If you think of the commonplace, orange, rectangular blocks at the supermarket when you think of Canadian cheese, think instead of a soft, bloomy-rind cheese covered in olivewood ash; cheese washed with a maple liqueur; or cave-aged, leaf-wrapped cheese bathed in spirits. Artisanal cheese is produced in small volumes with locally produced milk. Like sampling wine at a winery, visiting a cheese producer can mean a pleasant setting in which to learn about the product and the process.
Cheese descriptions can be quite evocative, with talk of snowy-white rinds, cream-coloured interiors, oozing textures, grassy, milky flavours, scattered streaks, rich aromas, or tongue-tingling bitterness. Don 't be deterred if you are new to the terminology. Start by thinking of bloomy rind as a soft, white rind; of washed rind to mean that it is washed with brine during aging; and of firmness described simply as soft, semi-soft, semi-hard and hard.
Explore cheeses Canada-wide
With approximately 300 varieties being produced, Quebec is the provincial leader in artisanal cheese, although production is growing in other provinces. Here is a taste of what you can find:
• aged goat's milk cheese that has been soaked in red wine at Carmelis Goat Cheese in BC
• a smoked, semi-soft goat cheese at Oak Island Goat Dairy in Manitoba
• Ramembert cheese -- a play on camembert -- made from sheep's milk, at the Ewenity Dairy Co-operative in Ontario
• Guernsey-milk cheeses at Upper Canada Cheese Company in Ontario (only three milking herds in Canada produce this rich, golden milk)
• hand-made, cave-ripened sheep's milk cheese at Fromagerie La Moutonnière in Quebec
• cheese made from the milk of the rare Canadienne cow, a milk that is slightly salty because the animals are grazed on the salt-mist-coated grass of the Magdalen Islands, at Fromagerie du Pied-de-Vent
• a rich blue cheese named Ciel de Charlevoix (Charlevoix Sky) from la Maison d 'Affinage Maurice Dufour, which has an on-site restaurant serving dishes made with house cheeses
• a farm recreating the feel of the Dutch countryside with Dutch-influenced buildings and gouda cheese at That Dutchman's Farm
Discover more about artisanal Canadian cheese
To learn more about cheese and cheesemakers visit websites such as La Route des Fromages, a region-by-region guide to Quebec cheeses; The Quebec Cheese Society (La Société des fromages du Québec); The Ontario Cheese Society; and the BC Milk Marketing Board. While many smaller cheesemakers may not have websites, local or provincial tourism and agricultural websites are useful resources.
• Like red wine, cheese tastes better at room temperature.
• Use separate knives for different cheeses to avoid contaminating the flavours.
• If you're not sure what to put on a cheese tray, consider trying a cheese from each of the three main milk types (goat, sheep, cow), and varying textures (hard, semi-soft, soft).
Enjoying local cheeses is a great way to connect with local producers while learning about the process of making and aging cheese.
A passionate gardener and a horticulturist by training, Steven Biggs has a special interest in finding, preparing and enjoying local food. His work in horticulture and agriculture spans western Canada, Ontario, Quebec, and England. You can visit his website at stevenbiggs.ca
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