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.
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:
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.”