome in the wintertime, but its appeal goes beyond the usual hot-and-cheesy comfort food requirements. It’s a comfort food trifecta: filling, ridiculously simple to make and always delicious.

My boyfriend and I went to Folco’s in Markham, Ontario, for his birthday last year, where our friend is a chef. I can never decide what to get there, so I asked him what he’d recommend and almost immediately, he said cacio e pepe. “People don’t get it, because it’s basically just pasta and cheese,” he said, “but it’s incredible.” Spaghetti, pecorino romano cheese and pepper, to be exact.

BF got the cacio e pepe, so I had to get something else (yeah, we’re those people), but I regretted my choice as soon as I had a bite of his. It’s since become my go-to when I need a big bowl of comfort that won’t further sap my energy in its production.

I called up C’n’P for one such occasion a few weeks ago in the middle of an overwhelming week. I used this Mark Bittman recipe from The New York Times, because it looks like it knows what it’s talking about, and Bittman definitely does.

Cacio e pepe

If you’re looking at my bowl and thinking I went a little heavy on the pepe, you win a gold-star-shaped hunk of pecorino romano. Serves me right for being too lazy to put my black pepper in a proper spice container, instead haphazardly dunking my hand in like it’s a grab bag of beer on a long weekend instead of a potent spice.

The pepper overpowered the entire dish, and I devoured my entire bowl (and then another the night after). That’s the magic of cacio e pepe: it’s worth a burning throat. (And let’s be real, if you’re making this, you probably don’t have the energy to make another batch, you’re likely already well-settled into your “screw you” pants.)

I interviewed Christopher Siu, the top-five MasterChef Canada competitor, at my day job today. He brought up pink peppercorns and how they are well suited to desserts. I’ve been dreaming of them (along with unlikely cheese desserts – stay tuned) all day, and decided somewhere between sprinkled-in-mascarpone and stuffed-on-chocolate-truffles that they would be a perfect substitute in my next cacio e pepe.

I know it’s slight sacrilege, but I’m dying to know how it would taste with pink peppercorns instead of cracked black pepper. I have a hunch it would be a splendid dish-saver if you’re heavy-handed with the pepe, like me.

P.S. If you keep reading cacio e pepe and pronouncing it peepee, know that a) that’s hilarious and b) you’re not alone, I keep thinking that when I type it out and I am a grown(ish)-ass woman. It’s paypay, like the soccer player. But way more lovable.

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