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.

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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:

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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.”

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Profiles

Canadian Cheese Grand Prix: Le Baluchon

Le Baluchon by Fromagerie FX Pichet is a bit of a rock star in the Canadian cheese case. It wasn’t hard to find at any of the cheese stores I went to and was often featured prominently. In fact, at the inaugural Canadian Cheese Awards last year (which includes goat, sheep and buffalo milk cheeses as well as cow’s), Le Baluchon won Cheese of the Year. It’s nominated this year in the organic cheese category at the Canadian Cheese Grand Prix as a returning champion – it won the organic prize in 2009.

A few bites and it’s easy to see why: much like a well-loved musician, it’s a crowd-pleaser, not a people-pleaser. It’s a bit rough around the edges with a rind that’ll bite you with bitterness if caught unaware. It’s quite milky, creamy and soft, but with a slight kick of mould that’ll challenge any notions of meekness. That hint is reminiscent of a vegetable ash, like the light bitter tang you’d find in a Morbier.

Baluchon

The texture is incredible. Light and creamy with enough spring and chewiness to allow you to ride out the flavour. It’s crumbly without being dry in the way a snack cheese would be – don’t turn your nose up if that conjures up images of cheesestrings, you’ll be sorry.

I had it with raclette and while it stands up well melted, its subtlety is better raw or with ingredients that’s won’t overpower it. If you must melt it (please try a piece raw, too, for the texture), leave it be in a simple grilled cheese or fondue. I like it best in teeny, tiny slices, like an understated solo after a round of the greatest hits. Enjoy with a side of Sam Roberts.

This is the first profile of eight cheeses I tried ahead of the Canadian Cheese Grand Prix. Click here for more on the awards. 

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Blue Haze
Profiles

Blue, Blue Haze

Yes, just like “Red, Red Wine.” I’d serenade it if I could think of something more original than “daze” to rhyme with “haze.” (Note: Hit the adjacent F instead of D the first time and am now onto something. Thank you, universe.)

I first tasted Blue Haze under a clear, fittingly-blue summer sky at the Mill Street Beer Hall. It had just opened and it was my first time there. I obviously wheedled my way into “splitting” (read: racing to devour as much as possible) the cheese board with my boyfriend before deciding on a main. I don’t remember much about the other cheeses that were seated like sultans among the cured meats, garnishes and spreads; I think there was a Manchego-esque block in the bunch. All I remember is the silky, smoldering feeling of falling in love with Blue Haze.

It’s smoky in a welcome, all-encompassing way, almost ashy, “like mould without the edge” (according to my most recent tasting notes) at the rind, where the flavour is most concentrated. It’s sweet and almost tastes hoppy, like beer. The texture is creamy like any run-of-the-mill pâté, but melts like a fine foie gras (which coincidentally, I still don’t like the taste of, despite my best efforts, but which I will eat anyway if you put it in front of me).  My notes also say “Milliners underneath”, which I can only assume was meant to be something else but was Autocorrected to “Milliners.” So, thanks for that, Apple. You’ve probably ruined a masterpiece in observation.

Blue Haze

It starts out as a blue cheese in Quebec, but earns the faded-yet-defining tendrils of smoke from Provincial Fine Foods in Ontario, where it’s cold-smoked.

“The small amount of heat in the cold-smoking process will crack the cheese,” Cole Snell of Provincial told Fiesta Farms, for a post titled “A Cheese That Will Change Your Life,” natch. “We smoke it for an hour, then vacuum seal and age it for another month to let the smoke really penetrate the cheese. My favourite way to eat it is with honey or chocolate.”

I met Snell when he owned About Cheese (#RIP) in Church Wellesley Village, my first friendly neighbourhood cheese shop. It was there that I first set a cheese budget for myself, indulged in more than my fair share of samples, learned the difference between bloomy rind and Brie, and a lot more, at the hands of Snell. I didn’t know he was a big deal, he was just a maybe-stoned (sorry dude, you’re just so chill) aficionado with a bevy of passion and recommendations. You’ll hear more about Snell on this blog eventually, but for now, suffice it to say the guy knows his sh-t: Honey and chocolate are indeed, the unequivocal best things to eat with Blue Haze. (I humbly suggest maple syrup, too.)

Word to the wise: If you’re going to Google it, be sure to include “cheese” at the end. Go try it now without, and you’ll see why. Suddenly the name makes more sense, yeah? And is more funny? Okay, put down the Blue Haze, you’ve had enough.

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