2015 Canadian Cheese Grand Prix

May7

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Recently, I was honoured to once again be the food-stylist for the Canadian Cheese Grand Prix media tour, having done so two years ago with Chef Michael Howell. This year the country was divided into east and west with Chef Howell touring the east and Chef Julian Bond, the west. I was fascinated by the cheese knowledge and passion of Chef Howell and equally so of Chef Bond. In particular Chef Bond offered me some personal cheese tasting tips.

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A gentleman who studied in Switzerland produced this Swiss mountain-style cheese (think Heidi and her Grandfather) from Gunn’s Hill Artisan Cheese. I do not typically consume cheese rinds but when I saw that this was a washed-rind cheese style, I included the attached rind with my nibble and greatly enjoyed it.”Handek” is aged 16 months and I thought I could detect a nutty aroma. Its complex flavours were enhanced by a dried apricot and pecan.

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To the west, two Alberta cheeses were given the nod: a Gouda from Sylvan Star Cheese

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and a Feta from Tiras Dairies. The latter was a particular favourite because it sliced so easily without crumbling.  I imagined it between wedges of watermelon for a summer time salad.

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Further west, British Columbia had four cheese in the top eleven, tying with the province of Quebec. Farm House Natural Cheeses produced a traditional clothbound cheddar. As a part of the process, lard was smeared over the cloth to protect the cheese and also produced deep earthy flavours.

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One of two cheese makers with winners in the top eleven, The Farm House Natural Cheeses also furnished a winning “Firm Cheese”.  I could detect grassy notes with this taste and then read that the cheese makers only use “summer” milk when the cows graze in green pastures.

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I was foolishly trying to detect “cherriness” in the Cherry Bocconcini from BC’s Natural Pastures Cheese Company which won in the Fresh Pasta Filata category. Research indicated that it is so called because of its cherry “shape”.  I would definitely recommend this unripened cheese the next time you decide to make a Caprese salad.

I love buttery cheeses like the Comox Brie (from the same cheesemaker as the bocconcini) which took the “Soft Cheese with Bloomy Rind” top spot. I would love to serve it at an upcoming dinner party when I would bake it with some maple syrup, pecans and dried blueberries.

I was not surprised that Quebec held a prominent role in the ribbon taking. Chef Bond explained that Quebec is a popular destination for immigrants from Europe who brought their cheese-making skills with them from their native countries and that cheese artistry is ingrained in the French heritage.

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When I was in my early twenties and just discovering diverse food pairings, I was served a semi-soft cheese with raspberries and cracked peppercorns. I will never forget that taste and peppery cheese paired with fruit or a fine Riesling has always been a fav of mine. The Pepper Raclette from Fromagerie Fritz Kaiser that won out in the “Flavoured Cheese with Added Particulate Solid” brought that old memory, vividly back to me. Raclettes are typically served melted but for my enjoyment, it was absolutely perfect at room temperature.

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Typically shying away from blue cheese, Chef Bond suggested that I try a smear of the winning Le Bleu d’Elizabeth (which I am quite sure won in this category two years ago), with a drizzle of honey. Sure enough, the sweetness offset the salty pungency and I declare: “I am a blue cheese lover!”

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Fromagerie La Station, also from Quebec, produced the winner for “Washed or Mixed Rind Firm Cheese”. Aged a full 18 months on wooden boards, the Alfred Le Fermier cheese retains a nutty flavour and woodsy aroma from the wood itself, I would guess.

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Now for the Grand Champion, drum roll please……Laliberte from Fomagerie du Presbytere, the same cheese makers as my newly loved blue cheese! I went back again and again to smear the triple cream cheese on a piece of baguette, pita, a cracker, anything I could get my hands on! Tasting like a thick and creamy mushroom soup, I could absolutely see why it took top prize.

The same day as accompanying The Canadian Cheese Grand Prix winners and Chef Julian Bond on the Winnipeg Media Tour, I joined 20 farm-lovin foodies from various places across Canada for Canola Connect City Camp 2015!   On our last evening together, after eating the most exquisite food all weekend long, I had D drop off my special cache of cheese provided by the client. Spread out on the dining room table of the hospitality suite, no one was willing to sit on the comfortable couches of the living room. Everyone was clustered around that table, taking cheese nibbles, comparing and contrasting tastes and impressions. Consistent with the distinguished judging panel, the campers agreed with unbounded enthusiasm that the Laliberte was indeed the crowd favourite. In particular, the co-host of Winnipeg’s most popular morning show 103.1 Virgin Radio’s  Chrissy Troy and Toronto’s TV & radio host Pay Chen, oohed and aahed, tasted a scoop, oohed and aahed again before taking another taste. My observation was that they were in cheese heaven!

Unfortunately, the award winning cheese makers at Manitoba’s own Bothwell Cheese, finalized but did not win a cheese category this year.

Kath’s quote: “I like cheese instead of dessert-maybe with a little candy at the very end. I love cheese and fruit. Or cheese and salad. Or cheese by itself with a few nuts and dried fruits. But I really like cheese.” –Alice Waters

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Live simply, laugh often, love deeply.

 

 

 


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