Coast to coast, Canada produces plenty of excellent cheeses, most of them in large, high-quality factories. But there are a growing number of small-scale cheese makers who are busy perfecting artisanal cheeses. These are handcrafted in small production facilities, sometimes from raw milk when appropriate, then aged carefully and sold at the height of their maturity.
Until recent years, many artisanal products were available only regionally, but with the quality and production rising, cheese lovers across the country are taking notice, thus increasing the demand. Quebec - where cheeses have been produced since the end of the 17th century - leads the way, but all the dairy regions are catching on. Our survey of some of Canada's fine cheese classics will, we hope, encourage you to mix and match with your old standbys and inspire you to grace your table with a great all-Canadian cheese plate.
A fine cheese plate offers a variety of types, and to help you put them together, we have divided the world of Canadian cheeses into five categories: soft, semisoft, firm and hard, blue, and goat and sheep cheeses. The first four categories include exclusively or predominantly cow's milk cheeses, while the fifth comprises all types of goat's and ewe's milk cheeses.
Soft cheeses are generally creamy, fairly fresh and aged no longer than a few months. Most have edible soft rinds, which often add a stronger dimension of flavour. Because of their runny texture, they require bread or crackers as a base.
• Canadian Brie: Produced in Central and Western Canada by large and small producers; velvety white rind with soft ivory interior; its mild creaminess makes it a crowd-pleaser.
• Canadian Camembert: Fairly mild but richly flavoured; similar to Brie but slightly stronger; a good example from a small producer is Comox Camembert (Natural Pastures Cheese, B.C.).
• Sir Laurier d'Arthabasca (Groupe Fromage Côté, Que.): Unctuous, with soft orange rind; strongly flavoured, with a distinctive bite.
• Métis (Fromages Chaput, Que.): Luscious, creamy, very runny and mild; mixed cow's and goat's milk cheese.
• Vacherin (Fromages Chaput, Que.): The Canadian version of a famous French—Swiss Alpine cheese wrapped in strips of spruce; almost liquid beneath the washed rind.
Cheeses in this category have softer rinds, with generally smooth and fairly soft — but not runny — interiors. Serve in one large piece, from which guests can cut morsels.
• Havarti: A Canadian favourite; mild and slightly nutty.
• Fontina: Mild, sweet and creamy.
• Oka (Agropur, Que.): The granddaddy of modern Quebec cheeses (more than 100 years old), this New World version of French Port du Salut is fruity, full flavoured and nutty; it is sold in Classique, Regular and Light versions.
• Le Migneron de Charlevoix (La Maison d'Affinage Maurice Dufour, Que.): The 2002 Grand Champion at the biennial Canadian Cheese Grand Prix, presented by the Dairy Farmers of Canada; a Canadian original; semifirm, with light orange washed rind; creamy, with rich, buttery taste; milder than Oka.
• Boerenkaas (Natural Pastures Cheese, B.C.): Dutch-type farmer's cheese with ripe dairy flavour; mellow yet distinctive, with a melting texture.
• São Miguel (Portuguese Cheese Company, Ont.): Mild, savoury Portuguese-style cheese with creamy texture.
• Farmhouse Raclette (Little Qualicum Cheeseworks, B.C.): The king of melting cheeses; strong flavoured and creamy.
• San Pareil (Little Qualicum Cheeseworks, B.C.): Very mild and pleasant, with smooth texture; Little Qualicum on Vancouver Island makes a similarly shaped Tiny Tomme with more developed flavour.
• Pied-de-Vent (Fromagerie du Pied-de-Vent, Que.): Firm rind (optional to eat) and fairly solid interior with soft, milky, buttery full flavour; from Îles-de-la-Madeleine.
• Cru des Érables (Les Fromages de l'Érablière, Que.): Pungent and strong flavoured, with soft rind, creamy texture and slightly bitter edge.
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